The experimental R&B musician Frank Ocean has struggled with the limelight since the success of his debut album, “Channel Orange,” which was released in 2012. He rose to prominence via the Los Angeles-based rap collective, Odd Future, and took the world by storm with his minimal, post futuristic style of R&B, soul music. The album was certified gold and won Ocean a Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album.
Soon after “Channel Orange” was released, Ocean fell into silence for some time amid rumors that he was unhappy with the major label music industry. In 2014, the artist fired his entire management and publicity team. Rumors of a new album surfaced and then dissipated during his hiatus, but he finally returned in August 2016 with his sophomore album, “Blonde,” which was self-released. Nonetheless, before Ocean could be freed from his contract from Def Jam, the 29-year-old artist had to deliver one more piece of music, “Endless,” a 45-minute visual album that was released Aug. 19, 2017. “Blonde” was released the very next day on Aug. 20 and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200, selling 232,000 traditional units of music. This was a great success, but the success of the album fed the feud and Ocean’s dissatisfaction with the major label industry.
In 2016, Ocean criticized the Grammys by making public his plans to not attend the 2016 award show. He and the awards producers had a few words for each other via his Tumblr page and the press. Because of these rocky experiences, and Ocean’s determination to release music on his own terms, he began canceling major performances such as the Primavera Festival in Barcelona, Spain. When the major label industry is criticized by an artist, the artist will almost certainly receive pressure and negative treatment from music industry professionals and sponsors. Ocean has never spoken about his string of canceled shows, but on the fateful night of Aug. 22, 2017, he finally returned to the stage in his hometown of Los Angeles at FYF Fest. (The musician had canceled his debut FYF Fest performance in 2015, causing the festival to invite Kanye West to headline.)
The Los Angeles Times reviewed the performance, stating, “The enigmatic R&B star was singing—first his song ‘Close to You,’ which he said he’d based on Stevie Wonder’s cover of the old Carpenters hit, then a bit of the Jackson 5’s ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’—while behind him Brad Pitt appeared in high-definition close-up on an enormous video screen. Pitt had a cellphone to his ear; his expression was sincere but inscrutable in the way movie stars are paid millions to perfect.”
Rolling Stone elaborated on Pitt’s appearance at Ocean’s performance, relating, “Pitt’s cameo came months after the actor admitted in a revealing GQ interview that Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ helped him through a turbulent time in his personal life. ‘I’ve been listening to a lot of Frank Ocean,’ Pitt said of his post-divorce listening habits. ‘I find this young man so special. Talk about getting to the raw truth. He’s painfully honest. He’s very, very special. I can’t find a bad one.’”
Amid the excitement, Ocean announced that he had only performed four times before that night. “This is my disclaimer,” he said. “This is my fourth show since coming back. We are gonna try things over if they get [messed up] and this is one of those instances.”