In a weird way, all of the recent announcements by celebrities coming out are reminiscent of celebrity deaths, as they often come in waves. And they seem to have the same power to shock. With some, we know it’s coming, but others are a complete surprise. When TV personality Anderson Cooper finally decided to make his sexuality public, he confirmed many people’s suspicions, including most of us gays. And while Anderson Cooper’s coming out may have been anticipated, the one that wasn’t was the coming out of R&B singer Frank Ocean.
Ocean came out via social media on his tumblr account. Many are still unsure if he’s gay or bisexual. But his coming out does hold some real significance. So far, all of his peers in the industry have shown praise for his courage, but there has been some misinformation circulating. For example, reporters and bloggers are calling him the first openly gay rapper. That statement is way off, as Ocean is not a rapper and secondly, wouldn’t be the first openly gay rapper if he was one. In terms of underground rap artists who are openly gay, there’s a long list. And there is also a fair amount of R&B singers who’ve come out, but all have come out past their prime, when the stakes are lower. As for Ocean, his sexuality is not a big deal, but his timing for his coming out, is.
His debut album dropped digitally this Tuesday, and in CD/LP form next Tuesday on one of rap’s legendary labels, Def Jam. As supportive I’m sure the people at his label are of Ocean’s coming out, I can only imagine how upset some were at the timing. Some industry folks and fans might view it as career suicide, rather than a mere publicity stunt. If it was a publicity stunt, it would be the first of it’s kind. But as for career suicide, let’s remember that Frank Ocean is a male R&B singer. In this genre, if you’re a man singing this kind of music, it’s going to be filled up and down with lyrics catered to the opposite sex and often these days, hyper-sexualized.
You can’t by any measure compare Ocean’s coming out to Adam Lambert. Lambert, a former American Idol contestant, sings pop music, is very flamboyant and like Ocean, came out before the release of his debut album. But back in his Idol days, we all knew he was gay, we were just waiting for the confirmation. So how do you market the Frank Ocean story to your average R&B head who’s used to love songs sung to the opposite sex? On Ocean’s debut, Channel Orange, he uses the pronoun “him” instead of “her” in some of the songs. This is also pretty groundbreaking, at least for mainstream R&B music.
Before its release, I went on youtube to check out one of the new songs titled “Pyramids”, which is about a female stripper. And even for a song about a female stripper, all the comments were discussing his sexuality. Some good, some bad, but one that stood out was a negative one. A straight guy, who got called out for homophobic comments, replies, “I’m not homophobic, I just can’t listen to a song about dudes. Sorry.” Hmm, so does that mean you can’t listen to female R&B singers because they sing about dudes? Sounds homophobic to me. Based on comments like that, I’ll be interested to watch how the album will be recieved by the public. Can straight people be open enough to listen to a gay or bisexual R&B singer talk about love and loss, and listen to it loudly in their car, not caring what anyone else thinks about it? Why would any straight person with relationship experience not be able to relate to song lyrics about love and heartbreak just because the artist is gay? If you listen to the lyrics you might find his or her experience is just like yours, but with someone of the same sex. Love and heartbreak is not exclusive to straight people. You might find yourself saying, “Damn, I went through the exact same ordeal. I feel you.”
And let’s not forget, all BS aside, good music and good song writing is just that.
As for Frank Ocean, I congratulate you for being the brave man you are and I hope your record sells. I also wonder if this means his fellow Odd Future members who drop that other “F” word will stop doing this in future releases. Odd Future now has two respresentives in the LGBT community. Aside from Ocean, there’s also their DJ, Syd The Kid. It just makes no sense for Tyler or anyone in that crew to go on calling anyone a faggot, even if they’re not directing it towards a specific individual. I also want to give props to some of hip-hop’s newer generation, in particular A$AP Rocky and Waka Floka Flame for showing their support for their LGBT fans.
I hope Frank Ocean’s coming out at such an early stage in his career will give other young artists and regular people who are in the closet the motivation to do the same and not have to wait 15-20 years like generations before them.
And, to Miss Queen Latifah: we’re waiting.
This story was originally published on TurnstyleNews.com on July 12, 2012.