Since he first emerged as a member of the Odd Future collective around the beginning of this decade, Frank Ocean has managed to build an admirable arms-length relationship with fame, releasing music, touring and communicating only when and how he wants to. He’s even used that relationship as its own form of performance art: In August of 2016, he captivated the music world for several days as he rolled out not one but two albums in baffling fashion, beginning with an hours-long livestream of himself building a staircase, which led to the release of his flimsy “visual album” called “Endless”; then dropping a dazzling and meaning-loaded video for his song “Nikes,” and climaxed shortly after with the release of his critically lauded “Blonde” album via his own label and Apple Music. He followed with a brief tour in the summer of 2017 that was filmed by Spike Jonze, although no footage has yet been released.
His relationship with the media has been similar, and in a rare interview published in GQ Thursday, he talked about lots of things: His sudden decision to make his Instagram account public, politics, living in New York, skin care — and a bit about music too, specifically his choice of cover songs he’s surprise-dropped over the past couple of years, often via his “Blonded” radio show on Apple Music’s Beats 1. But presumably by prior arrangement, nowhere in the interview did he address a new album or tour, or the status of the Jonze project. Read the whole thing at GQ.com.
Asked how his choice of cover songs, specifically his recent cover of the Carpenters’ 1970 hit “Close to You,” fit into his overall repertoire, Ocean said, “Nowadays, I have to live with the song for a bit and I have to see if it’s worthwhile to interpret it first. To see what I can do with it, where I can insert my voice. In the past, I would just like a song and I wouldn’t think about it as seriously as when I do ‘Close to You’ or ‘Moon River’ [from ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’] or [Aaliyah’s] ‘At Your Best…’ It’s much more deliberate than when I was just focused on the rap mixtape approach of taking a beat or flow, swapping the lyrics and performing it. The performance almost being the stream-of-consciousness, in-the-moment thing, whereas now I would much prefer having the song be with me for more time before I have to record it.
Asked if the covers are songs that he keeps coming back to, Ocean replied, “Certainly for ‘At Your Best…,” I was at a party and it came on, and I had to sing it. And I didn’t connect it to [the 2006 film] ‘ATL,’ with T.I. and Lauren London. I watched that movie a lot for some reason when I was 18 and first moved to L.A. I think because it reminded me of home, and that song played when T.I. had the El Camino and first kissed New New, but I didn’t connect it when I was at that party years later that it was something from nostalgia. I started living with it, thinking about how I could do it justice.
“With ‘Close to You,’ it was a similar thing, only without the nostalgia. I was living in a hotel, and I remember listening to it and being really nailed to the floor by Stevie Wonder’s interpretation of it. That version moved into my favorite-songs-of-all-time list, right there with Prince’s ‘When You Were Mine.’ I don’t know what creates that feeling of ‘I have to sing this song.’
“With ‘Moon River,’ though, that was more random,” he concluded. “Someone asked me to sing it, and that was the only reason I listened to it. People ask me to do a lot of things I don’t do [laughs], but when I listened to it, it was something that I wanted to do because I thought the song was small and beautiful and neat. It’s the ‘ocean in the drop’ idea, all these feelings inside this small thing. Living with it, listening to the many versions, thinking about who I would work on it with and what I would go for in interpreting it. Of the covers I’ve done, ‘At Your Best…’ and ‘Moon River’ are my favorites.”