Decoded: Frank Ocean – Nikes (Music Video)

The release of Nikes, Frank Ocean’s new music video, reflects the anticipation that has been building for the last 4 years.

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Nikes; an enigmatic video that is wonderfully put together with so much symbolism that one watch, just doesn’t cut it. Having scoured the web and concluding that none of the major blogs even tried to review or decode this video. The blogs that tried just oversimplified everything and didn’t touch on the important matters. Hence my friend Drew and I decided to really go under the visuals and decode it, what follows is an extensive, frame by frame analysis of Nikes. Enjoy.

Nikes opens, with high-pitched vocals, low-pitched vocals, mumbled in a daze of home cut clips of people, posing, wanting to be viewed.We then see Frank finishing a drink in a parking lot surrounded by brightly brushed F1 super cars against a landscape of Japanese sakura trees. The frame splits into two as Frank sings “I have two versions/virgins”, implying religious context and the concept of being two things at once.

The whole video pushes gender roles and identity, from the shots of young and old couples, to the close up shots of limbs, mouths and eyes; spliced with beautiful physiques of the female and male body; from strip clubs to house parties, to sprawling on horseback to pole dancing. The image of the young man and old woman as a couple is the most striking because it goes against the societal grain of what is accepted. Frank sings “I may be younger but I’ll look after you”, affirming that love can transcend boundaries such as age or norms put up by society.

Motifs and images we usually identify with the opposite gender are flipped almost tricking you into thinking you can pick out one gender from the other, like the couple lying in a room full of money. The birds eye shot suggests that there’s only the female with her breasts hidden under money hence as the camera switches to a close up shot of fingernails painted in red nail polish, you still assume it’s the woman pictured prior, until the camera reveals a man. Frank is celebrating the beauty in everyone by flipping preconceived notions upside down.

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Nikes pays homage to people who have passed away through the use of shout-outs and a cameo from A$AP Rocky who is seen holding a picture of deceased friend A$AP Yams. Frank holds Trayvon’s picture as he sings “R.I.P  Trayvon, that nigga look just like me”. Trayvon Martin was brutally shot by George Zimmerman, a civilian in the United States of America and died in February 2012. Frank is paying tribute to Trayvon’s life and the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Close ups of smiles and dilated eyes show a state of euphoria and intoxication juxtaposed with invasive and documentary shots of house parties, haze and strobe lights making it feel intimate yet relatable. The repetitively slow beat adds to the atmosphere whilst the harsh lighting purposefully breaks the clean cinematic aesthetic, adding grainy texture and realism.

The cinematic element breaks down further revealing behind-the-scene styled footage of a warehouse showing ‘mermaids’ being filmed, bird’s eye shots of everyone passed out from a party, and frank prepping on a theatre stage. All of this happens, whilst we return to the collection of cars streaming down a dark freeway, shots of Frank’s hands, (bedazzled Michael Jackson inspired glove) gliding over a steering wheel, his nike branded car’s wheels and the wind out the windows. The bird’s eye shot of the mass of people passed out around a bed with someone covered by a purple blanket, only revealing them wearing nikes, is a reference to the suicide cult called Heaven’s Gate. (See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2120869/Heavens-Gate-cult-committed-mass-suicide-15-years-ago.html).Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 5.40.19 PM

At this point the pot is boiling over, the lights readjust, the quality and pace of the camera’s readjust to the final high quality take, as we see Frank finally sing on stage. “We’ll let you guys prophesy,” referring to the fact that people were guessing when his music would be out or what it would sound like but ultimately he was the only one who knew. He is spotlighted in shadows wearing makeup, glitter a bejewelled white suit by French fashion power house Balmain.

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The heavy kick and snare are replaced by lush strings swirling with anticipation. The Bowie influences are screaming out at this point, the focus and societal rules of male beauty are blurred as Franks body starts to react to the song’s production. It’s a point of realisation and acceptance of being yourself. The production and spinning shots make us aware that we have arrived; the pot is over-turned, a glitter bomb explodes of bliss.

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The camera moves from Frank to reveal the Devil watching him from the stands. The devil is seen dancing around manically as Frank sings “Speaking of the, don’t know what got into people, devil be possessin’ homies, demons try to body jump, why you think i’m in this bitch wearing a fucking Yarmulke”? Frank is referring to how his rise to fame has changed the people around him, he also refers to the Yarmulke because he is protecting himself from the devil trying to possess him in this newfound fame and ecstasy. He’s now at a point where he’s looking from the outside staring in. The devil also dances around manically in frustration because he can’t influence Frank.

Returning to the fast edits: Frank sings, “Acid on me like the rain, weed crumbles in the glitter,” we are then showed slow motion shots of people in rain and glitter showing pure ecstasy of emotion, building with close ups of textures; skin, make up, moisture and glitter enveloping characters into each other.

The aforementioned is edited with, low light shots of Frank wiping tears away, driving solo, holding back his emotions as best he can, whilst trying to focus on the road ahead.

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At this time in point we hear Frank singing “we’re not in love but I’ll make love to you, when you’re not here I’ll save some for you, I’m not him but I’ll mean something to you”. The frames juxtapose Frank in a black mask and a black suit that’s on fire, and him in a white Balmain suit, showing his interior and exterior struggle. He’s willing to compromise his feelings just to be with this “someone” but also feeling the anguish of what it’s like to be in an unrequited relationship.

‘Boy’s Don’t Cry’ the saying and Frank’s project title at this point sheds clarity. The masculine boy racer image against the emotional glittery youth. It’s contrasting but more so shows there isn’t one that fits best, ever. The notion that boys don’t cry is a patriarchal construct, which sees that strong boys or men do not show their emotion. Frank dismantles that by showing that it is acceptable to be human and wear your emotions and vulnerabilities on your sleeve.

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The last glimpses of Frank are of the glitter glistening on his cheeks and we see him content; smiling then laughing.

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“We gonna see the future first.” We, being the opened minded, the ones that stay up late and ask questions about who we are meant to be and embrace ourselves with love. Maybe that’s why it’s perfect that the video ends with mumbled auto tuned lyrics and a shot of the eye of an innocent, curious baby.

Co-written and Edited by Felix Mpunga and Drew Brown.

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