“Chanel” by Frank Ocean (no label, 2017)
So many names get dropped in “Chanel”: Cam’ron, the city of Shibuya, Gaspard Noe, 21 Savage (or at least a very clever reference to him), Dennis Rodman, Delta airlines, and of course, the designer brand where the song gets its name. But one name remains untold, and it’s one I’m most curious about.
Who knows who Frank Ocean means when he briefly sings about “my guy,” pretty like a girl with fight stories to tell. That’s all he tells you. Genius writes a good one in relation to Frank’s ambiguous sense of sexuality, though the annotations are dubious. For all he sings, “he” could be his ride. Because he sure loves to talk about cars more than people: from what I read in interviews, he spends more energy investing in where his cars reside than his own self. All these car metaphors start to sound less and less like innuendo.
The car talk is important, though. Frank Ocean’s world is built upon items and brands; they’re what gives it life. CD-Rs and Walkmans tell how he experiences music while they tells how his universe has no future nor past. Details and slang come with their own hyperlink, so he’s sort of a punchline rapper. But he’s not one by choice: without a reference to celebrity or item of clout, his world crumbles.
All his brand talk, then, is how he hides. His public display of interests is there to distract you from more private matters. It’s why he has to his tattoos in Shibuya. Though he worries it might paint a wrong impression of him as some kind of member of the city’s underworld, he fears more about being asked about the personal meaning behind the ink. His stacks of $1,000 Delta gift cards sound like a flex, and sure, it might be intended as one. But I worry about what made Frank accumulates such a big amount of airline certificates. Is he running away from something? Someone? And why?
Frank’s music is intimate but on his own terms. I love “Nike” because he similarly obscures what he wants to say: I remember more the name drops of Pimp C, ASAP Yams and Trayvon Martin than any specific details he might have revealed in that song. Except for the last part about not being the one but at least being good. The bit that cuts through in “Chanel” isn’t the designer-brand double entendre but the most direct and tender sentence that follows: “It’s really you on my mind.” There, another name kept in secret. Though Frank may never share it, he has already told enough.