On a scale of "meh" to "face-meltingly good," how much do you love Frank Ocean's track "Nikes"? This track is as listenable as it is important social commentary as it is a flawless work of art. Though it's not clear if this song is meant to be the lead single off of Ocean's upcoming second album, formerly titled Boys Don't Cry (which will be released in addition to the visual album Endless that dropped on Aug. 19), it is clear that 2016 present a much different Ocean than the one we knew four years ago. As such, Ocean has packed the nearly five minute NSFW music video for "Nikes" (available on both Apple Music and Ocean's website) with as much striking imagery as possible to match his powerful lyrics. It's easy to get swept up by the aesthetics of "Nikes," which are as dark and beautiful as they are deep, but that's part of the fun. I dare you to find one frame of "Nikes" that doesn't come with an extra-textual meaning or adds depth to Ocean's lyrics.
But amidst all of the beautiful imagery that "Nikes" provides, there is one exceptionally powerful moment that may have passed you by the first few times you watched. It happens right in the beginning of the video and it ties many of Ocean's themes from the song together: Sex, power, materialism, excess, greed and religion: all encapsulated in a few quick shots. At the 0:34 mark, the camera begins at a the feet of a woman, who, as the camera pans up and away, shows her posed in a Christ-like manner. She's androgynous, beautiful, and exceptionally vulnerable. She is only covered in and surrounded by money, a physical manifestation of the ways in which greed in the one vice being fed in "Nikes" and the ways in which that greed can be the bedrock for the contemporary culture.
The lyrics can back up this image up in its intrinsic greediness:
These b*tches want Nikes (This is a setup)
They looking for a check (Oh my god)
Tell em it ain't likely (This b*tch tryna set me up)
Said she need a ring like Carmelo (Hands up, oh my god)
To have these lyrics play directly over this incredibly powerful is perhaps the best way to decode the rest of "Nikes." Subsequent scenes of shady but colorful parties, a very conflicted Ocean crying in his car, and even those very sexually-charged NSFW moments all connect back to this one image: A woman surrounded by the cash and nothing else. This is the singular powerful image that challenges the thought that money can solve all problems. Ocean is singing about the quest for material wealth and the internal conflict it brings about. Do you honor the impulse to surround yourself with status symbols or shun them for something better? Money can buy you expensive shoes, cars, drugs, power, and even friends; surely those possession equal freedom, right? Ocean goes on to asking us as to whether that's really enough, though.
Perhaps "Nikes" is emblematic of the world Ocean was plunged into once he achieved acclaim for channel Orange. This world of materialistic greed, living fast and dying young, and substituting possessions for personality are common tropes when we talk about the lives of the rich and famous. Is Ocean fatigued by what he sees? Is he on a quest to get centered in the right mindset and find his true self again?
This is just one moment, guys, but I promise you there are a ton more to be plucked from "Nikes." Were you struck by the image of this woman on a literal sea of cash? Or did something else catch you eye? We should just be safe and go peruse that footage one more time...
Images: Apple Music (3)