On the morning of Monday, August 1, 2016, a mysterious video began streaming on Frank Ocean's website. Set inside a spacious, warehouse-like room, the video mostly consists of a wide shot of workbenches littered with undecipherable carpentry equipment. Alternate angles of the room have shown a wall of boom boxes, as well as what appears to be Ocean sawing wood.
An Apple Music logo sits anchored on the video's top right corner, but to me it looks like a smug, winking face, one with a grin that suggests "I know something you don't know."
There's an almost eerie quality to the black-and-white images. There's barely a soundtrack, just some distant background noise and brief bouts of instrumental music that float throughout. Mostly, however, there's a deafening silence that confirms, for me at least, that this is clearly not a music video.
So what is it? If you're confused by what it all means, join the club. No one knows what the F is going on with Frank Ocean. Except for Apple Music, apparently. And maybe the New York Times.
Someone "with knowledge of the release plans" told The New York Times that Ocean's highly anticipated next album, assumed to be named "Boys Don't Cry," will exclusively debut on Apple Music, and there will also be a magazine component that will be available in Apple Stores. At the time of this writing, Apple has yet to confirm any of this.
For those of you still waiting for me to explain who Frank Ocean is, it's best to start at the beginning.
Frank Ocean is a musician. Aside from his critically acclaimed solo career, he's written songs for big names like Beyonce and Justin Bieber, and was prominently featured on Jay Z and Kanye West's instant classic album "Watch The Throne." He's also known for being affiliated with the Odd Future collective and "coming out" through a post on Tumblr, his apparent communication vehicle of choice.
In April 2015, he announced that his third album, the follow-up to the Grammy Award-winning "Channel Orange," would be released in July 2015. Well, that's what we thought. He made this "announcement" on Tumblr, and it consisted of one photo, an uncredited quote and four hashtags. Billboard confirmed that a new album and his own publication were scheduled to drop in July 2015, and while a rep for Ocean verified that the magazine's title was "Boys Don't Cry," the album title hadn't been revealed.
This seems like a good time to disclose something important: I love Frank Ocean. I grew up listening to R&B and worshipping soul legends like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. I often lamented the fact that I would never see them perform, but the first time I listened to Ocean's "Channel Orange," all that FOMO went out the window. That moody R&B record that somehow sounds like it was recorded underwater made me feel like I was finally listening to the music I had been unknowingly waiting to hear my entire life.
For reasons outside of my control, I'm not best friends with Frank Ocean, but as a fan who has seen him perform live, I can say that he seems like a quiet guy. He doesn't use Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter (he used to, but not anymore), making him a virtual hermit-like recluse. But if you listen to his music, you know that for such an elusive character, he's an incredibly honest, raw and vulnerable songwriter and his emotive storytelling has understandably struck a nerve with music fans and critics alike.
Mainstream fame has thus far eluded him, which is why this potential partnership with Apple could lead to the exposure that will propel him to superstardom. Remember how you didn't know who The Weeknd was before he performed at the end of Apple's WWDC last year and the next thing you know he's playing the Super Bowl? Yeah, with the Apple plug there's reason for fans to be excited.
July 2015 came and went, and "Boys Don't Cry," the album or magazine was nowhere to be found. This did not go unnoticed; fans scoured the code of his website, conducted semiotic readings of the announcement photo and made memes. He even -- without explanation -- cancelled his only 2015 headlining gig at a music festival in LA later that summer. (I was there. He was replaced by Kanye West.)
Since then, Ocean has kept to his M.O. and has laid relatively low. He made an appearance at the listening party for Kanye West's latest album at Madison Square Garden, responded to the tragic Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida (on Tumblr, of course), modeled for Calvin Klein and just last month he posted a cryptic photo of an overdue library late slip. But no official statement or release date has been shared, causing music blogs to exhaustively keep track of everything we know so far about the album.
July 2016 has come and gone, and "Boys Don't Cry" is still MIA. Until now, there hadn't been a more elusive album since possibly Wu-Tang's one-of-a-kind "Once Upon A Time in Shaolin," and this new mystery video, which is still streaming, begs more questions than it gives answers. As of Thursday, it appears to be some type of video -- possibly looped, but not live -- that includes spurts of new footage of Frank Ocean woodworking, walking around and using his phone.
Once again, fans are on the hunt for more information (and making more sad memes). A now-deleted Instagram from a previous Ocean collaborator points to the video as a "video art project," the boom boxes that make a cameo are part of a Tom Sachs art show, which is currently on display in New York, and some of the mesmerizing instrumentals that play throughout the video -- particularly when Ocean is woodworking -- have been uploaded to Soundcloud. But what, exactly, is he making? The only thing that's certain is that Frank Ocean is building a lot of suspense, and the Apple Music watermark emblazoned on its top right corner implies Apple is in on it.
Apple Music, I see you
Record release dates are slowly becoming passe -- because if you have a rabid fan base like Rihanna's Navy or Beyonce's BeyHive, you don't need one. Clearly, Frank Ocean's fans are pretty passionate, too.
With the internet and streaming music at everyone's fingertips, fans can listen to any unexpected surprise album as soon as it's released. That is, if they're subscribed to the streaming music service that has it, or shell out the money to download and buy it on iTunes -- if that's an option. Exclusivity is a major key to success for streaming music services like Apple Music and Tidal. (Even though rumor has it those two might join forces.)
In an old article about Rihanna's temporarily Tidal-exclusive album, "ANTI," I jokingly wrote that I'd sign up for whichever streaming service gives me the new Frank Ocean album. I was hoping Frank wouldn't choose the same route as Drake and Adele, seeing as I (like many) prefer Spotify, but according to the New York Times, he has. There are many reasons the album could've been delayed, and since I've been burned before, I'm not holding my breath for "Boys Don't Cry" to drop on Friday. However, I am certain that, new album or not, the internet will have some very strong words, feelings (and memes) about it.