Like many people, I found myself eagerly anticipating Frank Ocean’s performance on the Grammys last night. While I do not consider myself a diehard Frank Ocean fan, I was curious to see if his performance would live up to its hype. After all, Frank Ocean has received a lot of extra attention ever since his album credits implied that he was either gay or bisexual last year. In spite of the rave reviews that his album Channel Orange has received from critics and a few of my friends, his music never quite appealed to me. Seeing him perform “Bad Religion” live on Jimmy Fallon’s show did not make things any better. What some people viewed as a bold demonstration of his feelings for the man he fell in love with, I viewed as a bit whiny and repetitive. (For the record, my problem with the song had nothing to do with it being about a man. Rest assured, if I ever wrote a song like that about a woman who shut me down, I would give my friends permission to commit me to a mental institution.)
When Frank Ocean finally got on stage last night, I was a bit excited. With the exception of the one time I streamed his album from his Tumblr when it first came out, I never actually heard “Forrest Gump.” The message of the song was clear—the man who had been the object of Frank’s affection was “buff and strong,” and had apparently been “running through…[his] mind all day.” I wasn’t all that impressed with the lyrics. It reminded me of the kind of weak lines that my male friends used to try on the local girls back when we were in middle school. Still, I was determined to give this performance a chance.
I appreciated Frank Ocean’s use of the keyboard. The simplicity of his arrangement was encouraging to me considering how insecure I tend to be about my own keyboard skills. I tend to think that I do not play well enough to play for myself on a large stage, but Frank Ocean’s keyboard skills did not seem much more advanced than mine. In addition, his vocal range and tone seemed pretty similar to mine. That quickly, I went from being his critic to feeling a sense of camaraderie with him. Therefore, it was pretty painful for me to hear him loss his pitch.
As I sat in my mom’s living room (with my cousin and my uncle who were both also cringing at Frank Ocean’s pitch), I found myself imagining how Frank Ocean was feeling as the performance continued. Artists are perfectionists by nature. As a result, artists are often their own worst critics. If he was indeed aware of what was happening, he was probably falling apart inside and trying hard to hold it together until he was able to head backstage and reflect.
The only explanation I could come up with to justify Frank Ocean’s inability to stay on pitch was a failure of his monitors. I still can’t bring myself to believe that an artist like him would be willing to attempt such a bare musical arrangement if his pitch were a consistent problem. When I glanced at Twitter, I noticed that most of my friends felt the same way. Frank Ocean was struggling through his largest televised performance to date. His attempt at being groundbreaking was going to be overshadowed by an equipment failure. It didn’t seem fair.
In the end, my heart goes out to Frank Ocean because I know that all artists are very sensitive about their work. No matter how I may feel about his lyrical quality, I acknowledge that his music comes from a deeply personal place (just like mine does). This performance would have been difficult enough for him if it were perfect. The failure of the monitors or whatever ended up causing him to fall of pitch only made the performance even more challenging. Hopefully, he’ll be able to put this unfortunate episode behind him and take comfort in the fact that he managed to walk away with two Grammys.