One week ago, The New York Times broke what might have been one of the biggest pop-music stories of the summer. Frank Ocean, “the innovative and enigmatic R&B singer, is set to release his next album, Boys Don’t Cry, on Friday through an exclusive deal with Apple Music, according to a person with knowledge of the release plans,” wrote Ben Sisario and Joe Coscarelli.
The story coincided with the arrival of an “endless” video showing Ocean performing carpentry work. But because the stream was posted without mention of an imminent album, it seemed likely that the Times’ source, “who was not authorized to discuss the release plans and therefore spoke on condition of anonymity,” was someone high-up at Ocean’s label, or in Ocean’s creative camp, or at Apple. The unauthorized breaking of silence was a reminder that even for a talent as singular as Ocean—and even in an era when physical distribution and long-lead promotion are no longer essential steps in the album-release process—no major musician fully works alone.
Friday came and went without Boys Don’t Cry materializing, spurring understandable frustration among fans. But the false alarm seemed of a piece with one of the ideals that Ocean has long stood for: the notion of an artist fully in charge of his art. It’s possible that logistical snares have held up the album, of course, and it’s possible it was never actually planned for Friday in the first place. But at this point, after so many previous delays from him, Ocean may again be exercising his prerogative to stall—perhaps to continuing to polish the music, or perhaps to confound expectations again, or to retreat because of nerves, or to simply finish building whatever object he’s been working on in the video stream.