- The Big Sigh: The hullabaloo about Ocean’s bisexuality is mostly an anti-climax, because the public is now mostly inured to the idea that many entertainers are either secretly or openly gay. To be certain, this works differently for actors, who can be called upon to play a range of roles that may be negatively affected by perceptions about their masculinity or femininity. Still, the music industry is another matter: overall there is no real risk to a singer’s career to being gay or bi nowadays. The entertainment industry wholly embraces alternative lifestyles, and musicians often revel in gender-bending that is accepted by heterosexuals and gays alike.
- Ocean is the latest, but hardly the first: Ocean’s road to acceptance was paved by a few of his predecessors. While he never mentioned it when he was alive, it was commonly accepted that the late Luther Vandross was likely gay. Needless to say, Vandross is widely considered one of soul music’s most enduring legends, and his music has been the soundtrack to many a “baby-making” session regardless of speculation about his sexuality. And although openly gay George Michael is arguably more famous now for sleazy tabloid headlines about his turbulent personal life, it wasn’t that long ago that his music was enormously popular with straight and gay listeners –– a popularity that still endures, his personal choices notwithstanding.
- Does it Really Matter?: So long as an artist is good at what they do, there are few people who care much about what really is (or should be) a personal matter. Actress and singer Raven Symone’s response to rumors about her sexual orientation was pitch perfect when she declared her personal life as being off limits to speculation. Questions about her sexuality have yet to derail her successful run on Broadway.
- The Definition Factor: Finally, Ocean may have walked into a buzz-saw of his own making, and one he better be prepared to manage. Now, it’s inevitable that his music will be endlessly refracted through the lens of his sexuality. His every interview will likely include questions about his revelation, and of course whom he may be dating. Each of his lyrics will be autopsied to within an inch of its life to determine if he’s singing about a man or a woman (not that it matters either way). Fairly or unfairly, Ocean has unwittingly enlisted for the kind of treatment with which D’Angelo has become all too familiar: inextricably tethering your career to one snapshot in time that plays a major role in how the public defines you as an artist.
Despite a few isolated instances of anti-gay remarks, Ocean has received an outpouring of support from hip-hop’s biggest luminaries – a sign of how social mores are slowly but surely thawing on the question of sexuality. People don’t have to endorse Ocean’s personal choices to enjoy his music. Surely a helpful factor to Ocean is the fact that his musical style is less hardcore rap and more infused with pop and Electronica, which reduces the pressure for him to seem uber-masculine to his listeners. Regardless of his sexual orientation, his voice, a slightly deeper and soulful iteration of Pharell Williams’ androgynous falsetto, will likely make countdown shows and iPod playlists everywhere.