Go on, admit it: until about a week ago, you had never heard of Frank Ocean either.
Around this time last month, most people had never heard of the promising yet little-known member of the hipsterish rap collective Odd Future. Now, after the budding R&B singer disclosed his bisexuality — via his Tumblr account, in true 21st century social-networking style, no less – it now seems as if Ocean is the name on everyone’s lips.
Whether or not you approve of his decision or his sexuality, one has to admire his management team’s public relations masterstroke. Since opening up about his same-sex proclivities, Ocean’s national tour has sold out, while his new album, Channel Orange, was suddenly released a week earlier than expected – presumably to capitalize on the wave of public curiosity surrounding his disclosure. By all indications, it’s working like a charm: as of this morning, Channel Orange has vaulted to the top of iTunes’ list of most downloaded albums.
Needless to say, the public appears to be accepting a bisexual singer with open arms. So, as the New Orleans-reared singer basks in the glow of surging record sales, concert tours and name recognition, will it matter to most heterosexual listeners that the object of at least some of Ocean’s songs is a man?
In a word, no…and yes. Culture watchers are hailing as a watershed moment for a genre that remains openly hostile to any suggestion that a man can be anything other than straight as an arrow. But the singer’s big reveal has been greeted with shrugs of deafening indifference, which underscores how irrelevant sexuality has become to many. Still, by becoming the first among the younger crop of singers to openly attest to being bi or gay, Ocean is now the poster boy for “tolerance” in hip-hop – whether he wants the title or not.
Yet there are a few broad conclusions that can be reached about what Ocean’s announcement reveals about the public’s attitudes toward sexuality.