The Problem With Attributing The Success Of Frank Ocean's 'Blonde' To Whiteness
Twitter is fuming
Photo courtesy of Frank Ocean
If you thought nothing could ruin this incredible week of Frank Ocean releases, think again. On Sunday, August 21, Vulture published an article titled "On Frank Ocean’s Blonde, White Is Just Another Color." Written by Frank Guan, the post is essentially a hot take on the numerous ways in which Frank Ocean straddles the parameters of race to experiment with his sound on his newly released album. However, the author completely missed the point when he credited every single aspect of the album to white culture.
Many users on Twitters were furious about the post and immediately expressed their disapproval of the piece, which has also been represented by the trash emojis. In response, several people cited examples that contradicted Guan's claims.
Black ppl invented rock guitar— Chris Weingarten (@1000TimesYes) August 22, 2016
Black ppl invented dance music
Black ppl were important in psychedelia
What is this?https://t.co/GF0AT8UrUL
By now, everyone should be highly aware that many elements of popular music were stolen from black culture. There is a historical record of the robbery, and the musical genres of which Guan speaks—jazz, rock and roll, funk, and R&B—all originated from black artists' work. The fact that many people partially—and even solely—associate white artists with these genres is due to the fact that it was white artists who were to used to feed each new wave of musical revolution to the mainstream, all at the expense of the labor and creativity of black musicians.
Beyond the craziness of crediting white artists with the invention of rock guitar (among other things), there's also the reality of how unfair it is to whitewash the work of a black artist. In other words, and as many Twitter users noticed, if you're going to drag readers through 10 points about why Frank Ocean's album is "white," then at least, you know, actually listen to the album. Or at least read the track list. (Seriously, the lack of thoroughness in Guan's piece is truly awe-inspiring.)
Like, all the musical styles that @vulture chalks up to whiteness were heavily influenced by black music. Frank Ocean is taking it back.— Kathryn Brightbill (@rynthetyn) August 22, 2016
me reading that vulture article about frank ocean and whiteness" pic.twitter.com/vWfN8noiwL— SadeVEVO (@fillegrossiere) August 22, 2016
it's like he wanted to get his lil digs in abt whiteness n then backtrack n say "no but yeah theres some black stuff too" which like.....— SadeVEVO (@fillegrossiere) August 22, 2016
idk man. there's a theme in that frank ocean vulture piece of equating whiteness to gentleness— SadeVEVO (@fillegrossiere) August 22, 2016
i keep re-reading to see if im overreacting but i don't think i am— SadeVEVO (@fillegrossiere) August 22, 2016
stop using whiteness to define or explain black art!!!!!!!!!!!!! STOP. USING. WHITENESS. TO. DEFINE. OR. EXPLAIN. BLACK. ART!!!!!!!!!!!!— SadeVEVO (@fillegrossiere) August 22, 2016
@vulture giving whiteness credit for Blonde disregards every black musician who's music has been stolen by whites for the past 60 years— cills (@priscillasola) August 22, 2016
As MTV News' Doreen St. Felix quickly pointed out, the framing of the article wasn't necessarily a bad idea, but the execution was completely wrong-headed. St. Felix also went on to explain how many writers hinder black artists by defining their work by their race.
i think it's stupid, and i am also guilty of this, of when we over-determine black artists because of their race. black as aesthetic, or w/e— Deaux (@dstfelix) August 22, 2016
so when we're like "x is unapologetically black" it means nothing! and it engenders torrid analysis like this piece— Deaux (@dstfelix) August 22, 2016
there's a lot of good points in this but the framing doesn't hit.— Deaux (@dstfelix) August 22, 2016
how can you see that the nature of the guitars on Blonde are white and belong to the Beatles, when the Beatles stole from Chuck Berry— Deaux (@dstfelix) August 22, 2016
the only culture frank ocean appropriates is california's, which was stolen anyway— Deaux (@dstfelix) August 22, 2016
AND caucasian is not a real ethnic term pls— Deaux (@dstfelix) August 22, 2016
Ultimately, Guan's premise that Ocean aspires toward "whiteness" with Blonde is a huge problem, and one which delegitimizes the value of black art, by wrongly suggesting that Ocean's value lies in mimicking "whiteness." In the end, this user took the words right out of our jaw-dropped mouths:
Black People are black always and forever PERIOD— Domina Spes (@DominaSpes) August 22, 2016
Black people do not want to be white.— Domina Spes (@DominaSpes) August 22, 2016
For black art to be good, it does not need white approval.— Domina Spes (@DominaSpes) August 22, 2016
No. No. No. pic.twitter.com/QqFRkzp8vv— Domina Spes (@DominaSpes) August 22, 2016
We hope that Ocean doesn't retaliate to this article by hibernating for another five plus years.