In the past few weeks, the music world has been all abuzz about a man called Frank Ocean. If you hadn’t heard of him before, you will very soon.

The Odd Future affiliate and solo RnB artist recently revealed via a poetic Tumblr post that his first love was a man. Cue media frenzy. Many have praised his courage, but what Ocean has done poses a timely question that many fans have raised this week. Should an artist have to come out? Isn’t it all supposed to be about the music? Should we really care?

Ocean’s lengthy Tumblr post was intended to fill the thank-you’s section of his album credits for Channel Orange, his official debut following his mixtape-come-break Nostalgia_Ultra last year.

Ocean’s post was incredibly powerful and eloquent, and unlike previous celebrities, he decided not splash a provocative ‘coming out’ across a magazine cover, or via a TV or newspaper interview.

In fact, Ocean actually avoids definitively saying “I’m gay”, but instead writes a fluid memoir that tells the story of a man who became the singer’s first love in his youth.

Heartbreaking and forthright, the singer broke through a long overdue convention for closeted celebrities with his online post. Writing in some detail about his experiences as a 19-year-old: “By the time I realised I was in love, it was malignant, it was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love, it changed my life.”

Following the post, the album for which the liner notes were intended, Channel Orange, was released a week ahead of its intended release date and after the crooner made his first ever television network appearance with a performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.

Ocean undoubtedly decided to make the important decision to come out, prior to the release of his new album, to put to bed the rumours that had been generating from those who had (over) analysed the lyrics of his previous work.

His decision to perform album track ‘Bad Religion’ on Fallon is evident. In its lyrics, Ocean seeks therapy from a taxi driver, singing: “I can’t tell you the truth of my disguise”… before he deftly reveals “I could never make him love me.”

The reaction from the music community (so far) has been overwhelmingly positive. Tyler the Creator, who along with the entire Odd Future posse, has in the past been accused of homophobia tweeted: “My Big Brother Finally Fucking Did That, I Know That Shit Is Difficult Or Whatever.”

Fellow member, Earl Sweatshirt (who also makes an appearance on Channel Orange) also took to social media for his vote of support, tweeting: “Proud of Frank.”

But some of the most moving responses of support have come from outside of the Odd Future cohort. Beyoncé posted a touching poem in front of a picture of Ocean, while Def Jam records co-founder Russell Simmons said; “I am profoundly moved by [Ocean’s] courage and honesty.”

Meanwhile, most of what the media has reported on Ocean’s ‘coming out’ has been constructive and sympathetic, but you can assume there is still plenty of bigotry in the atmosphere.

You can argue that the announcement and the release of his debut album is great marketing and there is no doubting that. But the singer’s intentions seem to have little to do with sales, and more so with him being able to express himself as an artist without the rumourmongers creating unnecessary suspicion from behind the safety of their computers.

We can’t speak for the folks at Def Jam Island, Ocean’s record label, but from their perspective – we’re sure they probably wouldn’t have minded the added boost of media attention Ocean received towards Channel Orange. Perhaps even prompting its week-early release.

While many have suggested that the singer’s personal revelation is a groundbreaking milestone for the American hip-hop scene, Public Enemy’s outspoken MC, Chuck D has dismissed it’s relative importance. Saying that it would have little impact on the hip-hop world as Ocean is technically not a rapper.

“When people say that this is a hip-hop first,” said Chuck D, “it’s not really because he’s not a straight rapper. He may be part of Odd Future, but he’s a singer.” While there is some truth to what Chuck D is saying, his public admittance of his sexuality still remains a huge step towards social equality in the music scene.

Don’t believe it? Think it’s not a big deal? In nature, it shouldn’t be, one man’s sexual preference should be his private business, but that he’s allowed it to be public demonstrates he’s surrounded by a society that hasn’t progressed enough for it not to be a controversial issue.

Frank Ocean could well be the most well-known African American male of his generation to come out as a gay or bi-sexual in America’s generally conservative RnB and hip-hop scene. His influence is already far-reaching, having featured on the biggest hip-hop album of last year, contributing to two tracks on Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch the Throne.

If there’s an argument to ignore the matter of the singer’s sexuality, it’s simply because he makes great music. We shouldn’t invest so much in the minor details of what Frank Ocean sings about as much as you can just enjoy it for what it is; a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ in a lyric is pure semiotics at the end of the day. Does the fact that Elton John is homosexual really diminish the romantic power of a ballad like ‘Your Song?’

It shouldn’t, and nor should Ocean’s sexual orientation be a barometer for the passion and direction of his music’s effect.

A singer’s sexual orientation shouldn’t factor in your love of an artist at all. Sure you may identify with a singer for expressing something that you recognise or relate to. But you shouldn’t rush out and buy Channel Orange solely on the basis that its 24-year-old creator made a post ‘clarifying’ his sexual preference.

If anything, Ocean’s brave move to ‘go public’ was so he could free himself creatively, or as he signed off his eloquent liner noes: “I feel like a free man. If I listen closely… I can hear the sky falling too.” to write about whatever he wishes without his sexuality coming into the equation and muddying his music’s interpretation. Or as Chuck D put it; “at least he was being real with it. The next thing is to sing about it.”

Should Ocean or any artist really have their work so deconstructed by critics to the point where listeners expect an unflinching honesty from the contemporary music world? Is that the point? Can’t an artist write about fiction or fact, or even blur the lines between the two without a columnist or blogger creating painful and hideous conjecture?

In todays’ current media climate, where anyone with internet access can become a ‘keyboard warrior’ of the online world, artists’ every move – not just their creative output – is placed under a microscope more than ever before.

Why the scrutiny? So Ocean wrote a few times about a male love interest, he’s also written about past relationships with females as well. Does that mean we can definitely suggest that’s he’s bisexual and not gay? Of course not.

Ocean may just be the latest musical pioneer for the ideology that sexuality is fluid. But more importantly he could be at the forefront of a philosophy that suggests an artist can write about whatever they want without an obsessive media peering over their shoulders and drawing conclusions without hesitation.

People connect with songs in different ways based on their own personal experiences. Frank Ocean’s sexuality shouldn’t be the decisive factor in whether or not you enjoy his music. If people enjoyed his music less because of his ‘coming out’, then maybe there is still stifling homophobia present, which reducies his honest Tumblr reveal into a negative stereotype. Just as many people out there still wrongly associate all members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community under the same umbrella stereotype.

When suicide figures of young gay teens are devastatingly high, role models such as Ocean should be applauded for breaking the mould, and helping to perpetrate an image that homosexuals can’t and shouldn’t be stigmatised.

So does Frank Ocean ‘owe us’ an explanation? No, he shouldn’t have had to come out, but nor should he have to sit idly by and let others question and incessantly nit-pick at his lyrics to find homosexual inferences.

In this sense, what Ocean’s actions have achieved for him and the wider music community remains noteworthy. A step, no matter how large or small, towards a future where musicians and other public figures don’t have to validate their private lives on the front cover of a glossy magazine to validate the curiosities of the masses.

One day, it should simply just be as insignificant a fact as whether an artist plays guitar or piano, it’s all part of the make-up of the music that they make, rather than the definition of it; cause if you haven’t already heard, Channel Orange is pretty fucking great.

Ocean himself summed it up perfectly on his original Tumblr post; “my hope is that the babies born these days will inherit less of the bullshit than we did.” If not for people like Ocean, statements such as this wouldn’t be on their way to being realised.

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