Understanding Frank Ocean’s “Nights” Beat Switch

Vitória Arantes

It takes guts to expose vulnerability, and Frank Ocean managed to pull it off beautifully.

You might know Frank Ocean from his notorious hip-hop music collective, Odd Future (OFWGKTA), or you might simply be able to associate the remarkable green hair to the former Def Jam artist. However, as far as a hype for musicians goes, Frank Ocean managed to unapologetically finesse his way into Daft Punk levels of buzz since the launch of Blonde -his second studio album released in 2016-. 

To say the least, Frank was seriously ahead of his time when he released Blonde; an ethereal melodic compilation containing a myriad of revolutionary tracks. The album’s tracks range from simple syllabic structures to remarkable pitch shifted vocals, all of which are included within the genres of alternative R&B, avant-garde soul and psychedelic pop. Blonde is a highly acclaimed album, as it presents Ocean’s introspective lyricism and a rather unconventional, progressive sound.

Each song from Blonde contains its own unique background history, forever holding a spot in the space-time continuum musical realm. The genre-defying Nights track, for instance, plays a major role in the album -one might say it is one of the most significant compositions of the album.- The sudden beat switch in Nights and its unparalleled manifesting powers is complex to the extent of becoming a field of study to Frank Ocean stans. 

The beat switch in Nights defines literal change in the mood for the entire album. The album is exactly one hour long, and the transition in Nights is at the halfway mark of the album at 30 minutes within its stream. The beat switch represents a turning point for the album. It is not only a switch in the song, but a switch in the album. Such musical switches are part of a theory known as musical frisson, which, as per described by Huron and Margulis (2011) is “a musically-induced effect that shows close links to musical surprise,” and is associated with a “pleasant tingling feeling,” through raised body hairs. In other words, you literally get goosebumps as a psychophysiological response to the auditory stimulus in Nights. One might even call it an emotional thrill, as it links emotional intensity to tangible sensations localized on any region of the body. Frank Ocean is not the only musician to utilize such a musical phenomenon. Similar patterns can be seen on songs like SICKO MODE by Travis Scott and Drake or New Slaves by Kanye West.

The reason this beat switch sounds so good is because it comes from absolute calamity. The distorted guitars, the string section, the collection of string instruments, and the reversed drum sections all arise from this beautifully chaotic place, where everything is presented in a crazy congested manner. It goes from zero to one hundred in a matter of seconds, and you never expect it, which is why it is so good.

Throughout the entire album, Ocean seeks to portray the motif of duality; which continues to be seen in the tracklist. For instance, if you count Nights as being both the last song of the first half of the album and the first song of the second half, you also realize that the beginning of Nights goes more along with songs like Pink + White and Ivy, whereas the second part after the beat change matches up with Siegfried and Futura Free regarding production style and lyrics. Another interesting concept to look at is the fact that the album listing is called Blonde, however, the album cover spells Blond. Going back to the theme of duality, some fans speculate that Ocean intended on changing the spelling of both names in order to emphasize the themes of duality between masculinity and femininity in his life; with regards to the singer’s sexual experiences. 

The album’s atmospheric tone brings to life Frank Ocean’s most vulnerable. It is almost as if Ocean is standing in front of his fans at his rawest spiritual form, -emotions unsugarcoated-  and saying “this is me, love it or leave it.” Must they love his strength and courage to throw himself out there in such an unshielded form. Must they praise his audacity to show his true and authentic self to the eye of the public. It takes guts to expose vulnerability, and Frank Ocean managed to pull it off beautifully.

Frank Ocean - Blonde Lyrics and Tracklist | Genius

Frank Ocean’s alternate Blonde cover

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