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“See On Both Sides Like Chanel” – Lessons on Life, Love and Sexual Identity from Frank Ocean

On March 10th, Frank Ocean dropped his latest single, ‘Chanel’ via his Beats1 radio show, ‘Blonded’. Following an already very successful album release, ‘Blond’, earlier in 2016, ‘Chanel’ is but another release from Frank Ocean that has sparked a flurry of excitement and discussion from fans.

Ever since releasing a personal story of his own major heartbreak on Tumblr, where he reveals his first love was a man, Frank Ocean has been no stranger to paving the way for homosexual rhetoric to become more prominent in the Hip-Hop world. This is particularly important due to the fact that the issue of homosexuality has traditionally been a taboo subject in African-American communities, of which have largely forged the way and pioneered the emergence and growing prominence of Hip-Hop in the music industry.

‘Chanel’ is one of Ocean’s most honest and revealing songs to date regarding his personal experiences with sexual identity, and is largely thought to be about Ocean’s own dealings with bisexuality. “See(ing) on both sides like Chanel” is not just a clever play-on-words over the Chanel logo (which looks like two letter C’s interlinked but facing opposite ways), but is also thought to allude to the theme of bisexuality.

It can certainly be seen as a metaphor for a ‘transgression’ or difference in something that is yet ultimately the same. In this instance to “see on both sides” can be seen as exploring two different sides of sexuality that still ultimately belong to a greater theme of love and sex.

The opening line, “My guy pretty like a girl and he got fight stories to tell” makes no effort to ease us into the ongoing discussion surrounding gender identity in mainstream media at the moment. It enforces the notion that gender is non-binary and that effeminate males may still harbour more traditionally masculine qualities such as being a seasoned fighter.

The lyrics almost immediately allow us to question our pre-conceived notions of gender and the way society has deeply ingrained ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman, with little room for these notions to overlap.

Prior to ‘Chanel’’s release, Ocean released his latest album ‘Blond’. Through tracks such as ‘Nikes’ and ‘Ivy’, Ocean continues with the common theme of heartbreak which has underpinned many of his tracks in the past, such as ‘Swim Good’. What many of the aforementioned tracks such as these have in common is the fundamental dysfunction that inevitably forms the basis of near all matters of the heart.

Due to Ocean’s exploration of both heterosexual and homosexual relationships across a wide range of his tracks and albums, what can be seen to be so important about Ocean’s work is that his songs help to form a degree of acceptance surrounding same-sex relationships.

This is due to the way in which Ocean describes his experiences in homosexual relationships in a manner that is so deeply relatable and crushingly poignant to anyone, gay or straight, who has ever experienced heartbreak, regardless of whether the subject of the song is male or female.

Arguably what makes Ocean’s work stronger in terms of ‘normalising’ homosexual relationships is the way in which his lovers across various albums have been both male and female. Ocean speaks with as much ease regarding heterosexual love, as he does with homosexual love and ‘Chanel’ can be seen as a culmination of the two, through being able to “see on both sides” and offer perspective on his experiences of being romantically involved with both men and women.

In a very personal open letter published to Tumblr, Ocean shares his belief that “whoever you are. Wherever you are…(he’s) starting to think we’re a lot alike”. Ocean translates this sentiment through his music by offering us an insight, through narratives such as unrequited love, that people, regardless of their differences in sexual preferences or otherwise, are ultimately united.

Ocean teaches us, through his musings on both gay and straight relationships that when it comes to matters of the heart, love is simply love.Through this, Ocean perhaps allows us to see that regardless of sexual preferences, people largely all have very similar fundamental human experiences, something that has the ability to unite us all in terms of relating to each other with compassion and understanding.

If Ocean has indeed achieved this, then he is not only making beautiful music, but is also helping to bridge the gap between intolerance and acceptance, a large feat indeed and further proof of the need for art to help us find our way in an often turbulent and confusing world.

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