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R&B star Frank Ocean has social media buzzing and his fans in a frenzy over his long-awaited second studio album, and many have the sneaking suspicion he wants it that way.
It's been four long years since his critically acclaimed "Channel Orange," which found a solid audience thanks to Ocean's sophisticated lyrics, warm vocals and, to a certain extent, his mercurial persona.
Prior to that album's release, the singer, who had been making a name for himself writing for and collaborating with bigger names in pop music, generated a firestorm when he acknowledged in 2012 that the first love of his life was a man in a personal post on his Tumblr page. Although African-American artists' sexuality had been subjected to scrutiny and rumors in the past, Ocean was both vilified and validated for his candor on the topic.
But Ocean has since never confirmed whether he is gay or bisexual, leaving his followers to seek out symbolic clues in his lyrics or read into his occasional blog entries. Ocean's arrival as a cultural force seemed to coincide with a national dialogue on sexual identity and gender fluidity. And his tantalizing ability to be both public and private about his personal life, and by extension his music, had made his highly anticipated sophomore album, titled "Boys Don't Cry," even more of a happening.
This Friday, the album was supposed to come out via Apple Music, but to date it has not. The excitement among his followers is so pronounced that Snapchat has created filters for fans to comically vent their frustration.
"It feels like an event, and there are not that many artists, especially young artists, who can have those kinds of cultural events anymore," said Shawn Setaro, host of The Cipher hip-hop podcast, told NBC News on Friday. He, like many music writers, stayed up until the wee hours of the morning on Friday in the hopes of hearing Ocean's latest to no avail.
"A lot of that has to do with his songwriting, and a lot has to do with the mystique," he added. "You don’t really know that much about Frank Ocean."
That quality sets the 28-year-old singer apart from much of the pop music A-list right now. Performers like Kanye West, Katy Perry, Drake, Taylor Swift, Rihanna and Future feel almost ubiquitous given their radio and mixtape output, their social media presence and/or their tabloid feuds. In the music industry today, there seems to be an emphasis on flooding the marketplace with content in the hopes of offsetting historically low album and tour ticket sales.
But a few guest appearances aside, Ocean has remained relatively silent, so much so that even Adele -- one of the only artists who can still go multi-platinum these days -- publicly lamented last fall: “I'm just f****** waiting for Frank f****** Ocean to come out with his album. It's taking so f****** long.”
"Frank Ocean knows that in 2016 you can't just promote and release an album without a little bit of drama, something extremely innovative or by surprise," Taj Rani, a content producer for Essence, told NBC News on Friday.
Ocean does seem to be strategically in on the hype, having already teased debunked images of the potential album cover and shared a cryptic promo video that showed someone building in what appears to be a recording space. These moves came on the heels of a library card image he posted, ironically pointing out the aborted launch dates of the new album. Speculation about the track list, collaborators, release date and more have become an elaborate parlor game, which has only enhanced awareness of Ocean's brand.
"Did I think that he was going to drop an album the other day during his Apple Music livestream? No," Rani said. "Did I expect the clock to strike midnight for 'Boys Don't Cry' to be available to purchase? No. What I do believe is that until Frank feels as though 'Boys Don't Cry' is in a class of it's own and something that can't really be compared to 'Channel Orange' due to content and/or growth, he'll hold it."
If that is true, Ocean's perfectionism and interest in furthering his art over maximizing his sales could only endear him more to his supporters, or set him up for a potential backlash should his sophomore album fail to live up to expectations.
"There's always that risk, absolutely," Setaro said. "Some people will that ['Boys Don't Cry' is a disappointment] regardless. There is also a chance that he delivers."
And so far, Ocean has. His "Channel Orange" has many devotees and has been heralded for its ambition ("Pyramids"), honestly ("Bad Religion") and willingness to delve deep into character study ("Super Rich Kids"). In fact, the only artist right now who one can draw a direct comparison to is Beyoncé, who showed off her range and social conscious on her epic visual album "Lemonade."
She, too, has demonstrated a willingness to pick her spots artistically while trusting that her fan base will follow her lead. Ocean has a shorter track record, but should his new album be deemed another triumph, their success may portend new strategy for a prolonged life in the music industry.
"I don't know if one album has the power to change a trend," said Setaro. "But I think he has that opportunity. I hope he delivers on that promise."