Arts and Entertainment

Coachella 2023: Frank Ocean’s Performance Blunder

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Issue 14, Volume 113

By Tessa Kolovarsky 

The highly-anticipated Coachella Arts and Music Festival, held annually in Indio, California, has been the epitome of concert culture for years. Raising eyebrows for its status as an influencer playground riddled with culturally appropriated costumes, it has recently faced a new scandal: the abrupt cancellation of neo soul artist Frank Ocean’s feverishly anticipated performances. After Ocean announced that he would not be performing in week two of Coachella, overnight desert campers, diehard fans, and the entire internet were in total shock. While some understood the musician’s personal reasons for stepping back in week two, others were unimpressed by what they saw as unprofessionalism, even going so far as to label his performance as the “Worst Headliner Performance at Coachella Ever.”

Ocean has always been an elusive anomaly in the music world, eliciting a strong connection with his fans through the raw emotional expression in his songs and his unique transparency as an artist. His music is almost unanimously revered, yet he rarely accepts interviews. He does not often perform live, but when he does, his shows are known for being intimate and modest, fostering a community feel amongst his adoring fans. Ocean’s performance hiatus after the release of his ground-breaking sophomore album, Blonde (2016), has left fans craving his return to concert.

The initial announcement of his headliner status in the Coachella 2020 lineup was widely celebrated; when his performance was postponed for Coachella 2023 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fan anticipation and predictions of the set only grew. Over 125,000 people were expected to attend Coachella each week, with tickets costing over $500 per week. Just a few hours before Ocean’s scheduled performance, it was announced that his set would not be live-streamed on YouTube like other Coachella performances—a colossal blow to devoted supporters around the world. Furthermore, Ocean entered the packed arena an hour late, leaving his already weary fans confused. It was revealed post-concert that this delay was due to Ocean demanding a last minute call to scrap the elaborate ice skating performance. The 120 skaters, including some Olympians, were entirely ditched. The $4 million ice rink was ordered to be melted. By the time he arrived, he was already facing social media backlash and was barely visible in front of his sloppily-coordinated set and overbearing video screens. Ocean presented a peculiar set of rave DJ remixes entirely different from the original discography, as well as only a few lip synced original hits. Sources report that the show came to an abrupt halt after only 30 minutes, with Ocean explaining that there was a midnight curfew on Sundays at the festival,  and proceeding to casually exit with an indifferent expression post-show.

In response to the media flurry that ensued, it was reported that Ocean pulled out of week two of Coachella due to a supposed leg injury, though he was seen hopping and bopping on stage. His fans are both disappointed and dumbfounded. Was this a publicity stunt—a goodbye to music and fame? Or was it perhaps a genuine blunder caused by performance anxiety? Ocean’s mental health has been brought into question before due to sudden retreats from the spotlight and enduring grief over the loss of his brother. The theory that his grief deeply affected his performance is a plausible one; in his headline, Ocean noted the significance Coachella held in his relationship with his brother: “My brother and I came to this festival a lot; I felt like I was dragged out here half the time because I hated the dust out here. I always left with a respiratory infection, or what have you. So I would avoid coming, but I would always end up here,” he said. It was clear how triggering this concert was to him, and so the question still remains as to why he didn’t drop out sooner.

Regardless of the personal conflicts that may have contributed to Ocean’s Coachella flop, his loyal fans feel frustrated that they did not get to adequately experience the musician they know and love; no reimbursement was given. Coachella-goers paid a high price in order to see the neo soul legend in action, but instead were met with tasteless deep house and the cancellation of the majestic ice skating performance that should’ve been.