Frank Ocean, Twitter Extraordinaire

A few short years ago, I’d say that I was pretty surprised about how many entertainers, musicians, or celebrities in general were on Twitter. I thought of it as something that, like Facebook would start and be persisted by the use of college-aged kids and older, even some adults. But today, now that I think about it, it is not at all surprising that celebrities or entertainers would put their “lives” online, via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Today, where almost everything has a Twitter account (even inanimate objects), things have clearly changed. People are using social media and portraying versions of themselves in ways that I could not have even imagined.

For this post, I will analyze the Twitter and tumblr accounts of swooning “neo R&B” singer Frank Ocean. Frank Ocean, one part of the youthful “Odd Future” rap crew, made a name for himself a few years ago with his “Nostaliga, ULTRA” mixtape. Earlier this summer, his full-length “Channel Orange” was released, and received almost critical acclaim.His popularity was on the rise and so was his social media/online presence. A ripe 24 years old, Frank Ocean was definitely a product of the “internet generation”, which in my opinion affected how he presented himself on and offline. I will analyze a few instances of his “performances” using a few readings from class, hopefully elucidating this mysterious, yet immensely popular young musician that (most of us) have grown to love.

One of the readings that I thought would accurately apply to Frank Ocean’s social media presence is Liu’s article “Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances” . In this article, Liu writes about the specific ways that “taste” on social media networks can be an identifier and communicator of who we are, and how we fit in the social world. Liu writes about the four types of taste statements: prestige, differentiation, authenticity, and theatrical. Each of these statements have their own unique attributes that allow us to in a way, “group” the activity of people on social network sites into each of these categories. In Frank Ocean’s case, I believe a lot of the time he is portraying authenticity on his social media networks. Authenticity, which can be described as “trying to show the ‘real you’ or ‘real self’, while showing slight imperfections” seems to work perfectly. In fact, Liu even writes, “Authenticity is important in the eyes of some subcultures, including rap culture …authenticity is associated with a relaxed style and the display of slight imperfection …. Profiles perceived as having an authentic quality were ones that met this criterion. They projected a relaxed feeling, their lists of interests were not overly verbose or coherent, and they often broke from form and convention.” (Liu 264). For Frank Ocean, his “authenticity” (for me) came when he posted this letter on his tumblr page.

In this letter, he writes to his fans/followers/fellow earthlings that his first love, was in fact a man. For him (and the rap world in general) this was a monumental and risky move to make. By being essentially the first rap star to “come out” about having a homosexual relationship, his authenticity in this case was shown via this letter. For a musician like him, where lyrics are scrutinized like none other, being able to portray an “authentic” version of himself is very important. By doing this, he displayed his emotions and troubles, all the while getting something real off his chest that was undoubtedly important for him. His authenticity in this regard allowed him to further prosper as an artist, become one of the only entertainers in the rap game to “come out”, and clear pathways for future musicians and entertainers who might feel similarly.

The next article I will look at is Weber and Mitchell’s ” Imaging, Keyboarding and Posting Identities: Young People and New Media Technologies”. I am really interested in the idea of “digital performances” and “footprints” that we leave on our social media websites. Every action we do is recorded, and put out there (mostly) for the public, and the idea of “identities in action”,  where “identity processes are multifaceted and in flux, incorporating old and new images” (Weber and Mitchell 27) can be applied to numerous social network profiles. For Frank Ocean, the idea of “convergence” can be applied to his social media network uses. On his Twitter he consistently posts pictures, letters (as we’ve seen above) of things he may like or want us (as an audience) to see.

This “ongoing convergence mirrors or reflects identities-in-action, which similarly incorporate and merge old and new elements of experience.” (Weber and Mitchell 41). Frank Ocean started as a small, budding R&B star, and his “identity of action” has now blossomed into something of a leader. The amount of “likes” and “retweets” he gets from the tweets and pictures he posts are huge. He has taken the route of somewhat of a “teacher” who, with his posts, attempts to explain himself and his beliefs to his fans and followers, given that they are willing to listen (and trust me, they are).

Finally I will look at work done by Papacharissi who introduces a fascinating concept that she calls “public dreaming”. According to her, public dreaming is any sort of performance on a social network site (in this case, Twitter) which is projected to both “known” and “imagined” audiences. One interesting aspect of public dreaming is the act of “affective statements” on Twitter, or “emotion that is subjectively experienced” (Papacharissi 2000). Being able to express oneself emotionally via Twitter is definitely something I have experienced and seen quite regularly. For a musician like Frank Ocean, being able to perform “the act of intimating publicly or visibly sharing thoughts one has only imagined articulating  can be a self- empowering act, evocative of performance as public dreaming.” (Papacharissi 2000) can be almost necessary.

Here are a few Tweets where Frank included the word “mishu” in a few different contexts. “Mishu” is translated to the Japanese word for “hi”, but I personally believe that he is using this “word” in a different way; one that is aiming to convey an emotional feeling or thought.

Here are two separate tweets, one from August and one from October, both with the word “mishu”. I believe that he may be referring to a person or place, using the word “mishu” to really mean “miss you”. In this way his affective statement is conveying some sort of emotion, that leaves it up to the audience (both known and imagined) to come up with their own take on the tweet, and what it says about Frank. For him, this is a way to release some sort of emotional feeling while simultaneously putting on a performance that exudes a sense of mystery.

In conclusion, the social network accounts of many entertainers, like Frank Ocean who I have observed in this post, can convey a wide array of performances to an almost unlimited audience. While some of these performances may be for different reasons or of varying natures, there is absolutely some sort of performative nature of all identities on social networking websites. This is something I believe we should hold true and accept when traversing and using the social networking sites that we all know and love today.

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