In an investigation to find out if you can ever talk interestingly about Frank Ocean without becoming an internet meme yourself, I’ve taken the liberty of laying out my favourite moments from the new video for the single ‘Nikes’, Frank dropped last weekend.
Though this already seems long, long ago on his ever-progressing timeline of creative genius, the intricacy and detail put into this visual is so worth a mention amidst all the excitement he’s managed to generate – even if it is a whole year and a month later than we initially expected.
As a chronic cinephile, I find myself searching for the film references in every great case of visual art. Art is so cyclical and behind everything that inspires you, there is inevitably some other thing that inspired it. This monumental moment in the video [pictured above] is not only the ultimate personification of Maya Angelou’s ‘diamonds forming at the meeting of [her] thighs’ in her must-learn-off-by-heart poem, ‘Still I Rise’, but also magically mirrors Sharon Stone’s shining moment in Basic Instinct, creating the perfect empowering and mystical collaborative ode to the female body.
The bookworm in me can’t help but appreciate the beauty in this recreation of Lady Godiva. The famous figure famously rode through her town naked in a bid to persuade her husband to cease the oppressive taxation he imposed on his subject, but the lyrics alongside the image paint a much darker picture. Frank refers to the “white”, a euphemism for cocaine, and contrasts this with the angelic, ethereal quality of the woman, or perhaps several. This happens in the same way Shakespeare’s Othello places the angel/ demon conflicts on his own wife, linking seamlessly to the next shot of a man on a stripper pole wearing angel wings.
I’m always partial to a little religious lexis in the music I listen to – it adds a little grounding in what can sometimes seem like a world of parties and horse tranquilisers, and perhaps Frank feels the same. The sped up clips of a man dressed as Lucifer prancing maniacally around a theatre are a far from subtle acknowledgement of the temptations of the industry that we hear our favourite tortured-soul artists sing about regularly. However, the upfront nature of these demons walking among us is unsettling enough to make you double check you locked the door before bed, especially if they look anything like this one.
An homage to the iconic shot from Sam Mendes’ American Beauty, of a young girl covered in rose petals in the romantic fantasy of her friend’s father, this scene is presumably reflecting on the sexualisation of wealth. What I love here, is the use of two fairly androgynous sculpturesque black models – one male, one female – who drape over each other amongst dollar bills. The speed and variation of the shots obscure us from being able to decipher who is who, with exception to the only real giveaway – the censoring of the woman’s nipples but not the man’s. A societal norm it seems even Frank can’t overcome alone (HASHTAG FREE THE NIPPLE).
What may just be the most aesthetically pleasing aspect of the whole video appears in the form of the rain-glitter moment. In a series of beautiful shots like the one featured above, Frank comments on drug use again with models – and himself – covered in both rain and glitter, amalgamating into a thin but powerful veil of mischievous sparkles and poetic light. The glamour of the glitter and the eventual inconvenience of rain find a perfect metaphor for the party lifestyle. This talk of narcotics will emerge to be a key theme of his album, the darkness of hollywood tempting and pulling at the will of the man against the influence of his loved ones, but for now, it just looks pretty awesome.
I have endless respect for this parenthesis in the narrative to pay respect to a few people lost. He pays tribute to Pimp C and A$AP Yams who died in 2007 and 2015 respectively from drug overdoses, and lastly he holds up a picture of Trayvon Martin, the teen shot by George Zimmerman on his way home. The religious rhetoric in the revelation in this dark room filled with people makes the lyric seem so introspective and desperate. And it is true, Trayvon did look just like him.
As the first shots we see of the man himself, whose face has become almost mythical in its disappearance for the last few years, I just wanted to take a minute to appreciate it in all its glory. I also want to note the styling of the artist in these two scenes – the glitter, the makeup, the pearls. Frank allows us to see him in a way we never really have before and it’s just so glorious. The author who penned such a heartwarming tribute to the late Prince after his passing is stepping to the forefront and owning his own fluidity. The switching of shots between him in his more casual t-shirt attire to this extravagant outfit may signify his own hesitance in making this step but, either way Frank, we’re with you.
Watch the full video here.