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)

Why Do People Love Times Square?

A filmmaker asks New Yorkers and tourists about the allure of Broadway's iconic plaza


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

Why Do People Love Times Square?

A filmmaker asks New Yorkers and tourists about the allure of Broadway's iconic plaza

Video

A Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier

Video

What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets

Video

Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In