Objectively speaking, the performance felt off. Frank’s voice was under pitch. The elaborate staging distracted rather than highlighted the song. And his whistling stood out more than the song’s beautiful lyrics. So, yes, objectively speaking, it wasn’t pretty.
But it’s Tuesday, a full two days since the Grammys dragged to a close, and I’m still thinking about Frank Ocean’s performance. A young black man got on stage in front of the entire music industry and millions of television viewers and sang a simple, sweet love song about another man. It’s 2013, and that, I believe, is what history sounds like.
A group of parents and teachers in Indiana are organizing a separate high school prom to exclude queer students. A few weeks ago, Jadin Bell, a gay teen in Oregon, hung himself on a playground after persistent bullying. I think about Jadin and queer kids in small towns in Indiana and the South Side of Chicago and my hometown of Lewisville, Texas a lot. I think about them whenever I listen to Frank sing “I know you Forrest / I know you wouldn’t hurt a beetle / But you’re so buff and so strong / I’m nervous Forrest.” I wonder if, like me, those kids were so grateful for Frank to just be there that they didn’t hear the off notes. I wonder if, even after the performance was over, they could still hear Frank singing “If this is love, I know it’s true / I won’t forget you.”
At the point that any man is willing to be candid and vulnerable in front of a national audience, I take note. And when that man is singing about another man, softly, sheepishly even, yes, I find myself thinking about it days later.
It’s easy to take breakthroughs for granted, especially amidst the flurry of tweets, sound bytes, and breaking news headlines, but I just wanted to take a moment, briefly, gratefully, and remember what Frank Ocean did for all of us and himself.