Tue July 10, 2012
Six Things You Didn't See In Frank Ocean's 'Late Night' Performance
The late-night talk show format hasn't changed much since the 1950s. There's the opening monologue, a comedy bit, two celebrity interviews, and a musical guest. So it felt a bit odd to see Frank Ocean — a young man who embodies a particular changing of the guard in pop music — on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon last night. I was in the audience at Late Night, and actually, "waiting" to see Ocean would be more accurate, because that's what most of Monday's show entailed for the studio audience.
A majority of you reading this will never watch the first five segments of Episode #0666 (if only Tyler had known), but suffice it to say, the immensity/intensity of Ocean's open letter to a coulda-been boyfriend was not present during the game-show skit "Models With Buckets" or Howie Mandel's pitch to watch a little person named Big Barry on America's Got Talent. Who knows, maybe those shenanigans played a part in Ocean's decision to choose Fallon's Studio 6B for his taxicab confession "Bad Religion" — one of those songs on the album Channel Orange in which Ocean addresses a male object of love. The straight-up silliness of the preceding 55 minutes must have taken some of the edge off. (Insert "Novacane" joke here.)
Anyway, if you watched the show, or even just the clip of Ocean's performance, you probably know most of these things already. So here are six things I took away from Monday night's taping that you wouldn't have seen at home:
1. While the line was forming in the MSNBC Cafe, the giant flatscreen television was airing The Ellen DeGeneres Show — a not-so-subtle reminder that mainstream America was way ahead of pop music on this day. Obviously it's easier to come out in this world if doing so makes you more masculine instead of less, but it was poetic nonetheless.
2. Most of the tickets for the show were allocated a month ago, well before anyone knew that Ocean would be performing, so it wasn't like the audience was full of fans. That might have been the reason that we were asked to stay late after the show to record three more "introductions" to Ocean's performance. Each time, Fallon read the intro as if Ocean was about to step onstage, and each time, we cheered louder than the last. I'm not sure which one made it on to the show.
3. If you didn't already know why Ocean was the talk of the Internet when you walked into the studio, there was no Cliff Notes version to set the stage. Fallon flattered him like he would any musical guest and hawked Channel Orange's early release on iTunes. The only evidence that we weren't dealing with your average pop star was the "hims" during "Bad Religion"'s chorus.
4. Members of the audience had the option of watching Ocean's performance two different ways. You could keep your eyes on the skinny dude barely filling out his skinny jeans on the stage, or you could look up at the perfectly-lit pop star on the monitors above your head. Maybe I'm stating the obvious here, but the performances were dramatically different. What was playing out above me on screen was the preceding week of Twitter buzz, a R&B prodigy opening up on a national stage. What was happening right in front of me was a young man, slightly awkward, shuffling in place and singing a love song. I feel lucky to have seen the human side of Ocean, even if — or maybe because — the hi-res version was better. (And the one you can watch online is better still — Ocean stayed late after the show and helped perfect the post-production.)
5. Watching The Roots play out to and in from every commercial was the best part of everything leading up to Ocean's performance. Actually, strike that — watching ?uestlove slyly peer down at his Twitter feed during the celebrity interviews took the prize. But during "Bad Religion," you forgot they were even there. Same thing with the imported string section. Ocean owned those three/four/five minutes (frankly, I lost track of time watching him) and it wasn't until he lowered the mic and turned toward the ensemble that I thought to give them a moment's notice.
6. The awkwardness laid bare during "Bad Religion" — his voice might have even cracked a bit during that opening "Taxi driver" — disappeared completely the moment Fallon walked across the stage to shake Ocean's hand. I was sort of taken aback by the young man's smile and for a moment, I wasn't sure what I was watching. Was this a conflicted man relieved to finally tell the truth, or a 24-year-old industry vet who knows how this all works? Like most things these days, probably a little bit of both.