[A Lesson in Branding]: Frank Ocean

Wow… So yesterday, Frank Ocean put a new spin on [Independence Day]. After formally coming out to the world about his past feelings for another man, the world of music (particularly the close-minded hip-hop genre) had a lot to say. Although many fans, including [the no names], were supportive of Frank’s news, there were still others who didn’t feel the same. You guys know that branding is a big thing for me, so all the buzz got me thinking… Now that Independence Day has passed and the fireworks have ceased, what’s next for Frank’s brand? I think it’s pretty clear that this whole situation is like a double-edged sword. There are pros and very obvious cons. Let’s examine a few.

In one respect, I think Frank Ocean’s confession completely legitimizes his lyrics. You can tell that he’s been in love, a real love, that wasn’t just about sex or fun. The emotions that he sings about in songs like Thinkin’ Bout You come to life in a completely new, moving way. And the fact that he’s so comfortable with his identity, especially being in such a homophobic field of music, adds a layer of realness to his brand. He is who he is and fans can either accept that or keep it moving. Now, let’s flip it 180 degrees.

There’s a [consumer-to-brand] trust issue that comes into play from male and female fans alike. One of the biggest rules in branding is consistency and he’s broken that rule to a certain extent. Just like with other celebrities that come out during their careers, fans have to break down one image that they’ve built of a person and completely restructure their feelings. Sadly, some fans aren’t willing to take the time to reinvest in someone after such a change. Their views change entirely, from the artist’s music to their private lives, and that can almost feel like being backstabbed or cheated on. Just like when your favorite product-brand changes its logo and you’re like, “What?” It has that kind of effect. People either like it or they don’t and, sometimes the ones that don’t would rather just write off a brand than work on that relationship.

So now that his brand’s officially been restructured, other changes will follow. Even now, as I listen to nostalgia,ULTRA, every lyric seems to have a new meaning. No, it’s not because I’m wondering if he’s singing about girls or boys (because I believe the songs he says are about women really are about women). In fact, rumor has it that with Channel Orange, his debut studio album which drops later this month, he’s been very careful with his pronouns and word choice to specify between guys and girls. I think the new meaning comes because this situation makes people think differently (a habit that most people don’t like to do).

There’s no precedent for a situation like this. Frank Ocean is one of the first, if not the only, openly “not-straight” people in the world of mainstream hip-hop/R&B. And I’m not sure if he planned it this way from the jump, but the fact the he very effectively established himself as a young beast in the industry prior to releasing this information is going to push people to look at themselves, not just him. What I mean is, if you could love and relate to someone’s music so much when you thought it was a [straight] love song, then changing your mind after all the facts are presented proves prejudice, right? Some people have no problem showing their true colors, but Frank’s brave move will lead a larger population, an entire industry, to look at themselves in a new way. Were you team Frank before you found out? What about now?

We all know that homophobia is something that has infected not only the hip-hop community, but also the Black, American, and global communities at large. Now, I’m left wondering if his
well-deserved rise to the top will be cut short. He’s already worked with some of the industry’s biggest names and people know what he can do. If things stop for him now, if people stop asking him to write for them or jump on their songs, there’s only one thing that’s changed right? In psychology, we’d call that the manipulated variable. It’s used to expose the cause of an effect. *lightbulbs turn on*

At the end of the day, Frank Ocean is an amazing gift to the world of music. Anyone that’s taken the time to listen to his work can vouch for him. His brand will definitely go down in history for pushing this remarkably sturdy boundary back miles. Let’s just hope that this inevitable rebrand doesn’t make his career history as well. It’ll be interesting to watch how things play out. For now, I’m gonna keep my TV on Channel Orange.