How Frank Ocean’s New Album Caused a Social Media Stir

If you spend a decent amount of time on the Internet and social media, there is an excellent chance that you fall into one of two categories of people. Either you aren’t a fan of Frank Ocean and you can’t wrap your head around the insane buzz over his new album or you are a fan of him and you’re a part of that buzz.

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The R&B artist let his Internet-savvy fans do his marketing for him | Photo: Debby Wong / Shutterstock

The possibility of an upcoming album from Frank Ocean has had people waiting patiently on their edge of their seats for over a year now. The album finally dropped, entitled Blonde, and was met with overwhelming praise. But the intense lead-up spawned a plethora of Frank Ocean memes, jokes and viral tweets especially in recent months.

Finding Frank Ocean

The R&B artist delayed the album time and time again, even disappearing after The New York Times had apparently confirmed a release for Aug. 5, 2016. It didn’t arrive until Aug. 20.

To fathom the huge hype surrounding Ocean’s Blonde, first we head all the way back to his debut album released on July 10, 2012: Channel Orange.

Channel Orange is the release that skyrocketed Ocean’s career. It helped him develop his cult-like following. Even more remarkable in today’s world is that it didn’t spawn any particularly radio-friendly hits or chart toppers. “Thinkin Bout You” only peaked at number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 and charted just a few other times in other countries. Fans swarmed to the full album rather than to any singles.

Critics also hailed Channel Orange as a work of art that would cement Ocean as one of the best R&B and hip hop artists in the industry today.

2013 passed by with Ocean still enjoying the successes and spotlights shining on him from Channel Orange. 2014 was much of the same, though expectedly to a lesser extent. It wasn’t until 2015 when people started asking the question, “Where is Frank Ocean’s next release?”

Adele to Frank Ocean: “Come back.”

Ocean got his fans excited when on April 6, 2015 he announced on his website that the sophomore album would debut in July 2015 and hinting that it would come in two versions. Well, it was as if at some point between April and July, he fell off the face of the Earth because July came and went without a peep — no album, no updated release date, nothing.

The social media hype began to really accumulate after this. Even Adele, who also caused quite a stir on social media leading up to her third album 25, broadcast a message to Ocean in November 2015 on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon: “Come back.”

Anticipation finally peaked in July 2016 — one year after Ocean said his sophomore album would come out. This time, he posted a library due date card on his website with all of the missed released dates leading up to that point. It also hinted at the bottom that the album would finally come out in July. Once again, July passed and the album was nowhere to be found.

The Social Media Mob

As you might imagine, Twitter went absolutely wild.

What Ocean did do was launch a very abstract live stream from his website that ran for days. It showed a black and white room with wood and hardware tools. Every so often someone would come in and appear to be working on some sort of project.

Frank Ocean harnessed the power of a cultural and technological revolution.

It wasn’t until over a week after this that he released his first visual album, Endless, exclusively on Apple Music. Footage from the live stream ended up as the over 45-minute video for Endless. But the video didn’t come as an actual album… only a streaming video. You couldn’t purchase any songs or even the full collection.

Then at long last the real album, Blonde, arrived on iTunes and Apple Music exclusively and social media went expectedly crazy. Many also found it interesting that the name of the album on iTunes is Blonde” but on the cover art, it’s spelled “Blond.” It’s been speculated that this is deliberate to emphasize the fusion of masculinity and femininity.

It’s safe to say that Frank Ocean mastered not only the art of anticipation, but the power of social media as a remarkable marketing tool. Seasoned businesses know that the most effective promotion comes from word of mouth. Social media is like word of mouth on steroids — someone can broadcast their recommendation to thousands of people in an instant.

Ocean and the record label were able to spend practically nothing on advertising leading up to the release of his album because his fanbase on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr did all of it for them. All the promotion came in the form of user-created animated GIFs, memes, tweets, status updates, reblogs, retweets and more. Frank Ocean harnessed the power of a cultural and technological revolution.

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Last updated on 03 February, 2022

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