Brave Thinkers 2012 November 2012

Frank Ocean

More

Singer/Songwriter

In July, Ocean posted an open letter online telling of how, at 19, he had fallen in love with a man. This would have been unremarkable but for the fact that Ocean was a 24-year-old soul singer and songwriter who had performed on Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne, written songs for Justin Bieber and Beyoncé, and put his own velvety ballad “Thinkin Bout You” on the charts—and was about to release his major-label debut, Channel Orange.

The revelation challenged the entrenched culture of homophobia in pop and hip-hop music: The macho boasts on many of rap’s most canonical albums double as hate speech, and Katy Perry conquers charts while dissing effeminate exes as “gay.” Queer artists usually succeed by cashing in on society’s stereotypes about flamboyance, or by not addressing their sexuality at all.

The atmospheric, adventuresome R&B songs on Channel Orange, though, are littered with references to Ocean’s unrequited same-sex attraction: “I could never make him love me,” goes one wrenching chorus. That the album debuted at No. 2 in the country and inspired public support from big-name rappers, singers, and industry execs indicates that society is changing. But Ocean is a reminder that in pop culture, telling one’s own story honestly can still be a radical act.

See all our 2012 Brave Thinkers.

Image credit: Chad Bakta/Corbis

Spencer Kornhaber is an Atlantic associate editor.
Jump to comments
Presented by

Spencer Kornhaber is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he edits the Entertainment channel. More

Before coming to The Atlantic, he worked as an editor for AOL's Patch.com and as a staff writer at Village Voice Media's OC Weekly. He has also written for Spin, The AV Club, RollingStone.com, Field & Stream, and The Orange County Register.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In