Disclaimer: As a cishet nbpoc, I recognize that Blond(e) speaks on behalf of experiences I cannot claim. This is my personal experience with the songs I am so lucky to have been shared with me.
It was a hot August day in the San Fernando Valley when I first met you. You had been four years in the making and your existence felt instantaneously surreal. In your roughly 60-minute vulnerable stream of consciousness, I’d be transported to a different dimension, feel light and heavy at different times, and jarred in the nerves as certain lyrics punched my stomach and others left me gasping for air. I’d feel my eyes swell up to “sounds make you cry, some nights you dance with tears in your eyes.” At that time, you were mine, my own discovery; an album that softly plucked at my heartstrings. You didn’t hold any attachments to certain moments; you still hadn’t travelled out into the world with me and leeched onto memories, sounds, feelings.
You were isolation, glitter, and dizziness. You were electric keyboards, minimalist guitars, and voice altering effects. You had the ability to morph from beginning to end. In “Self Control,” your intro would alter from high-pitched vocals to languid guitar chords, and exit with the repetition of a soft voice and glimpses of experimental sounds. You showed me growth through change.
You were wordplay and poetic lyrics. You were “Solo” and “So Low” and “In Hell” and “Inhale.” You were a deep yearning for escape and a strong desire for comfort. You were distanced yet intimate, mundane actions such as “skipping showers and switching socks” subtly expressing your underlying sadness. You were a UFO: isolated and detached, a theme that runs through your veins.
You are the offspring of an artist who was burdened to be the voice of our generation. You were born from the pressure of capitalism and emotional labor. We relied on your author to express what we cannot, where we cannot, dwelled on his gifts for more than a second. You were the reminder that art takes time to be brought into this world. Like the staircase that was built before your release (see: Endless), you were slowly pieced together. After years of stitching episodes of your life into one unit, you became the vehicle needed to transport listeners to a different realm, transcending time and space and effortlessly falling into place, like “light hang glid[ing] off the moon.”
Soon, however, you would leave the comfort of my earphones and become the soundtrack to different stages of my life. You’d travel with me to D.C., during a period when I was terrified that I was incapable of holding meaningful relationships. And eventually, you would become the physical embodiment of a person I grew to love. In your premature nine months of life, your seventeen tracks would manage to become the most meaningful album in my life, to date.
* * *
The first time we listened to you, he told me he didn’t really like you. He had just confessed his feelings toward me as we watched the sunset from the top of a parking structure in Hollywood. I told him the timing was wrong. We’d listen to you as we drove back to the valley in his White Dodge. I didn’t know we’d get so familiar. He didn’t know he’d grow to care about you as much as he cared about me.
I left to D.C. a couple of weeks later, wondering if I would ever stop running away. I’d yearn for connections and company with minimal effort; thinking about him constantly and what could have evolved had I not left. One night in late September I’d write in my journal after listening to you. Under my grocery list, I’d jot down, “I question whether my relationships with people are hurting because I keep leaving, not watering them enough time to grow and bloom.” I’d listen to you religiously, every morning on the metro to work and every night as I drowned into sleep. “White Ferrari” would dig under my skin as the lyrics “you’re tired of moving, your body’s aching” flooded into my bloodstream. You were still mine, in some ways. Your lyrics still free from associations to a person.
January rolled around and I made my way back to Isla Vista. I had recently gotten a vinyl of you in the mail; finally, a physical manifestation of you in my own hands. The needle on my record player was broken, and it felt like purgatory to have you in my presence yet unable to listen. He texted me, invited me over to sip on almond flavored champagne (not pink gold lemonades, but close enough) and listen to you on his record player. I had envisioned listening to you on my own, but sharing you with him somehow felt right. A year had passed since feelings floated above him and me, and he still made an effort to keep me in his life. It meant something; after all this time, it was still me. I accepted and biked over, securing you in my purple Jansport backpack.
We sat on his bed illuminated by dark red LED lights and listened to you front and back. You felt more surreal than ever and glided us through your carefully woven words and sounds. Time didn’t exist and space felt un-constricted, like we had astral projected into a black hole of just you. He’d rap Andre’s part in “Solo” and we’d quietly sing along to “Seigfried” as you said, “eat some shrooms, maybe have a good cry, about you.” You felt heavy and you felt light. Who knew you’d be foreshadowing the months ahead of him and me. The lights followed as we fell in love and broke up in the span of your 17 songs. As you’d come to an end, we’d sit on his bed overcome with unfamiliar emotions. It was a carefully curated scene straight out of a movie— so much romance drifting through us yet both afraid to acknowledge it. I would fidget with my hands; he’d know I was nervous. I’d stop looking down and let myself stare into his eyes. He’d lean in and our lips would touch and move for the first real time, a moment that had been delayed for an entire year. I’d attribute that kiss, that bravery, that relationship, to you. It’s what I once called the Frank Ocean effect and still stand by. It’s an overpowering emotion that fuels you with courage, and even if the end will be the catalyst for temporary pain, the experience will leave you feeling fulfilled. An effect that’s effortlessly described in “Pink + White” as you sing, “You showed me love…it’s all downhill from here.”
After your 60-minute meditation, we couldn’t listen to you again for the entirety of our relationship. It felt heavy but important. Like something that was better left untouched: a memory that could only be accessed through recollection and not by attempting to relive it. It was almost like we knew we were creating something to hold onto when it all fell apart.
Now, months later, you have become my worn-out journal. You are transparent, vulnerable, and tell the stories I lack the words to compose. You are places and scents, vivid imagery, and shades of color. You glide me through youth, past lives and immortality, nirvana and God, romance and car models. You are fleeting yet permanent, creating a tangible representation of fleeting emotions and moments impossible to grasp. You are the words I can’t seem to find, feelings I can’t categorize; you express what I am unable to and leave me emotionally exhausted yet newly grounded. Now, “White Ferarri” reminds me of the drives in his white Dodge as his eyes would stay on the road and mine would dilate as I’d watch the clouds float. In “Close to You,” I yearn to feel his warmth as I run my hands through what’s left. “Ivy” sounds entirely different, your words digging into my skin like nails into an orange as you sing, we had time to kill back then— before hard deadlines, when we could let things gradually fall into place. The chorus feels like you extracted the very words from my brain, as you serenade me through, I thought that I was dreaming, when you said you loved me. It started from nothing, I had no chance to prepare, couldn’t see you coming… I could hate you now, it’s quite alright to hate me now. We both know that deep down, the feeling still deep down, is good. In just 30 seconds, you managed to sum up the past 5 months of my life.
In some ways, I feel like you are no longer mine. I shared your presence with someone I cared deeply about. I expressed my love and admiration for you, and he, too, felt it. But now, I can’t seem to listen to you in the same manner; now, you are attached to the night we heard you on vinyl. Now, your lyrics are reflected onto him, and not upon myself. You are no longer a meditation on myself, but rather, an emotional timeline of our experiences. I’ve listened to you everyday for the past 11 days, trying to drain out those connections until all that is left is a renewed version. I want to get you back to your untainted self. I want to wring you out like a wet towel until you are dry from associations to people and places. Is this how Frank Ocean feels?
* this piece can also be found in the print copy of our anniversary issue *
Itxy Quintanilla is a graduating senior majoring in English and minoring in Art at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley and hopes to pursue a career in journalism. She likes taking pictures of her friends, Princess Nokia, and the smell of lavender. You can find her on twitter and instagram.
Illustration by Pinky Ortiz. You can find him on instagram.