Frank Ocean at the 2021 Met Gala

What Happened With Frank Ocean at Coachella?

Frank Ocean was, without question, the most anticipated headliner at Coachella 2023. Preceded by world famous acts including Bad Bunny and BLACKPINK, this pair of Coachella concerts mark the first time Ocean has publicly performed since his tour ended in 2017 and the 2020 incarnation of Coachella fell through. Needless to say, there was plenty of pressure riding on Sunday night, when fans were treated to a long-awaited performance of several tracks Ocean hadn’t played publicly before—though it certainly wasn’t without a few hiccups and controversial moments.

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The first signs of trouble began bubbling on Sunday night, just minutes before Ocean’s set was scheduled (keyword: scheduled) to begin. For all other performers that weekend, Coachella provided a high-quality online livestream so that fans who weren’t able to attend the festival in person could still catch their favorite performers and most anticipated sets online. After Bad Bunny and BLACKPINK’s sets streamed online without a hitch, fans were expecting the same of Ocean’s Sunday night set, but as the minutes ticked closer to showtime, fans noticed that Ocean’s name was suddenly missing from the YouTube streaming roster.

There began a quick online scramble with some fearing the worst; specifically, that Ocean had dropped out of the festival entirely and wouldn’t be performing. After some confusion, Coachella made a formal announcement that Ocean didn’t drop out of the festival, but his performance wasn’t going to be livestreamed to fans. The announcement resulted in some understandable outrage online: Ocean is notorious for his flakiness when it comes to concert appearances, and considering it’s been nearly six years since his last tour, it’s safe to say that many were expecting to be able to stream the long-awaited performance.

Ocean ultimately ended up taking the stage an hour later than he was originally scheduled, but he did indeed perform. As of now, all indications point to Ocean upholding his promise and performing at next weekend’s Sunday night closing show as well.

Why was Frank Ocean’s Coachella set delayed?

So, what exactly went down during Ocean’s set? Like I said, the first sign of trouble was the sudden lack of a livestream, but that was hardly the end of things. Though we didn’t know it at the time, in the hour between when he was scheduled to perform and the actual start of his performance, Ocean allegedly scrapped the initial plan for his stage. This reportedly led to the delay and caused some friction with Coachella organizers. Allegedly, Ocean originally planned for his stage to feature an ice rink with countless skaters performing as dancers, but made a sudden decision to scrap the ice rink idea after injuring his ankle days earlier.

According to TMZ: “One of the major changes involved the use of an ice rink, which was built for Frank’s set. Another source with direct knowledge tells us … a casting director reached out to a bunch of L.A.-based hockey teams in March for an unspecified paid performance. Once the skaters got to the audition, they saw Frank in attendance. We’re told it became clear during the audition that it was for his Coachella set—and over 100 hockey players were cast. They rehearsed on an elevated ice rink at Paramount Studios, and even got bused out to Coachella for a dress rehearsal the week before Frank’s show.”

Again, we didn’t know this at the time, but the last-minute set changes also reportedly stirred up some frustration among Coachella festival management: Music news outlet Festival Owl explained in a lengthy Twitter thread: “Frank also personally pulled the plug at the last second on the live stream which left a very sour taste in many inside Coachella mouths. Ultimately, and I quote — It just didn’t seem like he wanted to be there but was obligated to be. Everything (including him) fell apart last minute. Don’t expect to see any coverage from the festival about the set. Something that is unprecedented in the history of Coachella. The relationship is not in a good place right now.”

Why were fans upset about Frank Ocean’s Coachella set?

After the hour-long delay and the outcry over the livestream, Ocean finally took to the stage, but that wasn’t the end of it. In lieu of the speculated ice rink, Ocean’s stage setup included massive screens that he spent most of the performance standing behind. Festival goers were watching him on the screen, not in person, which was a source of frustration for many. Ocean was also seated for a large chunk of his set (again, possibly due to the aforementioned ankle injury), and didn’t even have a microphone in hand while performing, which many fans called out on Twitter:

In addition to spending large portions of his set seated or behind a screen, Ocean handed a six-song chunk of his already delayed set to DJ Crystallmess, who played remixes of Ocean hits like “Chanel” and “Nikes” while Ocean danced around onstage without a microphone. Many fans expressed further frustration that Ocean would give away such a large portion of a limited set and then not even bother to perform his songs live, especially considering how infrequently he performs and how highly anticipated the Coachella set was.

Ocean also ended the night on a low note: Thanks to the fact that he started an hour later than expected, he was forced to end his set earlier than planned because of Coachella’s built-in curfew rules.

Unsurprisingly, the mood online is not a particularly positive one. As previously mentioned, Frank Ocean is fairly notorious for being flaky and inconsistent when it comes to performances. Some have speculated that Ocean’s lack of recent performances might have to do with a family tragedy. In 2020, Ocean’s 18-year-old brother was killed in a car accident, and according to Desert Sun, the artist paid homage to his late brother during his Coachella set: “My brother and I, we came to this festival a lot, and I feel like I was dragged out here half the time… I know he would’ve been so excited to be here with all of us today, and I want to say thank you for the support and the ears and the love over all this time.”

Considering this devastating personal loss, it’s understandable that Ocean may not feel fully up to performing, but many loyal fans still expressed their dismay online about the tumultuous set:

Of course, this isn’t the end of Ocean’s time at Coachella, a festival famous for its two-weekend lineup. Ocean is scheduled to take the stage for another set this coming Sunday, April 23. There’s still plenty of time for Ocean to mount a full-fledged iteration of his planned performance, ice rink and all.

(featured image: Jeff Kravitz, FilmMagic / Getty Images)

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Lauren Coates
Lauren Coates (she/her)is a freelance film/tv critic and entertainment journalist, who has been working in digital media since 2019. Besides writing at The Mary Sue, her other bylines include Nerdist, Paste, RogerEbert, and The Playlist. In addition to all things sci-fi and horror, she has particular interest in queer and female-led stories. When she's not writing, she's exploring Chicago, binge-watching Star Trek, or planning her next trip to the Disney parks. You can follow her on twitter @laurenjcoates