Sunday night was officially “Frank Ocean” Day. But then, for those unable to afford the trip to the California desert, YouTube tweeted out the most heartbreaking sentence just three hours before Frank Ocean took the stage.
Ocean’s nostalgia-tinged, “soul-stirring vocals and genre-defying music,” as Purple Sneakers called it, has drawn fans to him for years, keeping them loyal through the last seven years of sporadic music releases and postponed performances.
In 2016, his sophomore studio album, Blonde, was released — a highly personal, introspective look into the now 35-year-old’s creative vision that inspired a whole generation of artists. Ocean had been the headliner in 2020 before the iconic festival was canceled due to the pandemic, as was the 2021 edition. Coachella finally returned after the two-year hiatus last year.
For those longing for a glimpse of the California native’s first performance since 2017, the internet backlash was palpable, the shock waves through the Twitterverse, especially.
I respect Frank's decision and don't think it should be a given that sets will always be livestreamed but letting Coachella and YouTube promote a Frank stream until hours before (and letting fans get excited) was… a choice https://t.co/NwjVkVD9Y3
— Eric Renner Brown (@ericrennerbrown) April 17, 2023
But like all things in the digital age — the internet finds a way. A Reddit thread quickly came together detailing the different attendees who rose to the occasion to stream the event live on Instagram Live, TikTok, even Twitch. This included festivalgoer Morgan Lee, who broadcast under the Instagram handle @Morgandoesntcare.
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Pitchfork interviewed the 18-year-old musician, who was hailed one of the night’s “saviors.” It was even rumored that Lorde slipped in to see the bootleg stream herself. Lee couldn’t check the views, but she said, “Lorde, if you’re in here, I love you.” The Charlotte native was shocked to find that the Frank Ocean subreddit had given her a sort of hall-of-fame status. “It’s really like the stars aligned for me,” she told Pitchfork.
After starting an hour late, the “Lost” singer and his band delivered an array of reconstructed performances of many fan favorites, including “Chanel,” “Nikes” and “Nights.” But Ocean did not offer live vocals, instead opting to mouth the tracks we all looked forward to seeing him perform live. He was obscured by a body of dancers bizarrely pacing around the stage in a circle. A random 10-minute DJ set was dropped in the middle. At one point near the end, Ocean unveiled a new song but was offstage as it debuted. For an audience of nearly 130,000, Ocean closed with a cover of the Isley Brothers’ “At Your Best (You Are Love)” before abruptly ending the show, woefully telling fans he was being kicked off early because of a “curfew.”
As for the performance itself, the reviews came in fast and furious, with mixed opinions. GQ’s review hailed his Coachella set as “a chaotic triumph.” Mashable noted the performance was “everything you could ask for and more.” But most were left unsettled by what The Guardian said was “an awkward set of some high highs but very low lows.” Those lows were what Insider called an “overall vibe…detached from the hopes and expectations of fans who spent hundreds of dollars to be there.”
Fans essentially became the collateral damage of Ocean’s disappointing return that left “many wondering why he even bothered to show up at all,” EW reported. Despite the mixed reactions, Lee was one of the many fans who still believed it was all worth it. “It would’ve been worth it just to be there,” she said.
Slated to headline the main stage this weekend as well, anticipating fans were left reeling once more when news broke on Wednesday that Ocean’s second weekend performance would never come. A representative confirmed to Rolling Stone on Wednesday night that the singer suffered a leg injury during the first week and was consequently given medical advice not to perform again.
The hope, for many, is that he will make it up to us by releasing new music in the near future.
“Not that there’s not a new album,” he initially told fans in his first performance, though he quickly clarified, “Not right now. Just not right now.”
As for Ocean, despite canceling the second performance, he saw “beauty in [the] chaos” of his Coachella moment, according to The Guardian.
“It isn’t what I intended to show, but I enjoy being out there, and I’ll see you soon,” he told fans.