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Chaos at Coachella: Frank Ocean’s Controversial Performance

Published on May 4, 2023, at 8:00 p.m.
by Olivia Esquivel.

Photo via Boys Con’t Cry Label

When it was announced that Frank Ocean would be headlining Coachella this year, I was elated. Ocean hadn’t performed live in six years, and his last album was released in 2016. Unfortunately, my delight didn’t last. Frank Ocean’s performance at Coachella went from being one of the most anticipated acts of the festival to a massive disappointment, which subsequently caused a PR nightmare for the artist and the festival.

Where did it all go wrong?

The chaos began when it was announced — only a few hours prior to the show — that Ocean’s set would not be livestreamed via Coachella’s official YouTube stream. The news sent his fan base spiraling, and many took to social media to express their frustration. Not only was he the only artist to opt out of the livestream, but fans also were only informed shortly before the set began. I personally had been looking forward to the livestream for weeks and made plans to stay up and watch it. Needless to say, I was very disappointed at the news.

After beginning the set an hour late, Ocean’s performance ended up feeling aimless. It featured long pauses of silence and strange remixes of his songs; he even lip-synced at times. The stage design also made it difficult to see Ocean and his backup musicians, so even super fans who had camped out all day to be near the front of the stage couldn’t see him.

There was also an elaborate ice rink for the performance that Coachella built and paid for, but Ocean reportedly scrapped it last minute. The Festival Owl, a trusted source for insider festival information, reported that Ocean “personally pulled the plug at the last second” on both the ice rink and the livestream. The ice skaters who were supposed to be featured in the show ended up just walking around the stage in circles.

The fallout

Photo by Danny Howe via Unsplash

Three days following the performance, Ocean’s team released a statement announcing that he would not be returning to perform for the second weekend. They cited an ankle injury as the reason for his decision, but not everyone was convincedMemes were circulating that called out his PR team for fabricating the excuse.

On top of negative fan reactions, the situation has cost Coachella millions of dollars. Ocean’s tardiness caused the performance to run over the allotted time, and the festival was heavily fined because of it. Additionally, the festival reportedly paid over $4 million for the ice rink that Ocean didn’t even use.

Did the situation align with his brand? One of the top defenses for Ocean’s actions is that his fans should “expect” this type of behavior from him. He is known for being elusive and not conforming to the typical standards of the music industry. A popular Frank Ocean fan on Twitter combated this perspective: “this fanbase is used to receiving crumbs but that doesn’t mean we should accept those crumbs as good and act like we’re grateful for them. the fans deserved a genuine show from him. what they got was abysmal and (i’ll say it) pretty disrespectful. people paid a lot of money and what they got was a lip syncing, chaotic mess.”

Tarnished relationships

Fans are fed up with the lack of communication from Ocean. While it could be argued that we don’t “deserve” anything from him, that narrative changed with his lackluster Coachella appearance. Artists have a responsibility to deliver a product when they accept money from patrons, just as any business does. I respect Ocean’s vulnerability and understand that he may not have been ready to perform again, but those decisions should have been made long before he signed a contract with Coachella.

In addition to the loss of money, Coachella is also in hot water over its replacement choices of Blink-182 and Skrillex’s DJ trio. The two groups have significantly different fan bases. Festival Owl also reported that Coachella’s communication regarding Ocean’s performance would be limited. The account stated, “Don’t expect to see any coverage from the festival about the set, something that is unprecedented in the history of Coachella. The relationship is not in a good place right now.”

It will be interesting to see the long-term effects of this situation on the festival’s attendance rates, as well as on the relationship Frank Ocean has with his fans. For now, the blunder has left many discouraged, myself included.

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