One of the hottest water-cooler debates today is Frank Ocean's performance at last night's Grammy Awards. Was it artistically bold and brilliant? Or was it full of suck? Two BroBible writers discuss:
Frank Ocean Sucked, by Brandon Wenerd:
There were two performances I was looking forward to at The Grammys: Elton John's superjam tribute to Levon Helm and Frank Ocean.
One was awesome, arguably the show's high-water mark. The other tanked. In fact, it flat-out sucked.
In a recap, BuzzFeed claims "Frank Ocean KILLED it during his performance of 'Forrest Gump.' A writer at XXL Magazine lauds Ocean for "showcasing his pitch-perfect vocals." These reactions baffle me. Did we watch the same show? Literally the entire performance was musically flat, and not even in some avant garde way that creates total harmonic dissonance. Are people really this blinded by fanboy love? Was Frank Ocean's off-key performance really what "killing it?" looks like during the music industry's biggest show? Have our standards for music performance in America really become this shitty?
If so, pop culture "influencers" need to learn how to critically evaluate a concert performance.
Every time Ocean tried to scoop his way into "You're on my mind, boy," his voice skidded out of control, landing him on dozens of off-key notes. As a television audience member, it was a painful experience for anyone with a basic grasp of pitch. Every wrong note felt like someone stabbing a bobby-pin down my ear. It wasn't just a one-time fluke occurrence, either. The general lousiness of the performance continued snowballing, growing more and more flat as the song continued. The whistling part of "Forest Gump" barely saved the performance.
I don't care how "artistic" Ocean is, no one wants to watch a solo performer struggle to explore the chromatic scale with his voice, struggling to land on a note that happens to be correct.
How could someone so vocally-talented lack a crucial sense of pitch?
Nerves, I guess. But that's a lousy excuse.
As big of a joke as the Grammys are, it's still the Grammys. It's still the most-watched music award show. Millions of people who care about the performing arts -- even if only casually -- are watching. There's nothing on TV like it. It could have been a huge moment for Ocean. As a headliner with top performance billing in the show, Ocean's pitchy performance felt like a slap in the face to the dozens of capable and talented performers in the audience who would have thrived in a similar spotlight.
I like Frank Ocean. I admire his soft-spoken humbleness. "Channel Orange" is a beautiful album deserving of all the industry platitudes and critical acclaim. Unlike Fun. or some of the other one-hit wonders at the Grammys, he'll have a long, brilliant career.
But that doesn't take away from the fact that Ocean is a professional singer and performer who's chosen craft in life is making music. Just like a NFL wide-receiver's job is to catch balls, Frank Ocean's job as a popular performer is to showcase his craft without hitting flat notes, especially on the music industry's biggest stage. After a year of critical acclaim, the Grammys were a crucial moment for Ocean to live up to lofty expectations. Instead, his talent was upstaged by Miguel in a big way.
It's easy to sit behind a laptop and suggest what Ocean should have done. He should have practiced more. He should have worked on his confidence going into the situation. He should have performed with a band, sticking to a slightly more up-beat, cut-and-dry version of the song that appears as the last track on "Channel Orange." There would have been zero shame in performing accompanied by an ensemble, allowing him to focus on singing and hitting the right notes. Instead, he chose to put the spotlight solely on himself, performing over a sample while playing keys. The result was more of a visual performance than a musical one, which is a damn shame. He put himself in a pressure-filled situation he simply couldn't handle.
If we wanted to end on a mellow, depressing note, I don't know why the show's producers didn't just feature Lana Del Ray or The Weeknd. Literally any song off of "House of Balloons" would have been nine times more exciting than Ocean's solo, isolated performance.
Reggie Nobles words, not mine: Ironically, Frank Ocean couldn't find the key of sea.
Next time, Frank.
Frank Ocean Didn't Suck That Much, by Andy Moore:
I’m not going to give a full defense of Frank Ocean’s performance last night, because, yes, it was pitchy. And, yes, he could have done better than picking “Forrest Gump.” For many viewers, the Grammys marked the first time they’ve been exposed to Ocean, and he chose to capitalize on the opportunity by performing maybe the least accessible song from “Channel Orange.” (I guess if he meant it to be a punk rock-type decision, and he wanted to go even less accessible, he could have brought his mom on stage to reenact the “Not Just Money” skit. It would have made for riveting TV.) Not that smart.
But easy on the hyperbole. The problem here, and the problem with the Grammys in general, is that every performance is hyped as a “Once-in-a-Lifetime Must-See EVENT!!!” Carrie Underwood gave a perfectly fine rendition of one of her 85 songs about a faceoff in the muddy parking lot of a honky tonk bar—but we were expecting so much more after LL Cool J said, multiple times, that it was to be an “historic performance.” A tribute to The Band became overstuffed and overdone, and it soon disintegrated into Elton John and Mavis Staples trying to out-sing each other. An opportunity for Alicia Keys to blow everyone away had to become more of “an event”—so the irresponsibly shitty Maroon 5 became her backing band.
It’s refreshing, then, when artists either don’t give a shit—like Jack White, who gave the night’s best performance with an incredibly unhinged “Freedom at 21”—or they keep it understated, like Ocean did with “Forrest Gump.” Frankie just sang a simple song, coupled it with cool visuals, and got off the stage with some weird whistling. He might have been a little nervous, but let's keep in mind what he was singing about. This was the song that basically drove him to release that Tumblr confession. The performance was about honesty, not technical virtuosity.
Hopefully, it drove curious newbies to check out his album. And even if it didn’t, at least he wasn’t Adam Levine.