As he releases a new video for Provider complete with Hello Kitty references, we contemplate Frank and collaborator Tom Sach's obsession.
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This article was originally published by i-D US.
Ever wonder what Frank Ocean and Tom Sachs talked about while they were holed up in a Brooklyn warehouse building staircases last summer? Based on Ocean's recent lyric videos, it seems safe to bet that Hello Kitty was probably on the list alongside spaceships and boomboxes. In a new video for his surprise Sunday song Provider, Hello Kitty's face bobs across lyrics that reference other cultural icons including Stanley Kubrick, Aphex Twin, and Patagonia. "Stiff smile just like I'm Aphex Twin / Yeah, come to daddy, yeah," he sings at one point, referencing the electronic mastermind's 1997 song and EP.
Sachs, meanwhile, has been building an oeuvre out of Sanrio's most famous face since 1994, when he was slammed for subbing Hello Kitty's face for baby Jesus in a Barney's Christmas window. The artist has described the anthropomorphic feline as a "merchandising icon" with "an almost Buddhist sense of nothingness." Sachs puts his commercial pop culture obsession down, in part, to having a love-hate relationship with his own privileged upbringing in Westport, Connecticut, the town most famous for being the home of Martha Stewart.
Ocean's own Sanrio love story is more concise and less controversial. But it's not the first time he has enlisted Hello Kitty to play conductor. At Lovebox Festival in July, Ocean performed his new single Nikes in front of a giant screen featuring the lyrics and Kitty's face. (Ocean also popped up in an actual Nike film directed by Sachs a month earlier.)
Unlike Sachs, the R&B wonder boy grew up poor — in 2012, he was forced to clarify this for any fans who thought Super Rich Kids was autobiographical — but he struggles with his new-found status. "These bitches want Nikes (This is a setup)," he sings in a distorted voice on the Blonde single. "They looking for a check (Oh my God)," he continues. Provider, with its references to Prada, daddies, and trophy cabinets, has similarly materialistic top notes. Using a "merchandising icon" like Kitty to literally point them out makes perfect sense.