The Hidden Codes of Channel ORANGE

When Frank Ocean released his debut studio album Channel Orange in July of 2012, it became an instant classic overnight. Two years after releasing his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, Ocean would go on to drop one of the most innovative and remarkable albums of the entire decade: a collection of songs based on grapheme–color synesthesia from his first love. Throughout the seventeen songs, Ocean expounds on the different feelings from his first relationship and emphasizes the significance of authenticity. 

Besides the unprecedented sound that Ocean introduced with this masterpiece, I was most intrigued by his metaphoric language. Each song is unique and distinctive, something that is very rare among modern-day music. While the cover and title make the album seem simple, many uncracked codes express Ocean’s feelings of love and honesty. 

The album begins with the hit song Thinkin Bout You, a three minute tune that recounts the unsettled feelings left from the relationship. The first line – “a tornado flew around my room before you came, excuse the mess it made, it usually doesn’t rain in Southern California” – signifies the impact of his ex lover. The room represents his life; evidently chaotic before he met the significant other. On the other hand, the rain is symbolic of Ocean’s tears when he split from the person, which appears to be as rare as the rain in Southern California. Later in the song, Ocean questions if the person “think(s) so far ahead” as to whether they will spend their lives together. The lyrics express the uncertainty of Ocean, who couldn’t perceive the feelings of the intended person. 

One of my personal favorites, Super Rich Kids, is the seventh song of the album. The song features Earl Sweatshirt, a rapper who was in the group Odd Future with Frank prior to their burst to fame. Similar to other songs, the tone is depressing as Frank criticizes materialistic values. The chorus lines “super rich kids with nothing but loose ends, super rich kids with nothing but fake friends,” make us think about the way that easy opportunities provide little incentive to pursue a particular career and leave people directionless. The next line reminds us how materialism and nice things can attract fraudulent friends; being rich doesn’t guarantee happiness and genuity from others, it only provides picayune contentment. Ocean concludes his song with the outro “real love, ain’t that something rare, I’m searching for a real love, talking ‘bout real love” which ties back to his idea that love and happiness is often overlooked by materialism. Now that he is rich, he is in a search for genuine love from someone else. 

The sixteenth song of the album, Forrest Gump, is a figurative track that details the deep feelings that Ocean still has for his first love. Similar to Thinkin Bout You, the song has parts that explain Ocean’s uncertainty of his partner’s feelings. In the second verse, Ocean says “I saw your game, Forrest, I was screaming, ‘Run forty-four!’” a reference to the famous movie in the title. He delineates a scene where Forrest scores a touchdown but continues to run into the locker room – it shows how Ocean’s first love decided to move past him with no sense of return. 

The distinctive and innovative aspects of Channel ORANGE are enough to certify the album as an all-time classic. Through a bewildered and harrowing narrative, Frank Ocean used metaphoric codes like never before to express his opinions on love and explain how it is undervalued. While I based this column off one of my favorite albums, this critically acclaimed record is only one of many that have hidden codes that can be cracked by its listeners. It’s necessary that we acknowledge the deeper meanings behind songs, and listeners around the world should continue to search for secret messages before making judgments.