The Future of Creative Expression : An Analysis of Frank Ocean's Coachella Set
I saw Frank perform at Coachella 2 days ago, and his performance has me thinking about the current state of creativity and where art is headed. A lot. I wrote this question down in my notes during the show in the midst of hearing so many of my peers have varying thoughts and I want to know your vote :
Before I give my analysis, I want to provide some context.
I'm about a 6.5/10 on the “Frank Fan Meter”. I’m not a die hard fan, I know about 60% of his catalog by heart, and a few of his songs are in my weekly rotation.
Prior to Coachella, I’ve never seen Frank perform live.
I found out I was going to Coachella literally the day before. And I didn't know that I was going to see Frank until 3 hours before he went on.
I had an artist pass, so I had a pretty good view at the festival.
Overall, I didn't really have that many expectations. I was definitely on some “I’m just happy to be here” type sh*t. But I did walk away feeling hella inspired. Here’s why:
Visuals were Odee
I’ve never seen a panoramic digital screen of that size ever. Not to mention, the camera shots were crazy. It felt like a really cool hybrid of live streaming & vlogging combined. There were even some shots of him from behind, so you could see the crowd and not him. The fact that he wasn’t on the screen the entire time created this anticipation that lasted the entire set.
Amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever heard audio quality sound this good at a performance of that size. I was like damn, that boy sanging sanging. Hardly no feedback issues, no echoes, nothing. Just c r i s p.
The Nods to Culture
There was a part in the performance where had Hasizzle the Voice dressed as a Security Guard dancing to New Orleans Bounce Music. When the camera first panned to him, it looked like just a regular shot of a security guard. But as the music continued, he started dancing more and more. Ultimately ending with him twerking. I loved this part because to me it symbolized just how complex culture and creativity is. To me this translated to the philosophy that no matter what we are by trade, we are all creatives and human beings by nature. This was also a nod to his sexuality, & where he’s from as well.
How quiet it was
People were literally WHISPERING because it was so quiet in between his songs. The pauses were LONG too. like 2-3 minutes at times. I have never seen anything like it. To me, I took it as a respect thing, contrary to what people are saying on the internet. Kind of like when you’re in a class with a teacher that you respect, so you try to keep your voice down.
The stage set up
I loved how the set looked like one of those old control rooms for a computer. Back in the day before computers were what they are now, they had control rooms with big machines that controlled the most specific thing about a computer. All of these machines combined helped the computer to run. I interpreted this as the stage & music being his control room, and how he uses it to control his narrative and life.
Not being streamed on youtube
Mot sure what the reasoning was behind this decision, but I kind of like it? lol It’s interesting for sure. Especially since we live in a world that is driven by views, metrics, and over consumption. Were the fans at home that expected to see him live upset? Absolutely. But for me, it made made me feel really special as a coachella attendee seeing him perform live.
Being late & ending the show because he was late
i think lateness in general is pretty annoying, but i do think rushing is as equally as annoying for the person who is late. There are so many factors that can make someone late, and if anybody knows that its me. Rushing throws you off, and me personally I hate being rushed. It creates anxiety and a sense of no control. Recently I have started to make tiny changes in my life to predict certain things from happening to make me late, such as organizing my clothes better. Making sure I put my keys back in the same place every time. Art seems like it has shifted to the consumer having all the control, but :
If the consumer is controlling the art more than the artist, then is it art anymore?
The overall performance
This didn’t feel like a performance. It felt like I was invited over frank’s crib and he was catching me up about where he is in life through his music, especially when he played the jersey club mixes of his songs, then got on the mic and expressed that he’s really into the underground DJ club scene right now. It made me think about all of the people that I’ve seen live, and how little I could assume about their personality after they performed. But with this performance, I felt like I knew frank after he performed. I”m someone who uses my words and digital content to express where I’m at with my life, so I definitely felt this. As I was watching my footage back, while he was recording Nights below, I said out loud “this is something I would do”.
People were mad. (I get it). Our brains are wired to resist change.
Our brain has gone through millions of years of evolution. Although we have evolved into brilliant conscious, creative beings… there are parts of our brain that are very primitive and animalistic in nature. Because cultural evolution happens much more rapidly than genetic evolution, our instinctive social behaviors are not fully adapted to the modern way of life. So the same way physical traits are passed down, mental traits are passed down as well. We’re programmed to cling to the familiarity of habit and status quo and is our innate aversion to risk. This tendency has to do with the lingering survival instincts we adopted eons ago. Stone Age ancestors lived in harsh environments, and one misstep could trigger disaster. Even more recent than the stone age, the enslavement of Black people has compounded that primal mental instinct. 400 years ago, Black people didn’t have the freedom or liberty of taking risks, because risk was correlated to punishment, and even death.
Our reptilian brain, composed of the basal ganglia and brainstem, controls our primitive drives and habits. Much of the time, this part of the brain operates on “autopilot,” so we don’t really have time to think about everyday activities. In a world that’s overstimulated with stimulation (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch), it is essential to let some of the “program” run in the background of our minds, governed by habit and our reptilian brains, otherwise we get overwhelmed. When we experience things that we aren’t used to, our bodies enter a state of distress.
Nigel Nicholson says in a Harvard Business Review article, “When you are living on the edge, to lose even a little would mean that your very existence was in jeopardy. Thus, it follows that ancient hunter-gatherers who had just enough food and shelter to survive weren’t big risk takers.” He goes on to say, “Indeed, any kind of change is risky when you rely on the status quo to survive”
Creative Natural Selection
This phenomenon and uproar about Frank makes me believe that we are in a current state of creative & mental natural selection. Charles Darwin, famous biologist defines natural selection as the process through which species adapt to their environments. It is the engine that drives evolution.
Despite Frank never having a number one hit, and never going on tour, he headlined Coachella. That speaks to the state of creative natural selection that we are in. The rules are changing when it comes to music, and you don’t need to fit in to survive. The art will always remain supreme for the long haul. From this performance, I can see an entirely different “Species” of festivals and musical experiences being birthed. The people who loved the show will support that “species” and help it evolve” while the ones who don’t will continue to have the Coachella’s, the Rolling Louds, etc.
I don’t know what Frank will do next, but I do know whatever it is, it’s going to be paradigm shifting, Level 2, and above all the way that he wants it done.
Questions for you :
What side of creative natural selection are you on?
What characteristics do you think creativity needs in order to evolve ?
How do you think creative natural selection will affect your overall creativity and the way you create / digest art?
Is there a correct way to share your art with the world?
Thank you for reading.