After four years of leaks, live streams, library cards, and still no album, here's what we found in our eternal search for 'Boys Don't Cry.'
Photography Todd Cole, [i-D, The Royalty Issue, No. 318, Spring 12]
On July 10, 2012, Frank Ocean released his debut full-length album, Channel ORANGE, a sensitive ode to love, self-discovery, and disenchantment in Orange County. Beloved by critics and listeners alike, the record won a Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album and Soul Train Music Awards' Best Album of the Year in 2012.
Shortly after nabbing these accolades, Ocean disappeared, leaving us with little more than a couple of musical collabs, a sneaky public appearance here and there, and a few poignant Tumblr posts when we needed them most. Despite promising signs — a not-quite-live stream and a New York Times report — his sophomore album, Boys Don't Cry, has not yet arrived. As Robert Smith sang on the 1979 The Cure single from which the album takes its name: we tried to laugh about it, cover it all up with lies, hiding the tears in our eyes.
Four years after Channel ORANGE blew us all away, here's what we know about the fabled Boys Don't Cry:
It could have been written anywhere: Three days before the 55th Annual Grammy Awards aired on February 10, 2013, The New York Times Magazine published a profile of Ocean. He told the mag that following the awards show, he planned to take off for Shanghai with his equipment and write in "in remote locations for the next two years."
It's possibly a concept record inspired by nature: About a week after the 2013 Grammys, Frank sat down with BBC 1 radio host Zane Lowe to discuss the new project, revealing that he was already about "10 or 11" songs into it. "It's another cohesive thing, bordering on a concept record again," Ocean told Lowe, explaining that he imagines it picking up where beachy Channel ORANGE bonus track "Golden Girl" leaves off. Last May, French pianist Christophe Chassol revealed on BBC Radio 6 that he'd teamed up with Ocean and Rick Rubin at Abbey Road studios. He added fuel to these concept record rumors when discussing how the natural elements inspire the record. Ocean's ex-girlfriend, singer Alycia Bellamy, has tweeted earth, wind, and fire emojis about the project.
It might be influenced by The Beatles and The Beach Boys: In April 2013, Ocean was interviewed by MTV about his next musical venture while attending the TIME 100 Gala. "When I was making the first [album] there were a group of artists that I listened to, just for inspiration and to absorb the energies [...] It was a lot of Stevie Wonder, and this time it's a lot of Beach Boys and Beatles and whatnot, so we'll see how it trickles into the music and the final product. I can't say much other than that," he told the reporter.
Frank began teasing tracks years ago: During a series of European live shows in the summer of 2013, Ocean treated fans to previously unreleased material in Munich and London. These performances were followed by "Memrise," a spacey, lo-fi snippet he uploaded to Tumblr over a year later in November 2014.
He wasn't working on the record on March 11, 2014: I know this because we were the only two customers at Odd Future's LA pop-up shop on Fairfax Avenue that afternoon. I wanted a pair of socks he was looking at but decided not to get them.
Nabil Elderkin might be working on the visuals: The famed photographer behind the "Pyramids," "Novacane," and "Swim Good" music videos has been posting photographs from inside the studio with Ocean since 2014. In April of that year — two weeks after Elderkin shared a studio snap —Ocean wrote in a since-deleted Tumblr post that he was skipping Coachella "to stay in the groove and finish this bitch," leading many to believe the record was nearing completion.
Tyrone Lebon might be directing a video: According to this Frank stan, reports about Ocean's "Nikes" video began surfacing on the internet in September 2015. Artist Vasilisa Forbes posted an Instagram of herself as a mermaid, and screenshots suggest that British photographer and i-D contributor Tyrone Lebon is the video's director. Though this visual has yet to surface, Ocean and Lebon did come together on a Calvin Klein campaign in July.
There have been behind-the-scenes changes: In late June 2014, it was announced that Ocean had left his original agency, 4 Strikes — the management company operated by Christian and Kelly Clancy, whose house Ocean used to swing by for dinner with the other Odd Future kids. Ocean later moved to Three Six Zero group, home to Calvin Harris, Juliette Lewis, and Morrissey.
Collaborations have kept Frank busy: In July 2013, Jay Z released Magna Carta Holy Grail, which contained a collaborative track with Ocean, titled "Oceans." A few weeks later, "Sunday," a track from Earl Sweatshirt's album Doris leaked, which features Frank's rapping. That August, John Mayer released Paradise Valley, which featured Ocean's vocals and songwriting on "Wildfire (Reprise)."
The following year, in March 2014, Ocean teamed with Diplo and Clash members Mick Jones and Paul Simonon for "Hero," part of Converse's Three Artists, One Song series. A few months later, the producer Hit-Boy teased a few seconds of the long-rumored Frank and Nas collaboration "No Such Thing as White Jesus," on Instagram. Though Frank was named as a collaborator on Brian Wilson's 2015 record No Pier Pressure, the Beach Boy later told Vulture Ocean was cut, as he wanted to "do rap, not sing." In February 2016, Frank made a low-key reemergence at Yeezy Season 3's Madison Square Garden unveiling due to his feature on The Life of Pablo's "Wolves." Ocean also has songwriting credits on James Blake's recent release The Colour in Anything; it's been reported that Blake's "Always" incorporates Ocean's unreleased track "Godspeed."
One unexpected collaboration didn't really work out: In 2014, Chipotle sued Ocean for $200,000 for backing out of contract negotiations that would have required him to sing a rendition of the Willy Wonka number "Pure Imagination" for a commercial. He'd been given a cute cash advance of $212,500; obviously Chipotle wanted it back when he bailed. The burrito purveyor eventually replaced Ocean with Fiona Apple, accidentally making the case that its musical taste is better than its, you know, actual taste.
Boys Don't Cry has many rumored musical collaborators: Considering Frank's reclusiveness, pretty much everyone he's been seen with over the past four years is considered a collaborative suspect in the court of Reddit. Malay, Blake, and Chassol are as confirmed as any Ocean collaborator can be. Ocean said he'd logged studio time with Pharrell and was planning to link with Danger Mouse back in 2013, the same year reports of his meetings with Depeche Mode members surfaced. Hit-Boy, Rodney Jerkins, and previous collaborators Happy Perez, Charlie Gambetta, and Kevin Ristro were said to be in the mix in 2014. In September 2015, Ian Connor tweeted that Ocean was sharing studio time with Atlanta upstart Playboi Carti; a few months later, in January, fellow ATLien Rich the Kid shared a FaceTime screenshot with Ocean, suggesting he'd also booked in studio time with the singer while working with Wiz Khalifa.
Fans have some collaboration theories of their own: Hawk-eyed concert goers spotted a folder on Holly Herndon's laptop titled "Beats for FOcean" during her opening set for Radiohead this past May. A similarly titled folder of Ocean material by Hudson Mohawke was leaked last year (though a new Twitter spat with James Blake revealed Ocean didn't take the work).
But he wants to work with some of our favorite bands: He told Zane Lowe back in 2013 that fellow hyper-talented semi-recluse King Krule and Tame Impala (a suggestion from longtime pal Tyler, The Creator) were on the list.
It's unclear how much musical influence The Cure actually wields: Ocean's sophomore record lifts its title from one of the most well-known hits by beloved architects of stadium goth rock The Cure. The iconic British band embarked on its first North American tour in eight years this past spring, so it's possible Ocean sneakily swayed along to "Lullaby" at a California show. Frontman Robert Smith is something of a grandfather to Ocean's apprehensive relationship with publicity; he faked a fear of flying for three years to cut down on his touring commitments between 89 and 92. "We did two American tours sailing over on the QE2, which was very civilized," he said.
It will come with a "printed publication": On April 6, 2015, Ocean caused a wave of hysteria when he uploaded a photo to Tumblr captioned, "I got two versions. I got twoooo versions. #ISSUE1 #ALBUM3 #JULY2015 #BOYSDONTCRY." The image showed Ocean inspecting stacks of magazines with two different covers. A month after this announcement, Nabil confirmed that Ocean had conducted an interview with Lil B for the mag, for which he shot the photos. Earlier this month, The New York Times reported the record would arrive on August 5 exclusively through Apple Music, and that an accompanying "printed publication" would be distributed at Apple stores. Earlier this month, reports began surfacing that images from the magazine leaked, though it's unsure if this claim is true.
Yohji might be somewhere in the mix: Last August, The Fader did some snooping of its own inside Ocean's website source code, finding what appeared to be merchandise. The magazine unearthed tees and hoodies, a yellow pair of Vans titled "Yohi Yamamoto Y-3 Sneakers," and a place-holding image of penguins.
This album will be "different": Channel ORANGE producer Malay told Pitchfork this March that Ocean's sophomore album will be a departure: "A lot of the stuff on this new album was done with a handheld mic sitting in the control room [...] Frank's exploring different vibes completely on this album. I wouldn't say it's vocally looser but just his mentality; it doesn't seem as meticulous at certain times." Ocean's longtime pal Tyler, the Creator tweeted one of its songs is his "best to date." In mid-May, Chance the Rapper told Complex that the album is a "masterpiece." A few days later, James Blake cryptically declared to Rolling Stone, "He's onto something, he really is."
It was teased by a not-so-live stream: On August 1, Ocean's inactive website began hosting a mysterious black-and-white video of a man building something; the video was initially believed to be a live stream. After Pigeons and Planes noticed a piece included in the stream was the work of artist Tom Sachs — one currently on view at his Brooklyn Museum retrospective — The Fader confirmed with Sachs that the transmission was actually a video piece filmed by Ocean's collaborator Francisco Soriano "within the past year." Although the piece was Sachs and Ocean's first collaboration, the artist told the magazine that there are "other projects [they're] dicking around with" and the two have "an ongoing creative dialogue." Someone has since compiled all of the ambient noises playing in the background of the video into one fire ass carpentry playlist.
It had its own Snapchat filters: On August 5 — the day The New York Times reported Boys Don't Cry would finally arrive — Ocean actually released some Snapchat filters. One of which, a cobweb-covered skeleton tagged with "Waiting for Frank Ocean's new music be like" is still rather useful.
It won't be rushed: Earlier this week, producer Malay participated in a Reddit AMA. Though he initially stipulated that no Ocean-related questions would be permitted, he made a special stop over in the Frank Ocean subreddit to soothe hurting fans. One wrote a particularly passionate account of the artist-fan relationship. Malay was empathetic, but ultimately believes, "art cannot be rushed." "It's about making sure the perfect aesthetic for the situation has been reached, to do that, takes constant tweaking, trial and error. That goes for any creative situation," he said.
Meanwhile, Frank's been waiting for another group to release a long over-due album: While the rest of the world waits for new Frank Ocean, Frank Ocean is waiting for new Fleetwood Mac. In 2013, he told The Guardian he needed some more of Mick and company's sweet British-American melodies, a dream that reporter Rebecca Nicholson sorta shut down. "Without Christine McVie, though?," Nicholson asked, "Stevie said she won't be coming back. She moved back to England in the 90s and gave it all up." "That sounds like some shit I would do!" Frank responded.
Further Frank reading: Visit one superfan's complete archive of interviews, guest verses, and unreleased material. Or just join your people in sorrow (and eventually joy) deep within the Frank Ocean subreddit.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Todd Cole
Photography assistance Alex Aristei
[i-D, The Royalty Issue, No. 318, Spring 12]