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Frank Ocean’s return: elusive singer takes the stage for an enigmatic Coachella set

The show was the singer's first in six years, after his 2020 Coachella performance was canceled due to Covid-19

By Althea Legaspi & Julyssa Lopez & Tomás Mier

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 13: Frank Ocean (R) attends The 2021 Met Gala Celebrating In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic) FILMMAGIC

Frank Ocean hasn’t performed in six years, but the reluctant superstar returned to the stage at Coachella on Sunday during a headlining show that was sometimes emotional and sometimes baffling. Ocean’s performance was one of the most anticipated sets of the festival this year, and it closed out the three-day music event on an enigmatic note.

Earlier in the day, Coachella released an announcement saying that Ocean’s set wouldn’t be livestreamed on YouTube like the rest of the festival, disappointing many fans at home who were hoping to catch the rare opportunity to see Ocean. Fans who did make it to Coachella began flocking to the MainStage area as early as 9:30 p.m. to get decent seats to the show, which was scheduled for 10:05 p.m. However, the crowd grew bigger and more restless as they waited for more than an hour — and many feared Ocean might not show up since he has canceled numerous appearances and tour performances in the past.

Ocean finally began playing shortly after 11 p.m., opening abruptly with “Novacane.” The rendition was stunning and pitch-perfect, though Ocean sat in the middle of the stage with his face hidden in a blue hoodie, his back partially turned toward the crowd. Most of the stage was covered by a massive screen, and fans only got a glimpse of the singer through camera angles of him performing from behind it.

There were long silent pauses between songs like “Crack Rock” and “White Ferrari,” with Ocean barely saying anything and keeping his interaction with the audience to a minimum. The first time he did speak, he offered an ambiguous album update: “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 said.

Slowly, he began opening up more, sharing an emotional memory about the festival, which he first performed at 11 years ago before releasing Channel Orange. He talked about attending with his late brother Ryan Breaux, who died in a a car accident in 2020.

“My brother and I came to this festival a lot. I feel like I was dragged by him sometimes because I didn’t want to get a respiratory infection… I would always come here, and one of my fondest memories is watching Rae Sremmurd with my brother… and Travis [performed] in that tent,” he said. “I know he would be so excited to be here with all of us.  I want to say thank you for the support and the years and the love all this time. Now I’ll get back to the songs.”

Later, he turned the show over to DJ Crystal Mess, who performed an EDM-powered interlude of several of his songs. The cameras rolled over to a security guard dancing and Ocean holding the green baby doll he’s known for carrying around and which he brought to the 2019 Met Gala.

He took the mic and shared why he wanted to include the club interlude. “This is fucking chaotic, but so much fun… Looking back I feel like in 2020 when I was just starting to throw parties in little clubs in New York before shit started going down, I was having a good time listening to new music with DJs coming in on their shit… it’s become part of my weekly practice with homer radio. It’s good that it’s not always all about me so I wanted to bring a little of that,” he explained.

He also made way for a young piano player who took the stage and lip synced to his songs. “This is Josiah. He’s playing my inner child,” Ocean explained. The piano player replied, “What’s up, Coachella?” making for a sweet moment during the set.

Ocean also played an acoustic version of “Self-Control” and the beginning of “Nikes.” He also mouthed the lyrics to “Nights” into the camera.

A short while later, while performing a cover of “At Your Best (You Are Love),” Ocean announced, “Guys, I’m being told it’s curfew so that’s the end of the show.” The stage screen went completely black, leaving fans chanting, “One more song!” However, Ocean cut the performance off there and left the stage.

This is the first time the musician hits a stage since 2017, when he performed several music festivals in Europe, along with an appearance at Los Angeles’ FYF Fest.

Ocean was originally slated to co-headline the 2020 festival with Rage Against the Machine and Travis Scott, but after Coachella was rescheduled to spring of 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ocean was not available for the new dates. While Coachella organizers usually do not reveal lineup details so far in advance, the fest’s co-founder Paul Tollett revealed Ocean would perform in 2023 during an interview in 2021.

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