Frank Ocean Finally Headlined Coachella 2023, Here’s What Happened – Billboard

Frank Ocean Finally Headlined Coachella 2023, Here’s What Happened – Billboard

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It’s been seven years since the ever-elusive Frank Ocean stepped onto a stage. But despite his booking as the third and final headliner for Coachella 2023, fans still felt unsure if he would actually show. Signs that read “NO FRANK OCEAN MERCHANDISE” were plastered across the merch tent, and the official Coachella livestream on YouTube excluded his performance. And yet, at 10:55 p.m., almost an hour after he was scheduled to perform, the main stage lights finally dimmed and the show no one expected officially began. 

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The fact that it happened wasn’t the only surprise, though, as Frank had the stage transformed into one giant screen. As a result, only a small square of space was hardly visible, but that’s where all of the action took place for the following hour and a half — until Frank abruptly announced from backstage, “Guys, I’m being told it’s curfew, so that’s the end of the show.”

The highly anticipated show came three years after Frank, Travis Scott and Rage Against the Machine were slated to take over the 2020 edition of the festival, which was postponed due to COVID. As the only performer who remained at the top of the bill since (as promised by Goldenvoice CEO and Coachella’s co-founder Paul Tollet in a 2021 interview) Frank delivered an unbelievable (for more reasons than one) if not unorthodox set, that had fans grasping on to every moment. Because after Sunday night, who knew when we might see him again.

The “Met her at Coachella” line from set opener “Novacane” hit different in the desert, which served as Frank’s backdrop whenever the camera showed his POV from the center of it all — until he chose not to be.

Check out the five major takeaways from Frank Ocean’s Coachella 2023 headlining set below. 

The Set-Up Was Deceptively Intimate

Despite performing in front of tens of thousands of people, Frank and his team meticulously designed his headlining stage to resemble a recording studio, with Frank hunched around a mic in the center while a live band tinkered around behind him and studio hands respected his every request. Yet despite the intimate setup, he would still occasionally pull up the hood of his blue puffer coat and cover his black durag and the majority of his face, his full beard solely poking out. The reclusive star was giving an incredibly rare glimpse into his creative process, even giving fans a taste of new music. And while fans couldn’t really see what was happening or where Frank even was, the high-definition video feed helped to fill in some gaps, supplemented with gritty and at times incredibly shaky footage that played out like a one-night-only, live documentary that could only be consumed in the moment.

He Reimagined His Most-Beloved Songs

Between Frank’s 2011 debut mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra and his 2016 magnum opus Blonde, the artist faced every performer’s two-fold issue: 1) What songs should I play? and 2) How do I make them special for this audience? He solved the dilemma by performing his classic hits in ways fans had never heard them before, including a stripped-down, acoustic version of “Pink + White,” a turnt up remix of “Solo,” a drill edit of “Chanel,” a punk rock remix of “Wiseman” and many more. Yet none of those favorites closed out the set; instead, Frank dug deep into his discography to pull out his cover of Aaliyah‘s 1994 track “At Your Best (You Are Love)” that was featured on his 2016 visual album Endless.

There Was a Rave Intermission… And It Worked

Toward the end of his set, Frank shined his spotlight on DJ Crystalmess. “You can’t even see Frank Ocean but you get a little rave mix in the middle of the show,” Frank said, describing her set within a set. She strung together her own reimagining of Frank’s songs, like a Jersey Club remix of “Slide,” which Calvin Harris performed the night before on the same stage, as well as a bounce edit of “Pyramids” that left one scene-stealing security guard twerking like there’s no tomorrow — all of which was captured and shown as part of Frank’s live feed. The rave also brought out the only guest of the night: The lime green robotic baby doll Frank brought as his little date to the 2021 Met Gala.

“Back in 2020, I was just starting to throw parties in little clubs in New York that were just getting started before sh– started shutting down,” Frank recalled. “And I was having such a good time playlisting music and listening to so much new music and encountering DJs who were up and coming and who were really on their sh–. It’s become such a part of my practice now with my new weekly thing, with [Apple Music 1’s] Homer Radio that we’ve been working on…. It’s good that it’s not always about me.”

He Sort of Debuted a New Song

The phrase “Inner Child” started circling around a screen within the stage as a young boy named Josiah — meant to represent Frank’s own inner child — began playing piano and lip-syncing along to Frank singing a new song. Josiah’s little braids were poking out from underneath a black durag similar to the one worn by Frank, who introduced Josiah to the Coachella crowd as swiftly as he was dismissed in the short, but sweet moment.

He Honored His Late Brother Ryan

“It’s been so long…. But I have missed you,” Frank admitted to the audience, before vaguely addressing the elephant in the desert. “I want to talk about why I’m here because it’s not because of a new album… Not that there’s not a new album,” he teased. He then hushed over zealous fans so he could explain what did make him return to the festival he first performed at over a decade ago. “You know, these last couple years, my life changed so much…. My brother and I, we came to this festival a lot,” he said, speaking of his late brother Ryan Breaux who died in 2020 from a car accident at only 18 years old. 

“I feel like I was dragged out here half the time because I hated the dust out here, I always left with a respiratory infection, or what have you. So I would avoid coming, but I would always end up here. One of my fondest memories was watching Rae Sremmurd on I don’t know what that stage is called with my brother. And Travis [Bennett], I don’t know if Travis/Taco is here, but we was just dancing in that tent to their music, and I know he would’ve been so excited to be here with all of us. I want to say thank you for the support and the ears and the love over all this time.”

Even during two of his beloved tracks, “Nikes” and “Nights,” Frank opted out of performing them live, rather prancing around the stage and playing in front of the camera, flashing a sincere smile that showed off a grill on one of his front teeth.

Maybe he needed this just as much as we did. 



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