We’re used to Frank Ocean surprising us, whether it’s with a carpentry tutorial (Endless), placing a magnifying glass over privilege (‘Sweet Life’ & ‘Super Rich Kids’), or perhaps just a deeply affecting, introspective look at his own sexuality and relationships (‘Self Control’) and ‘Chanel’ is no different. Ocean surprised listeners when he debuted the track on his Beats 1 radio show Blonded and rather astutely, ‘Chanel’ is not used as an insight into Ocean’s fashion aesthetic but as an extension of his discussion on sexuality.
Once more, the theme of duality arises in Ocean’s thought process- an idea that recurred frequently throughout Ocean’s sophomore album Blonde. ‘My guy pretty like a girl/And he got fight stories to tell,’ reveals Ocean. ‘I see both sides like Chanel/See on both sides like Chanel.’ The insignia for the French fashion house are two overlapping Cs placed back to back, resembling a Venn diagram. The image is perhaps a metaphor for Ocean’s bisexuality. The allusion to the Chanel logo details Ocean’s understanding of his male lover’s complexities, who possesses both feminine qualities but also a need to exert his masculinity through fighting. Further examples of duality appear later in the song too, notably in Ocean’s reference to racist police brutality (’12 treat a nigga like he 12′).
‘Chanel’, like so many Ocean tracks, is spun like a spider’s web; seemingly unsubstantial and gossamer-like but incredibly detailed too. He strings together particles of different narratives, connecting them loosely with a comprehensive theme. The composition matches that; the piano is watered down to produce a pure elegance as the percussion scuffs and shuffles modestly like clockwork in the background. Ocean’s elastic vocal, which veers from strained screeches to slurred but pacy bars, plays a crucially orchestrating role. Without his guidance, ‘Chanel’s’ soporific muteness might evaporate into the ether. But like anything Ocean puts out, we’re too busy picking it apart to forget about it.
Images courtesy of Billboard and Vibe