by Preston Radke
Beloved Pop/R&B artist Frank Ocean surprised everyone with the premier of “Chanel” on his Blonded Radio show on Beats 1 Radio on the night of March 10. Upon first listen “Chanel” sounds like track 18 off of Blonde; the piece contains similar atmospheric constructs, vocal patterns and lyrical themes found on Ocean’s revered 2016 album. “Chanel” is one of those tracks that one appreciates the more that they listen to it. On the surface, the song’s appeal and palatability do not change even after five or so spins. However, one realizes the more subtle, technical innovations upon further close listening.
As is expected with most of Ocean’s work, “Chanel” is a vague, yet specific love song. We don’t know who he is, or who he’s singing about. Yet the lyrics and the slowed down tempo imply a classic love song. The lyrics in the first half of the song seem to be pointing toward a partner of some sort, exemplified by the somewhat intimate vocalizations and rather vivid imagery. On the other hand, after the first chorus (“I see both sides like Chanel see on both sides like Chanel”) the song takes on a more disjointed, conflicted tone. Frank’s lyrics get distorted and cross recorded with his own voice raised a few octaves singing about this partner but in a more antagonistic or id-esque manner than before. Though this came across as different, and a nice change-of-pace, the inclusion of the aggressive cross recording really negatively impacts how the song connects to the listener. When I listened to it, I found myself getting confused and trying to figure out what Frank 1 and Frank 2 were saying. Instead of getting soaked up in the music, I almost felt like this was an assignment of Capture the Frank.
Ocean’s overall vocal delivery doesn’t stray too much from Blonde. “Chanel” starts out sounding more Channel Orange, but at around the 1.50 mark, the vocoder and/or auto tune effectively and artfully kick in, thus Blondizing this song for the duration. Ocean uses a simple somewhat layered beat. This is by no means a dance song, but there is a rhythm buried deep.
As brutal as this sounds, “Chanel” really felt longer than its 3 minute run time. The choruses were quick and not necessarily worth dwelling on; the cross recording lost its shine quickly, and frankly, the bridge-onward felt forced and disjointed. Ocean spent about a minute singing about different types of credit and gift cards that he has or will have. It felt like he was trying to be deeper and more symbolic than he came across.
Aside from the duel vocalizations, this song really didn’t move Frank Ocean too far forward. Blonde was a 17 track epic that redefined Ocean’s sound, yet this song really didn’t sound that different. If Ocean wanted to release something to get his name out there, then he should have produced something new and innovative. Again, this just feels like a track that could comfortably slot in after “Nikes”, or “Solo.”
All Images From: The Interns
From a lyrical and vocal perspective this song gets a somewhat weak 7. Ocean isn’t doing anything new here: he dabbled in a bit more duality, but not in a way that dramatically moved the song or the listener. “Chanel” is very well written for someone who isn’t Frank Ocean. Blonde and Channel Orange were seminal works in Ocean’s career both bringing him to the limelight and awakening the public to the fact that he is a superb songwriter. But this song’s lyrics are average compared to “Nikes”, or “Sweet Life.”
Concerning production, this album gets a moderate 8. Ocean’s mixer did a fine job adjusting and distorting, I just wish Ocean’s performance held up its end of the bargain. The auto tune was artful, but again, it was distracting and a tad awkward.
Frank Ocean really didn’t grow or mature on this track. For that, I’m giving him a solid 5, and honestly it could have been worse. From his underground days in the late 2000’s to his major label debut with Channel Orange up to last year’s Blonde, Frank has evolved. He has changed his sound in steady yet noticeable increments. Though this is just a single, “Chanel” really doesn’t do that. The stagnation of “Chanel” is truly the worst outcome of the track from an audience’s perspective. Ocean’s fans have gotten so used to him innovating and adapting his sound to the times and the technology, but this track just felt conservative and sadly, slightly generic. This raises the horrifying question: Is Ocean selling out? This will be and is a popular song. But one wonders if he released this song only for popularity purposes and not for any sort of artistic or thematic reasons.
Ryan is a Music Media Production major who wrote the first ever Byte music review and has been involved with nearly every other section at some point. He is also an event planner at Village Green Records and the primary booking coordinator for the store’s outdoor concerts.