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Frank Ocean and the Anonymous Artist

On August 5,  fans expressed heavy disappointment when the highly anticipated release of Frank Ocean's sophomore album, Boys Don’t Cry, was delayed. Succeeding his 2012 critically-acclaimed and Grammy award winning debut album, Channel Orange, Ocean’s follow-up attempt is almost guaranteed to impress – assuming, of course, he finally gets around to releasing it.

Photo courtesy of Tumblr

Photo courtesy of Tumblr

The album was first rumored to release over a year ago, although speculations were consistently met with delay from the secretive artist who refused all interviews and press appearances.

Even before the album's official release, as was the case with Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book and Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, it has achieved global recognition, attention, and even endorsement from artists like James Blake and Chance the Rapper. Two trends, thus, seem particularly evident: the obvious increase in speculative pandemonium before popular album releases, as well as the subtler trend of artists like Frank Ocean retreating from the limelight.

Is this enigmatic behavior intentional? Is Frank Ocean playing an elaborate game, sprinkling breadcrumb hints across the internet, or does he simply prefer a less exposed lifestyle when it comes to making music?

While arguments stand for both, I would argue that Ocean is of an old-soul breed of artist whose process revolves around personal artistic maturation, not self-promotion and mass appeal. As was the case for the similarly-minded Harper Lee, Ocean has not appeared in press regarding his new album.

This trend is not as atypical as we have come to believe, however. In 2014, the artist then known only as “Zhu” burst into the electronic charts with his hit single “Fading.” With a minimal internet presence and no public appearances, the mystery that surrounded the young artist seemed only to assist his meteoric ascent. Only after being nominated for a Grammy did Zhu break the silence with a few interviews, reaffirming his philosophy with the LA Times:

"This project is all about art, and we try to make it all about the songs and the response…Being able to have everyone focus back on music is the first step. But the second is to have influence and have people care."

Artists like Zhu, the French Duo Daft Punk, Sia, and Frank Ocean represent a wave of current artists who go to extreme extents to retain their reclusiveness -- often to the extent of anonymity -- in order to draw focus to the music. For them, having individual influence starts first with drawing focus solely on the music and nothing else.

Is this anonymous mentality the future of the music industry? Will the reclusive nature of musicians rise to the mainstream?

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Ryan Bradley