Musician Frank Ocean dropped his new single “DHL” on Saturday via his podcast-esque series “Blonded Radio 008.” Infamous for his reticence and lengthy breaks between new releases, the release surprised unsuspecting fans. The song marks the first preview of his upcoming album, which still does not have a release date.
The single has an understated sound: monotone and consistently sluggish, a lazy-feeling kind of pop. The lyrics flow in a stream of consciousness fashion, slurred and half-lucid. It certainly maintains a hazy atmosphere, almost like the sound is coming through the filter of an acid trip.
“Just caught up on a pill” is just one of the many verses that references Ocean’s drug use, and the lyrics surrounding it are borderline nonsensical, spilling into fragments of ideas and images like swimming pools, coffee beans and love. He also randomly name-drops Uber, Starbucks and Amazon.
Another persistent theme concerns Ocean’s wealth. He mentions how rich he is over and over again, noting his expensive watch, asserting his need for a “Kawasaki” motorcycle and even explicitly proclaiming “I’m already rich as f-ck.” Ocean rejects the relevance and relatability of his old songs, but his switch doesn’t feel subversive — it feels hollow. He’s isolating much of his audience through a half-hearted victory cry, but it lacks any sense of self-awareness.
He levels this nod to how rich he is with mentions of his poor financial situation when he was younger: “All of them days when I paid for the studio rate instead of the rent.” But it still feels like from his perch, he’s forgotten what it was like to be down-to-earth.
“DHL” provides at least some commentary, though it’s largely focused on modern style. He includes verses like, “Look like I’m dressed for a hike, but I really look like I’m in Paris.” Ocean, who attended the latest Met Gala, certainly seems to have some opinions on fashion. His discussion of it here feels like a jab to his contemporaries, mocking the absurd styles of those desperate to stand out. Yet these comments on fashion seem to be the only social commentary in the song. It’s disappointingly superficial, but it’s also surprising from an artist who has produced songs like “Be Yourself,” an experimental piece that grappled with themes of individuality, abstinence from drugs and the fallout of routine drug use.
The song spends quite a bit of time objectifying women and men alike, only speaking about other people in terms of sex. If it were more explicitly tongue-in-cheek, it might have worked, but as is, it just feels rather tasteless. Ocean also celebrates materialism, alluding to receiving packages from the DHL shipping company. Ocean frames both of these motifs as shameless indulgences, stripping the song of any meaningful commentary or social exploration.
Ocean’s new album will hopefully incorporate more of his clever lyricism, but for now, “DHL” doesn’t paint a rosy picture. It may sound like Ocean, but the substance is surface level.
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