Frank Ocean’s Coachella Performance Was a ‘Scramble’ in Days Before Controversial Set: Sources
Frank Ocean’s polarizing Coachella set and subsequent cancellation just days before the festival’s second weekend have garnered a flurry of negative reactions from festival attendees and fans. With still little known about what transpired, several sources involved with the performance now tell Rolling Stone that aside from Ocean’s ankle injury cited by his team, the performance faced production issues and delays that led to a last-minute “scramble.”
The day after his set, a rep for Ocean told Rolling Stone that he sustained two fractures in his left leg in the days leading up to the show during a biking incident, which caused unexpected changes to the concert’s production and led to Weekend Two’s cancellation.
On the Thursday prior to his show, Ocean and his hired performers arrived at the festival grounds for an in-person rehearsal on Coachella’s main stage. Those present were able to listen to Ocean’s raw vocals as he soundchecked. According to multiple reports and sources, the singer had planned to include an ice rink and more than 100 skaters as part of his set. Two of the skaters present at the rehearsal tell Rolling Stone that Ocean “sounded great” while soundchecking songs, while one of them says he seemed “a bit frustrated” with the production.
“There was already not the most positive atmosphere because everything was so late,” the other skater adds. “He was asking [questions] in a ‘wanting them to take accountability’ kind of tone… At one point, they cut off the in-ears because they realized we could all hear.”
“There were a lot of production [elements] that Frank planned that at the last minute didn’t pan out,” added a separate source. “That threw everything off, so it was a scramble after that.”
A rep for Coachella promoter Goldenvoice did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment for this story. A rep for Ocean declined to comment.
Ocean had planned a “winter wonderland”-style show on an ice rink, but “a lot of it was scrapped,” the source added. The performance’s description aligns with what two hired hockey players — who said they were supposed to be a part of Ocean’s show — shared during an appearance on the Empty Netters podcast earlier this week. The skaters said that the show’s planned “skating portion was going to be huge,” they said.
A production head for another artist who performed on the mainstage last weekend told Rolling Stone they had to work around the ice rink in the days before Ocean’s set, saying that they were surprised when Ocean and the performers never took to the secondary ice stage on Sunday.
Although it’s unclear which songs Ocean planned to include in his final setlist, the skaters present at Thursday’s rehearsal tell Rolling Stone that the singer soundchecked tracks such as 2018’s “Moon River” and Blonde’s “Pretty Sweet.” The Blonde song’s performance was supposed to see the skaters engaging in an elaborate number that involved a fake fight between the performers and “circling the drain”-like choreography.
Ocean also rehearsed a rendition of the Justice remix of “Dear April,” a song he released in 2020 after premiering it during an NYC PrEP+ party earlier that year. (Onstage Sunday, Ocean referenced the queer-focused events he’d throw as he addressed the crowd following DJ Crystallmess’ EDM portion of the performance.)
While those three tracks were not played Sunday, a source close to Ocean had previously told Rolling Stone that Ocean’s set ran 15 minutes longer than originally intended, despite the delay and curfew.
For some of the performers, the uncertainty surrounding his headlining show continued through Sunday, just hours before Ocean took to the stage. A skater said that “things started to break down,” after some skaters received “confusing messaging” from the production team.
A source, who noted earlier the performance’s production issues with Rolling Stone, says that the set’s “dancing security guard” — who is actually New Orleans-based bounce artist Ha Sizzle — was supposed to play a “larger role” during the show.
“For him to give me the opportunity to bring New Orleans and Bounce music to an international stage, speaks to who he is and shows that he hasn’t forgotten where he is from,” Sizzle told Rolling Stone when asked for comment about his inclusion in the show. He did not comment about his changed role. “Everybody is complaining about the show, but in New Orleans we are loving the attention that he is showing us. Do you, Frank.”
As Billboard reported on Friday, Ocean’s last-minute cancellation could cost Goldenvoice millions of dollars, particularly because of the money spent on the ice pad and on the talent to replace him. Ocean also garnered $45,000 in fees for playing past curfew, per Billboard, though the report claims that he only started his performance late and played past curfew because Coachella’s staff took nearly an extra hour to ready the stage for Ocean’s performance.
His set was one of the most anticipated Coachella headlining slots in years. The enigmatic singer hadn’t played a live show since 2017, and the pandemic halted his 2020 performance for another three years. With Ocean rarely in the public eye, many festival-goers expected a historic performance as defining to Coachella history as Beyoncé’s in 2018.
The show would end up receiving mixed reviews, with Ocean himself calling it “chaotic.” Earlier on the day of his performance, Coachella and YouTube announced that Ocean’s show wouldn’t be livestreamed, unlike most sets. He started his set about an hour late, took long pauses in between songs, and abruptly ended the concert, citing the city-mandated curfew. The stage was also covered by a massive screen, allowing for only a small sliver of a performance area from which the crowd could directly see Ocean and some performers, and the screen flashed different scenes from the stage, including closeups of the singer’s face.
During the performance, Ocean showed moments of vulnerability, sharing a touching story about going to Coachella with his brother Ryan, who died in 2020 in a car accident. “One of my fondest memories was watching Rae Sremmurd with my brother [at Coachella], I know he would have been so excited to be here with all of us,” he said.
Ocean addressed the crowd multiple times and teased new music but was seldom seen facing the audience during the set. Following the performance, a video from one of the skaters surfaced of Ocean sitting on the stage floor solo and rocking backstage as Crystallmess deejayed some tracks for the crowd.
Some attendees, including Justin Bieber, lauded Ocean’s performance for his artistry and vulnerability, but many festival-goers left disappointed and confused with the performance.
Many of Ocean’s fans came to his defense about any criticism, noting the grief Ocean may still be processing about losing his brother, his integrity to his artistic vision, and questioning the very nature of what a headlining set is expected to be or how much any artist owes in a show.
“It was chaotic. There is some beauty in chaos. It isn’t what I intended to show but I did enjoy being out there and I’ll see you soon,” Ocean said in a statement.
Blink-182 was officially announced as Ocean’s replacement to headline on Sunday night on Wednesday, while EDM trio Skrillex, Fred Again.. and Four Tet are scheduled to play a closeout electronic set right after. Weekend Two of the festival started Friday.
Blackpink's Jennie Serenades Tokyo Fashion Show With 'Killing Me Softly With His Song'
- For Your Entertainment
Long-Lost John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy Set From 1961 Unearthed for Release
- My Favorite Things