Artem Popov via Flickr

Unpacking Frank Ocean’s Coachella disaster 

When the California sun rose on the third and final day of the first week of Coachella Festival, the entire music world had their eyes on one performance. After years of rumours and a cancelled 2020 slot, Frank Ocean would finally be taking to the stage and to the spotlight, with the final performance of the weekend. Frank had, as expected, been completely quiet prior to the festival, but with the festival running smoothly, thousands gathered in attendance ready to see Frank make his first live appearance in six years. There were even murmurs of a new album being released the weekend of the festival, not without precedent, as other artists like Kendrick Lamar had released music the weekend of their Coachella performances. But on Sunday morning, to the horror of many, it was announced Frank’s performance would not be livestreamed, unlike almost every other performance. It certainly quelled the hype on social media, but did nothing to those at the festival. Suddenly that Coachella Sunday ticket became even more exclusive. 

Frank Ocean had taken his paycheck, phoned in his performance, and let down his millions of fans

At 10:00pm, five minutes before his set was scheduled to start, Frank had attracted one of the biggest crowds of the entire weekend. Five minutes later, no Frank. 30 minutes later, chants of “We want Frank!” were ringing round the desert. Still, no Frank. An hour after the set was meant to start, a restless crowd was still waiting for Frank to emerge. When he finally did start his set, he was well over an hour late, and from the state of the show, it seemed he had to rush to make even that. The set was plagued with song delays, technical and microphone issues, and a general lack of, to put it harshly, effort. On the surface, Frank’s show paled in comparison to the displays of fellow headliners Bad Bunny and BLACKPINK, as well as other stand out performances of the weekend from Boygenius, Rosalía, and Blink-182. Frank spent most of his performance seated, with minimalist staging, and his dancers essentially walking back and forth behind him onstage. Hardly the sight to behold that is expected from the Sunday headliner of Coachella. Worse still, due to his late arrival on stage, his performance was cut short by Coachella’s curfew, leaving a sour taste in the mouth of most of the audience. 

Frank paid a touching tribute to his younger brother, who died in a car accident in 2020

 The next day, when most of the internet had caught the performance on Instagram lives and leaked YouTube footage, the narrative was set. Frank Ocean had taken his paycheck, phoned in his performance, and let down his millions of fans. The discourse got worse over the following day, as rumours began to swirl from performers and organisers alike at Coachella. Allegedly, Frank’s performance originally incorporated an ice rink, with Olympic skaters and professional hockey players all part of the spectacle. In the days preceding the performance, Frank had scrapped the rink altogether, causing problems for the performers and the organisers. This was the cause of the show’s delay, as Coachella had to melt down the ice rink, and reconstruct the staging according to Frank’s whims. All this contributed to the uproar on the internet, and the PR hurricane that was descending on Frank Ocean and his team. 

 When Frank’s team finally spoke out, it was almost too late to temper the outrage. They explained that Frank had broken his ankle in a biking accident, just days before his performance. This was the reasoning behind the change of staging at such short notice. It was also the reason Frank was sitting down for most of his performance. His injury eventually led to him pulling out of his set for Coachella’s second week, which only led to more abuse online. From a fanbase known for its devotion to Frank and his music, the speed with which the loudest voices of the internet turned on him was a shock. 

 During his performance, Frank paid a touching tribute to his younger brother, who died in a car accident in 2020. They had often gone to Coachella together in years past. This suddenly paints a picture of a grieving man honouring his brother by headlining a festival where they shared so many memories. It also makes the abuse he received online even more difficult to accept. Whether the comments made by Frank’s PR team were excuses or not is irrelevant: the performance was still a raw and powerful performance by a troubled artist who, despite an injury, had gone on stage to not let down the fans that had come to see him.  

It seems that Frank is destined to re-enter the shadows. Teasing an album at his performance was the perfect way to reignite the hype. Yet, even if dropping out of the second weekend of Coachella knocked his deity-like reputation among some of his fans, it’s important to remember something I often forget while listening to his incredible music: Frank Ocean is a human being.


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