(Photo Via vans-otw.com)
Last night, after dropping his highly anticipated debut album, channel ORANGE, Frank Ocean performed his song “Bad Religion” on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. It was the tune that sparked the original rumors around the singer’s sexuality. Was he singing about a man on the track? Was his homosexuality the bad religion? In just under four minutes on late-night TV, Ocean was again thrust into the headlines. Only this time he wouldn’t share the “sexuality spotlight” with Anderson Cooper. Backed by a string quartet, the young (and black) artist stood alone, singing powerfully about the first man he fell in love with. And, for a moment, he represented a long quieted generation – mine.
As a gay black man myself, I grew up with little to no representations of queer people of color in the media, and as a result felt secluded from mainstream gay culture. I did not fit into those images of chiseled white men, and did not look like Will or Jack from the famous TV show, Will & Grace. Now 20 and living in New York City, I’ve realized that there is a community that shares my experience – young, black, queer, proud – and am thankful for Frank Ocean’s confidence in sharing his personal life with the world.
It was not easy for him, I’m sure. Though the artist has already worked with A-listers like Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Beyonce, he is relatively unknown to the masses. By opening up about his first love as an up-and-comer, he hasn’t only risked being pigeon-holed as “that bisexual singer” but he’s also risked being dismissed by a mainstream audience altogether. After all, his situation is more complicated than others: He creates within the ultra-homophobic hip-hop industry, and he’s even a member of the Odd Future crew, a rap group known for its hate-filled gay rants. He is a queer black man in a cultural context that hardly accepts either.
While there is a clear emergence of a queer rap scene in NYC, headed by the success of Zebra Katz, the underground status of most of these artists means that many young queer people of color have no exposure to them. This is why Frank Ocean, a singer with star power enough to book Fallon, is vital. He brings fresh diversity to hip-hop.
With this variety in distributed media comes less stringent boundaries on how people feel about expressing themselves; audiences become more comfortable about who they are and display this confidence through their clothes, their personality, their art. In effect, Ocean has allowed for the next generation of young queer people of color to feel accepted, understood, stood up for, and welcome. And there’s nothing bad about the religion of acceptance.
Watch Ocean’s Fallon Performance Below: