Brave Thinkers 2012 November 2012

Frank Ocean

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

Presented by

Spencer Kornhaber is an Atlantic associate editor. 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.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

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

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In