HomeArts & EntertainmentMusicFrank Ocean did no one any favours with his Coachella set

Frank Ocean did no one any favours with his Coachella set

Frank Ocean at Coachella should have been a triumphant comeback – a jewel in the crown of US hip-hop’s most enigmatic star. Fans had waited long enough, after all. First scheduled to appear at the festival back in 2020, Ocean was all set to mark his return to music after a lengthy hiatus. Delayed by the pandemic, as well as a family tragedy, he finally joined Puerto Rican reggaeton star Bad Bunny and K-pop princesses Blackpink at the top of the bill for 2023’s outing. Expectations were sky high.

From the die-hard supporters who journeyed to the California desert to the fans across the world tuning into the festival’s live-stream, a lot of people were ready and waiting for his Sunday night set. What a disappointment, then, when the reality fell far short of what was promised. With Ocean coming off as nonchalant and unprepared, and eager fans left frustrated, what was the point in him performing in the first place?

It was an immediately shaky start. The 35-year-old arrived onstage an hour late, despite Coachella’s strict curfew. His last-minute decision to axe an on-stage ice rink, along with the 120 performers who were to skate across it during his performance, was the apparent cause of the hold-up, with a crew working furiously backstage to melt the ice. But none of this was communicated to the fans left waiting in the cold and the dark. When Ocean eventually reached the stage, it was to little fanfare: no special lighting tricks, no rousing musical flourishes from the band. Having incurred an ankle fracture days before, Ocean then proceeded to bop around to studio versions of his tracks, instead of performing live as expected. Apparently, brief glimpses of his greatness came during live renditions of “White Ferrari” and a haunting version of the Isley Brothers’ ballad “(At Your Best) You Are Love”. The overwhelming mood, though, seemed to be one of bewilderment, particularly when each song was punctured by lengthy moments of silence.

Of course, it’s difficult to judge exactly how Ocean’s set was received on the ground, because he’d ruled out having the performance live-streamed. But things certainly got worse when, mid-song, Ocean suddenly announced that the show was over, less than an hour after it began. “It seemed like it was thrown together,” writer Ira Madison III said of the experience on his pop culture podcast, Keep It!. “It seemed like there was no real plan, and honestly, it felt disrespectful.”

Ocean has now pulled out of headlining the second Sunday of the festival, citing his ankle injury as the cause. As disappointing as this must feel to those who are on their way to Coachella this weekend, cancelling seems like absolutely the right decision given last weekend’s mishaps.

Over a decade since the release of his acclaimed debut album Channel Orange, and seven since the back-to-back drops of Endless and Blonde, Ocean remains in as high regard as ever. This kind of devotion is rare in an industry where music fans are bombarded with new releases – especially considering how infrequently Ocean’s fans hear from him. With the exception of an occasional episode of Blonded Radio, his Apple Music show, he’s a virtual recluse. Yet that rejection of life under the spotlight has become part of his appeal; to be a Frank Ocean fan is to be constantly mystified, while remaining convinced that whatever comes next will be worth the wait.

But artists can’t survive on pure devotion forever, and mystique is shattered when fans are so frequently left wanting. And in this fraught economy, testing fans who have spent thousands of dollars on festival tickets feels like a very risky move indeed. Not every fan attending Coachella will have been one of the obnoxious “Super Rich Kids” Ocean sang about on Channel Orange. They spent their hard-earned money to see him; he has a responsibility to hold up his end of the bargain by putting on a decent show.

To be a Frank Ocean fan is to be constantly mystified


It’s important to acknowledge that Ocean has experienced a tumultuous few years. In 2020, his 18-year-old brother Ryan Breaux was killed in a car crash. He told fans that his return to Coachella was, in part, a tribute to his late sibling, as they used to attend together. His grief could have played a part in his lack of energy and his ankle injury will likely have caused him a fair amount of physical pain, too.

Fans have been known to demand an unattainable level of perfection from their favourite stars. But effort, thought and the slightest indication of care for your audience is the bare minimum for any artist who wants to maintain a level of loyalty from the people who buy your records, wear your merchandise and save all year just for a chance to see you in the flesh.

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This one show won’t be the ruining of Frank Ocean – many will continue to claim he can do no wrong. But it was a debacle that could easily have been avoided by simply staying away if he wasn’t feeling even 80 per cent up for the show. He’s far too talented to be overshadowed by one chaotic set. Here’s hoping that the next time he’s scheduled to hit the stage, he can deliver a performance worthy of his near-mythological status.

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