Frank Ocean Fans Process His Chaotic Coachella Departure: ‘I Still Don’t Believe It’
When Frank Ocean’s headlining Coachella set came to an abrupt end on Sunday evening, the first wave of emotion to hit the thousands of people waiting in the audience was denial. For fans attending the festival to fans watching at home, the enigmatic singer’s weekend two cancellation following his controversial performance has left many bewildered and disappointed.
“I think the first thing I heard myself say in the video was just ‘No, there’s no way. I’m not gonna believe it until the lights are up,’” Morgan Lee, who livestreamed the entire set on Instagram from her spot on the barricade, tells Rolling Stone. “And then two seconds later, the lights come up and I’m like, ‘Well, I still don’t believe it.’”
The 18-year-old had dropped over $4,000 on a trip to the festival, traveling from North Carolina with her mother and best friend. The day of his set, she arrived at 9 a.m., waited three hours for gates to open, then another 11 hours for Ocean to hit the stage an hour later than he was scheduled to.
“We all assumed that it was still going to be live streamed up until maybe two hours before he went on,” Lee adds. When YouTube announced that the singer’s set would not appear on the Coachella livestream, she says, she launched her livestream for her friends. “I was just going live because I didn’t want to have to send a billion people videos and I thought that that was the simplest solution,” she explains.
Within minutes, the link to her account was posted on the Frank Ocean subreddit and tens of thousands of viewers poured in. By 10:05 p.m., when he was originally scheduled to go on, the viewer count had surpassed 100,000 people and her handle, “morgandoesntcare,” was a trending topic on Twitter — and even the fans watching at home were getting impatient.
“I wasn’t really prepared for any of that. And then I realized that people started to actually send me death threats being like, ‘Shut up. Kill yourself. When Frank comes on, you need to be quiet,’” Lee says. “And I’m not someone who’s gonna mess up my concert videos. Ever. So I already knew, especially if I’m also responsible for getting it out to these people who randomly decided to join my live, obviously I’m not going to be talking when he comes on.”
Even when Lee tried to update her growing audience on the delay, mentioning that “it definitely looked like the crew was stressed out bad and things were kind of chaotic from what I could see,” she was met with the same responses. “Chaotic” is the word Ocean himself has used to describe the performance that seemed to have gone wrong at every turn. During the set, which was cut short due to the festival’s curfew and featured a confusing 15-minute DJ break, the singer said: “This is fucking chaotic, but so much fun.” And when he pulled out of the second weekend of the festival altogether, surprising fans who had expected him to use the opportunity to redeem himself, his statement read: “It was chaotic. There is some beauty in chaos.”
Those who booked trips to Coachella in hopes of seeing the singer don’t have many more options than to look for the silver lining in the situation. “This is going to sound so stupid but I’m absolutely devastated. Even after Sunday, I would have been happy with him just singing in a chair,” Reddit user Belladorka wrote in the Coachella channel, referring to Ocean’s cancellation being attributed to an ankle and leg injury. “I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in the fall of 2021. My entire motivation through that hell was, ‘You gotta get to Coachella 2023. Frank’s on your bucket list.’ I was 5 days away. Oh, well. At least I’ll have my cancer buddy Mark Hoppus there.” Hoppus, who has been cancer-free for a year, will take the stage this Sunday when Blink-182 headlines the festival as a last minute replacement.
Before this past weekend, Ocean had gone six years without delivering a live performance. It’s been seven since he released his last album Blonde. “He’s so elusive, most people will never see him. That’s why when it came to criticism and everything, I was obviously really empathetic to all the other fans who also came across the country,” says Lee. “It costs a lot of money and that’s why I’m thinking about all the weekend two fans who spent all this money and planned this and won’t get to see him. It really sucks. It was my first time seeing him and I’m lucky that I did because now we don’t know when the next time will be.”
Ocean mentioned during his set that he wasn’t there to promote an album, though there is one in the works, and closed his statement regarding the cancellation saying: “It isn’t what I intended to show but I did enjoy being out there and I’ll see you soon.” But his fans know him well — and for them, “soon” is likely closer to five years than five months.
“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. Frank confirming a new album is otw doesn’t justify the rest of his actions last night,” the update account Frank Ocean Daily, which boasts over 100,000 followers, wrote on Twitter earlier this week. “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. Listen to the folks who were actually there.”
The stretch of time in between Ocean’s performances only increased anticipation, along with rumors that his set would incorporate an ice rink and a slate of figure skaters, only for him to be obstructed by a screen and sitting down for most of the night. But fans also tried to keep in mind that the singer is only three years removed from the death of his younger brother Ryan Breaux, who died in a car accident in 2020. While on stage, Ocean recalled attending the festival with Breaux to watch sets from Rae Sremmurd and Travis Bennett. “I feel like I was dragged by him sometimes because I didn’t want to get a respiratory infection,” he joked. “I know [Ryan] would be so excited to be here with all of us.”
“The Frank slander is so weird to me cause how are you gonna listen to what he had to say the first night and feel comfortable seeing him knowing he feels forced to be there while he’s grieving like??? Are y’all ok?” another Ocean fan, Irene, wrote on Twitter. “I get being upset because maybe he was the reason a lot of you went to Coachella, but there are a ton of different artists there. It’s not like your money was wasted.”
In a video captured on festival grounds, Ocean can be seen stepping into a black Escalade immediately after his performance. All the while, the crowd continued chanting “We want Frank,” reluctant to disperse into the night. Denial set in first, then came anger from those disappointed in the set; bargaining from those who believed weekend two would make up for it; depression from those wondering when they’ll get another chance to see him; and finally, acceptance from those who came to understand that Frank Ocean won’t operate on terms that aren’t his own.