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Did Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ Live Up to the Hype? GQ Editors Review

Five GQ staffers answer the impossible-to-answer question.

Frank Ocean's Blonde is here, finally, after a four-year wait. But after all the delays, rumors, visual albums set against woodworking videos, and general anticipation, the question is: Did Ocean deliver on the immense hype the public created around this album, and that he himself seemed to encourage the more he tried to retreat? If there's one thing that's certain about this record, it's that people feelings get particularly feelsy when trying to wrap their heads around it. Below, five GQ editors do their best to weigh their expectations of Blonde (or Blond as its written on the album cover) to the reality of the music.

Jake Woolf, Style Staff Writer

I really missed Frank Ocean. His first two projects, Nostalgia, Ultra and Channel Orange, both easily crack my personal list of the 25 best albums ever (rapid-fire ranking: Nostalgia is No. 22, Orange comes in at No. 9), and when I revisit songs like “Pyramid” and “Lost,” I feel like I can smell my bedroom in the apartment where I lived at the time. But transporting back to such a specific moment loses its appeal after the 100th journey, so when Ocean announced in early 2015 that Boys Don’t Cry would be released in July, I was ready. I'm sure we all were.

So when that date, then several others, came and went, I was disappointed. But I wanted to let Frank Ocean do his thing. He's never seemed to care much about what the music industry says he should do, but even the greats have succumbed to record label pressure just to put out a sub-par project. Luckily, all of the high-profile albums released in the early part of this calendar year, from The Life of Pablo to Lemonade to A Moon Shaped Pool, Views, and the return of Guwop, could have crowded out a new release by Frank Ocean. So, though we didn’t have much of a say in the matter, I’m glad we waited. Because Blonde is truly beautiful, and now it has a moment of its own.

It’s easy to intellectualize the kind of soft, deliberate music found on Blonde as romantic and deep just because it feels better than calling it boring. Blonde, however, is not that. It’s layered, poignant, and thoughtful; even after five or six listens things are still revealing themselves. Though part of me wishes there were a song that broke the considered precision and just had fun (Frank Ocean has to have fun sometimes, right?), maybe something like that would break the spell songs like “Self Control,” “Solo,” “Nights,” and “Siegfried” put me under. It’s hard to say right now if Blonde will transport me back to this moment in time when I play it in three months, a year, or four years, but right now, the moment is pretty damn satisfying. And it was well worth the wait.

Rating: Twoooo/Twoooo Versions

Kevin Nguyen, Digital Deputy Editor

On Saturday, my girlfriend and I skipped a party to finish Stranger Things. (Okay, we watched six episodes in a row.) Around midnight, we put on Blonde after realizing both our phones had been possessed by a frenzy of tweets about Frank Ocean. I would’ve been just as excited if weren’t so late in arriving. We put it on and let it play through as we got ready for bed. The next day, we had friends over for brunch, and as we were cooking and tidying up the apartment, we listened through Blonde twice. After we served food, we put it on again. Frank Ocean was in the background of our weekend.

Having listened to the album in its entirety four times now, it’s funny how little of it sticks out. There are no clear knockout moments. In the GQ group chat, Chris asked the other editors what their favorite song on the album was. The answers were varied (though there was some shared support for “Solo,” which I agree with). Blonde doesn’t have anything as immediate as “Thinkin Bout You" or audacious as “Pyramids.” It’s slower and sadder than Channel Orange, but in its restraint, Blonde seems to be asking for patience. Quiet music takes repeated listens to be appreciated. And though I still listen to Channel Orange on a somewhat regular basis, it’s the simpler productions—“Forrest Gump,” “Lost"—that have stayed with me.

So when people ask if Blonde was worth the wait, I just have to admit that I don’t know yet. But there is something satisfying about knowing that it will take me some time to unpack the album, to figure out what exactly we’ve been anticipating. Frank Ocean has been working on Blonde for what seems like forever. We could do him the courtesy of taking our time too.

Rating: 3000/3000 Andres

Chris Gayomali, News and Culture Editor

It’s telling that the most beautiful moment on Blonde is when Frank is spiritually closest to God. On “Godspeed,” he starts with a thick tangle of Twin Peaks-ian ‘80s synths that, for the next 35 seconds, mutate into a wall of scraggly, dissonant noise; you can practically hear the ghost of Lester Bangs popping an Astral Weeks boner. But as the crescendo builds and builds, instead of reaching an apex the floor suddenly drops out, leaving Frank’s voice to quake with a single dulcet keyboard tone. And let’s face it: “I will always love you,” is just about the most vulnerable thing you can say, especially for someone like Frank, who is always croaking against the upper limits of his vocal register.

It’s a nifty trick that Kanye only recently began to understand, and borrow, with Pablo: Polish is fine, but it’s not really all that interesting. In ignoring and pushing past his very real limitations as a vocalist, Frank is able to show us something raw, fragile, imperfect—the cracks reveal something real. Something human and fallible. (It’s the inverse of 2016 Drake’s airtight technical approach, in a way.) Now, there’s probably a deeper meaning to be extracted about 2016 when three of the most important and critically received albums of the year are by black artists drawing directly from gospel music. It’s almost an admission of something, like maybe all of this isn't enough.

Rating: Four/Four dropped BMW E-30s

Scott Meslow, Culture Critic

Does Blonde live up to the hype? How could it? Four years is a long time to wait for an album, and nothing short of the greatest album in history was going to retroactively justify all the digital ink that has been spilled. Blonde is great, but probably not the greatest album in history.

Maybe the most interesting thing about Blonde is how Frank Ocean self-consciously skirted all the hype. On Friday, he got the news cycle spinning in a different direction by releasing the visual album Endless. Then he dropped the new album on a Saturday night—arguably the time when people, including music bloggers, are least likely to be sitting in front of their computers. Without any warning, he had changed the album’s title from Boys Don’t Cry to Blonde, which made it that much harder for bloggers to write about and fans to Google. And the new title is a puzzle in itself; though the album is officially called Blonde, the cover spells it Blond, atop a picture of Frank Ocean with green hair. In short: Nothing about Blonde is immediately accessible, and that didn’t stop it from being what looks like a smash success.

So was Frank Ocean so pure in his artistry that he didn’t actually care about the hype that built up to a fever pitch over four long years? Or was Frank Ocean so confident in the album’s success that he knew he could erect all these barriers and still get everybody talking about him? Either way, it is a ballsy way to drop an album, and I have to call that a triumph in itself.

Rating: Two/Two Ways to Spell Blonde

Shakeil Greeley, Web Producer / Designer

The main thing Blonde has me thinking about is the death of Frank Ocean the "musician" and the emergence of Frank Ocean the "artist." He's always had a very strong eye for visual art (the video for "Pyramids," his unfortunately out-of-tune Grammys performance, etc.), but Blonde/Endless (I don’t think the two can be separated) is Frank showing us that he wants to be thought of as an artist whose primary medium is sound, as opposed to just a singer. Endless serves as a palate-cleanse between Channel Orange and Blonde because it gives us songs like “Higgs/Outro” that sound nothing like anything Frank has ever done. (Or will probably ever do again, considering it's not really his song but that of German photographer Wolfgang Tillman.)

So I've been trying to forget about Channel Orange, and to listen to Blonde with a fresh ear. It just feels like the polite thing to do. Blonde/Endless lives up to the hype by sidestepping the expectations that people had of Frank Ocean the musician.

It’s also just a beautiful record. Confession: I cried the first time I heard “Solo.”

Rating: 9/10 Mom Truths You Still Ignore

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