Frank Ocean risked alienating his fans by delaying his album release so many times, but the fact that Blonde debuted at number one on iTunes shows that the risk paid off. In many ways, Ocean's release of Endless, his visual album, and Blonde, his full-length, "real" record just two days later, was well worth the confusion, different versions, and delays. And although fans were certainly frustrated at times, the unconventional release actually contributed positively to the experience of taking in Ocean's art.
The buildup to the music's releases has been long; Ocean said he was well into his follow up to 2012's Channel Orange back in February 2013, over three years ago. In April 2015, Ocean revealed that the album would be called Boys Don't Cry and would be released in July 2015. That summer came and went, though, and fans received very little — until Ocean's website was updated in July 2016, with a bit more info. Then, the website started broadcasting a livestream on Aug. 1, a video of an empty warehouse that Ocean occasionally appeared in to work on a construction project. After a period of inactivity, Ocean reappeared while new music played, which ended up being part of his visual album Endless, which was released on Apple Music on Aug. 18. Two days later, Ocean dropped a music video for a new song "Nikes," and on Saturday afternoon, he dropped the full album, Blonde.
So many elements of this release have been contradictory and chaotic. Endless is a confusing project filled with songs that sound like demos and snippets, and the imagery in the video is elusive. A pitched down voice in the video for "Nikes" states, "I've got two versions," and in the album, "Nikes" is changed, reflecting this. Boys Don't Cry appears to be the name of Ocean's label, rather than the name of his album, like many expected. The magazines that Ocean released in various cities contain lyrics to songs that aren't on Endless or Blonde. The album itself, meanwhile, is called Blonde on iTunes but reads Blond on the cover. It's all a bit confusing, to say the least.
As a fan who was frustrated by all the switches and delays, I now feel that the various overlapping projects have added to the experience of the art as a whole. Ocean's visual album isn't flawless like Beyoncé's was for Lemonade, and his rollout wasn't seamless like hers was, but Ocean isn't Beyoncé. Much of his music explores the messiness of personal relationships, and his new music embraces the contradictory with many mid-song shifts and lyrics about loving and letting go. Ocean's life informs his art, and he seems too busy living to pursue perfection. After all, this is a guy who was taking a nap and drag racing right before his highly anticipated album was released. Life is messy, and he's not afraid to admit that.
Additionally, there's something generous about the fact that Ocean chose to release so much at once. While much of the chaos of this release is similar to the lead up to Kanye West's Life of Pablo, which was also full of name changes, unfinished songs, and delays, West seems to enjoy messing with people, while Ocean appeared to understand that he owed fans a lot after all the confusion. In just a few days, he has given his fans a visual album, an album, a music video, and a magazine. He posted a thank you note to his fans on Tumblr, and closed his album with a song saying, "I should be paying y'all honest to God." The release of Blonde and its accompanying music may not have been "normal," per se, but it has been messy, emotional, and generous — just like Ocean himself.