In the four years between Frank Ocean’s debut album, channel ORANGE, and his second, Blonde, he had revealed some of his private life—he published a Tumblr post about having been in love with a man—but still remained as mysterious and sceptical towards fame as ever, teasing new music sporadically and then disappearing like a wisp on the wind. Behind great innovation, however, is a massive amount of work, and so when Blonde was released one day after a 24-hour, streaming performance art piece (Endless) and alongside a limited-edition magazine entitled Boys Don’t Cry, one could forgive him for being slippery. Endless was a visual album that featured the mundane beauty of Ocean woodworking in a studio, soundtracked by abstract and meandering ambient music. Blonde built on those ideas and imbued them with a little more form, taking a left-field, often minimalist approach to his breezy harmonies and ever-present narrative lyricism. His confidence was crucial to the risk of creating a big multimedia project for a sophomore album, but it also extended to his songwriting—his voice surer of itself (“Solo”), his willingness to excavate his weird impulses more prominent (“Good Guy”, “Pretty Sweet”, among others). Though Blonde packs 17 tracks into one quick hour, it’s a sprawling palette of ideas, a testament to the intelligence of flying one’s own artistic freak flag and trusting that audiences will meet you where you’re at. In this case, fans were enthusiastic enough for Blonde to rack up No. 1s on charts around the world.

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