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It’s tough being a Frank Ocean fan — especially this weekend.
The enigmatic and reclusive rapper, considered to be one of the great visionary artists of his generation, had not performed a full public concert since 2017 and or released an album since 2016, so he was arguably the most anticipated act at this year’s Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. But as he closed out the fest Sunday — taking the main stage almost a full hour late, leaving that stage twice to give others the spotlight, playing half-hidden behind a screen, and eventually pulling the plug due to a curfew violation — even the most devoted Ocean diehards had difficulty defending what was possibly the most lackluster headlining performance in Coachella’s 24-year history.
By midnight, “Frank Ocean” was a top trending topic on Twitter, and for all the wrong reasons.
No one shows up this way for something they love.
Frank Ocean doesn’t seem like someone in love with the art anymore. Maybe there’s more going on and if so he deserves grace. But that was so bad it’s insulting to anyone who is a fan.
— Emeka Okafor, Jr. (@eokaforjr) April 17, 2023
trust me you did not want to be watching frank ocean
— hell yeahhh (@bakedmussels) April 17, 2023
if ur going weekend 2 to coachella, i can save you 2 hours of your life by summing up frank ocean’s performance:
- 1 hour late
- no thinkin bout you
- random dj set for 20 minutes by a stranger
- alien baby
- still no thinkin bout you
- abrupt exit
— kayla (@SUGARF0XX) April 17, 2023
cant believe frank ocean didn’t have an amazing set after not performing for 6 years
— 😑🖕 (@slimeballtelly) April 17, 2023
being a frank ocean stan is among the top 2 most painful things in this world because oh my god pic.twitter.com/suEQpLsEKI
— artichoke corkscrews🧚🏼♂️ (@justInwuah) April 17, 2023
A man has never played me worse than Frank Ocean tonight.
— Nij (@amnija_) April 17, 2023
The unpredictable Ocean, aka Christopher Edwin Breaux, has long held a reputation for being a reluctant star and cancelling concerts: for instance, he pulled out of the FYF Festival, which like Coachella was an AEG/Goldenvoice event, with just a few days’ notice in 2015. Ocean was supposed to play Coachella 2020 before it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he was not on the bill when the festival returned to Indio, Calif.’s Empire Polo Club in 2022. This year, he did show up, but the first indication of trouble came Sunday afternoon, when signs reading “NO FRANK OCEAN MERCHANDISE” were displayed in the merch booths, along with whiteboards in the press tent stating that no professional photographers would be allowed in the pit to shoot Ocean’s show.
Then it was announced without explanation, via a tweet by YouTube’s official account, that Ocean’s set would not be livestreamed as previously advertised. (Representatives for Coachella’s promoter, AEG/Goldenvoice, did not respond to Yahoo Entertainment’s request for comment.) Undeterred Frank fans on the actual field of course found a way, securing their spots near the main stage hours before his scheduled 10:05 p.m. time slot and bootleg-broadcasting his hyped show on their phones though Instagram Live, TikTok, and Twitch. But none of what eventually made it onto the internet lived up to that hype — and once again, Twitter was abuzz with frustrated fans who felt like they’d been duped.
I respect Frank's decision and don't think it should be a given that sets will always be livestreamed but letting Coachella and YouTube promote a Frank stream until hours before (and letting fans get excited) was... a choice https://t.co/NwjVkVD9Y3
— Eric Renner Brown (@ericrennerbrown) April 17, 2023
— Vanessa Franko (@vanessafranko) April 17, 2023
With the clock ticking away towards Indio area’s curfew — which typically is an hour earlier, at midnight, on Sundays and weeknights — Ocean left those fans hanging. By the time he finally emerged at 11 p.m., the impatient audience was primed and pumped for a high-production, hits-packed spectacle on the level of the weekend’s earlier glitzy headliners, Bad Bunny and BLACKPINK. Instead, the elusive Ocean anticlimactically appeared on a dimmed stage that was mostly blocked by a massive screen, with only a narrow gap revealing the stage’s cave-like interior. This intimate setup, which resembled a humble recording studio, may have worked to great effect at a smaller venue, but it simply did not translate to a sprawling field packed with more than 100,000 people.
Independent investigative outlet the Festive Owl has reported that Sunday's main stage was originally supposed to feature a fully functional ice rink, but Ocean decided to scrap that idea on Sunday afternoon and have the ice melted down — and if this last-minute production request was not heeded, he'd cancel his show entirely, leaving the festival without a closing headliner. However, AEG/Goldenvoice has not commented on that situation either. (A behind-the-scenes security employee on the grounds had tipped off Yahoo Entertainment at 3 p.m. Sunday that Ocean was rumored to be canceling, but this seemed to be untrue when he eventually showed up.)
I’ve been speaking with sources about exactly what transpired and how things went so far downhill Sunday for #FrankOcean + #Coachella…so here you go 👇
The stage production was suppose to (and did) contain an ice rink that was constructed and ready to go.
Frank decided at the…
— Festive Owl (@TheFestiveOwl) April 17, 2023
Whether or not Ocean's ice-skating rink was replaced by that simple darkened lair, it was there in that lair that Ocean remained for most of the night — his back partially turned, his face obscured by the hood of his blue parka, hunched over a microphone — while the audience was forced to watch his shambolic show through camera angles of him performing from behind the screen. Some confused fans were actually overheard half-jokingly speculating that Ocean wasn’t even physically at Coachella, and was punking everyone by just running a pre-taped video performance on the main stage’s jumbotron — because that’s exactly what it looked like.
— Gregory Ellwood - The Playlist 🎬 (@TheGregoryE) April 17, 2023
Halfway through his performance — which fittingly kicked off with a rock version of “Novacane” (Ocean’s debut single about meeting a girl at Coachella), but never got into a groove due to many awkward, silent, between-song lulls — Ocean actually exited the stage to let DJ Crystal Mess take over with a “little rave mix” interlude of his songs (including the Jersey Club remix of “Slide” and a bounce edit of “Pyramids”). Ocean watched his DJ from the stage wings, clutching his famous green baby doll, later explaining: “This is f***ing chaotic, but so much fun. … Looking back, I feel like in 2020 when I was just starting to throw parties in little clubs in New York before shit started going down, I was having a good time listening to new music with DJs coming in on their shit. … It’s good that it’s not always all about me, so I wanted to bring a little of that.”
In another “not about me” moment, Ocean also surrendered the stage to a lip-synching young piano player named Josiah, who he said was “playing my inner child.” And there were other moments when Ocean, who seemed to want to be anywhere but Coachella, walked away from his mic completely and allowed his pre-recorded vocals to play on, not even bothering to go through the motions and mouth along.
Ocean, whose last albums were the dual releases Blonde and Endless seven years ago, also disappointed fans when he seemingly started to hint that new music was forthcoming — a tease that immediately elicited cheers of delight from the crowd — only to dismissively clarify, “Not that there’s not a new album — just not right now.” Instead, in the evening’s only moment of real connection, he explained that he was playing Coachella, not to promote new material, but as a tribute to his brother Ryan Breaux, who died in a 2020 car accident at age 18.
“We used to come here a lot… I know he would’ve been so excited.”
Frank Ocean just gave a heartfelt speech talking about his late brother Ryan ❤️ pic.twitter.com/JUg0OWCXd2
— Complex Music (@ComplexMusic) April 17, 2023
“My brother and I, we came to this festival a lot. I feel like I was dragged here so much of the time. I hated the dust; I always dealt with a respiratory infection,” Ocean stated. “I would always come here, and one of my fondest memories is watching Rae Sremmurd with my brother. … I know he would’ve been so excited to be here with all of us. I wanted to say thank you for the support and the ears and the love for all this time. I’m going to get back to the songs.”
Frank Ocean's speech at Coachella. He teased a new album but clarifies it's not here right
"We used to come here a lot- I know he
would've been so excited."
Frank Ocean just gave a heartfelt speech
talking about his late brother Ryan & expressed the love ❤️ #frankocean pic.twitter.com/H42PAkwRYj
— Blond (@oceanonfrank) April 17, 2023
Those songs included reworked (and sometimes barely recognizable) versions of “Pink + White,” “Solo,” “Chanel,” “Self-Control,” “Wiseman,” and an abridged “Nikes,” as well as covers of Ice Spice's “In Ha Mood” and the Isley Brothers’ Aaliyah-popularized “At Your Best (You Are Love)” — but bafflingly, not Ocean’s signature song, “Thinkin Bout You.”
— Underground Rap Source (@ragehourss) April 17, 2023
Perhaps Ocean had other hits planned for his setlist, but after the Isleys cover, he abruptly announced, “Guys, I’m being told it’s curfew, so that’s the end of the show.” The stage then suddenly cut to black as he vanished and concertgoers cried out for “one more song” — but those chants soon turned to jeers and tears as their pleas for an encore were ignored. Twitter once again exploded with irate posts, but some fans expressed concern for the superstar, observing that he appeared to be struggling throughout his lethargic performance and hoping that he was doing OK.
frank ocean performing at coachella did more harm than good
— . (@jojifanaticc) April 17, 2023
me bc frank ocean’s set lasted 3 minutes and half of it was remixes pic.twitter.com/k8ZRTfm62Z
— 𝕤𝕖𝕝𝕖𝕟𝕒 (@itisntselena) April 17, 2023
frank ocean started an hour late for a bushwick boiler room set and lip syncing pic.twitter.com/6Uk8ICx2WT
— ☆ (@Iongweave) April 17, 2023
Those who went to see that Frank Ocean performance live having to stand there waiting for over an hour because he was late after already waiting god knows how long to have a good spot and then have the set abruptly cut short by curfew tho I would be in tears entering my hater era
— Kara Head (@KaraonTW) April 17, 2023
Björk, who preceded Ocean's underwhelming set on the main stage Sunday, also elected not to have her show livestreamed, also as a seemingly last-minute decision. But in a genuine you-had-to-be-there Coachella moment, the Icelandic enchantress — the first female artist to ever officially headline the festival, back in 2002 (when she was pregnant!), and one of the few women to ever have that honor — saved the day with her stunning, orchestral tour de force.
Taking over the golden-hour symphonic slot filled by past standout heritage acts like Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman, Björk pulled off a spectacular, spiritual-experience show that will surely go down in Coachella history alongside legendary past sets by the likes of Beyoncé and Daft Punk. While she stated on Instagram that her Coachella performance prioritized “simplicity” — at least compared to her current “very complex” Cornucopia touring revue — it was in fact a dizzying and dazzling production that took place under a desert sky illuminated with 864 color-coordinated drones. It also included a full orchestra conducted by Iceland’s Bjarni Frímann, with the headdressed, Betty Boop-eyed diva looking like a living Christmas ornament, one of those touch-sensitive porcupine lamps from Spencer Gifts, or (as Ken Jeong has often guessed) the Dandelion from The Masked Singer in her hoop-skirted latex gown. Björk later posted that she hoped “the audience got slashes of synesthesia while watching” her 13-song, career-spanning (and, it should be noted, totally punctual) set, which established her as Sunday’s de facto — if unofficial — headliner.
The second weekend of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival will kick off Friday, back on the same Empire Polo Club field. As of this writing, Ocean is still slated to headline its final day, but whether or not he will play the same disorganized and disappointing set, if he (and Björk) will appear on the livestream, or if there will be an ice rink on the stage remains to be seen.
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