Frank Ocean’s Return at Coachella


Frank Ocean made a short appearance at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival on Sunday, April 16, after years of avoiding the public eye, especially following the passing of his brother, Ryan Breaux, in a 2020 car crash. The surreal performance received backlash from fans because of the apparent “aimless” production and the artist’s late arrival, but what the reception to the show truly demonstrates is the failure to consider Ocean’s grieving.

Ocean’s elusive headlining was officially announced on Jan. 10, sparking anticipation for the event among fans who had not seen him perform for nearly six years. Ocean’s online presence and communication with the media stopped when his younger brother by 14 years was killed in a tragic car crash on Aug. 2, 2020, which made the announcement all the more surreal.

On the night of his Coachella performance, fans had traveled great distances to attend this commemorative event. Many had bought tickets to the festival for the sole purpose of seeing Ocean perform. The marketed and public livestream of the performance was not shown and no Frank Ocean merchandise was for sale at the festival. Per reports, concertgoers gathered at the Coachella main stage at 10:00 p.m. and ended up waiting almost an hour for Ocean to appear. 

The stage was meticulously set-up with a screen that covered most of the stage except for a small opening where Ocean could hardly be seen during the performance. The singer was seated behind a moving exhibit and clips of his face were briefly shown at a time to the audience. Most of the audience reportedly could not see him at all, and fans were also confused as to why Ocean was seated for most of the performance. According to Variety, Ocean was unable to perform the original show due to a leg injury sustained the week before the festival.

“The set-up was deceptively intimate.” Billboard writer Heron Mamo said. “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.”

The misdirected performance may have appealed to long-time listeners rather than newer fans because Ocean’s set-list excluded some of his most well-known tracks. Never before heard remixes of his songs were included such as “Wiseman”, “Pink + White”, “Solo”, and “Chanel”. Ocean unexpectedly closed with his lesser-known cover of Aaliyah and the Isley Brothers’ “At Your Best (You Are Love)”, leaving a majority of fans disappointed when he abruptly stopped the show because of a curfew.

The aspect of the performance that excited fans the most was Ocean’s hinting at new music during a meaningful monologue for which he stood up and came to the front of the stage for. 

“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,” Ocean teased. “My brother and I, we came to this festival a lot, 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.”

This bittersweet full circle moment reminded fans that Ocean is still grieving, and that they should only patiently wait for new music. Breaux was Ocean’s “public muse” and much of his music is attributed to him. 

I mean, it should have been expected that he would have a hard time performing the songs he wrote for his brother.

— Blaine Wooley

In Ocean’s diaristic second studio album Blonde released in 2016, the closing track, Futura Free features nostalgic audio clips of Breaux’s 11-year-old voice among over members of Illegal-Civ. In which Ocean reflects on his rise to success and emphasizes the importance of humility. He also discusses celebrities that died at a young age including Tupac Shakur and Selena, by doing this he highlights to not only Ryan but to youth in general to hold no regrets and live everyday like it’s your last. This, unfortunately, becomes ironically relevant because Ryan too, died at a young age.

“I sympathize with him partially because he never communicated to the public that his show would be great,” sophomore Blaine Wooley said. “I mean, it should have been expected that he would have a hard time performing the songs he wrote for his brother.”

As of April 19, Frank Ocean had officially withdrawn from Coachella Weekend Two. His spot was replaced by Blink-182.