The slinky R&B single is an empowerment anthem, ostensibly about dismissing an ex and staying true to one’s self, but it’s also a cry for independence from an artist who was famously under the thumb of the record industry during what should have been the peak of her powers.
Following her 2006 album The High Road, which boasted the teen-pop radio hit “Too Little, Too Late,” JoJo spent years in label purgatory with Blackground Records, furiously trying to leave the company and enter the adult phase of her career. JoJo eventually removed herself from Blackground, signed with Atlantic Records and started working on new songs, scrapping years of material to end up with a fresh sound and posit herself as a comeback story.
Most fans of JoJo—the ones who gobbled up “Fuck Apologies” upon its release, the ones who view her long-awaited album Mad Love (due Oct. 14) as one of the fall’s most anticipated releases—know this backstory already. The singer-songwriter was open about her fight with Blackground Records as it was ongoing, expressing her exasperation and encouraging online campaigns for her release from the label.
But what if she hadn’t been so open?
What if she had chosen to keep that struggle to herself, to not turn a private battle with a record label public? That decision would have been more than understandable… and yet, if fans had been kept in the dark about the reason for the long delay, how many of them would have spent the past 10 years grumbling about JoJo’s lack of musical output?
With JoJo, we know the full story behind the decade-long wait for a third album, and that’s why no one is asking for an apology for that wait. Yet it’s become common practice to blame other artists, whose full story we might not necessarily be privy to, for elongating the gap between musical projects. Why are some reasons for radio silence okay, and others inscrutable enough to warrant a public flaying of a creative process?
Frank Ocean, whose follow-up to his virtuosic 2012 album Channel Orange is due out Friday, has had his past two years defined by onlookers impatiently tapping their feet awaiting whatever is dropping at the end of this week. It’s only been four years since Channel Orange came out, but the perfect storm of heightened anticipation, rearranged release time frames and the R&B singer drifting away from the public eye has sent fans into social media conniption fits. You’ve probably seen the memes, read the timelines of “unfulfilled promises,” and even asked “Where’s the new album, Frank?” yourself. Rihanna’s ANTI had effectively found its just-FINISH-the-damn-thing-already successor.
Part of the reason why this keeps happening to our favorite artists is because of altered expectations. Blame our ADD culture, which gobbles up new music and presumes artists can crank out fan-pleasing, commercially viable projects in ever-shorter timeframes simply because some can and do (think One Direction’s album-per-year run from 2011-15, or Rihanna’s prolific 2005-12 output). Blame mixtape culture, which gives artists the opportunity to churn out new music at an ever-higher rapidity, sometimes with alarmingly high quality (thanks, Gucci Mane). In 2016, no one releases a new album and expects to put his or her feet up for five years before getting to the next one, unless you’re a superstar like Justin Timberlake or Adele and can afford that luxury. For the overwhelming majority, the music industry expects you to keep feeding the beast.
The other part of the problem: access. Social media has given fans their greatest glimpse yet into musical creation, but to stay relatively silent on those platforms is to implicitly frustrate. It’s easier to wait four years between albums if you’re constantly tweeting and reassuring your followers that something is coming; it’s harder for fans to accept that you’ve disappeared from social media to focus on an album, if it jeopardizes that cherished stream of communication.
Take, for instance, Sky Ferreira, who released her brilliant debut album, Night Time, My Time, less than three years ago. Her follow-up, Masochism, has had its release time frame pushed back a few times, and Ferreira has not been explicit with the reasons why on social media. Album delays plus relative social media silence equals fan prodding, and you can feel the frustration radiating from this recent string of tweets:
For the millionth time I've been writing my album. I don't do speed records or whatever. I am also not in control of someone else's time— Sky Ferreira (@skyferreira) July 6, 2016
We're at the time period where it can't be mediocre. Am I right or am I right?— Sky Ferreira (@skyferreira) July 6, 2016
Didn't I literally just say this 2 weeks ago? Touring for 4 years straight & filming & writing isn't what most call pure laziness btw— Sky Ferreira (@skyferreira) July 6, 2016
In 2016, it’s easy to be a fussy music fan. You can basically listen to any piece of recorded music right this second, for free, on the streaming service of your choice—but that’s not enough. We want the new high, the long-awaited and soon-to-be-celebrated, the next chapter in a story that’s just beginning and that everyone is talking about.
There’s a reason that Frank Ocean’s next album is so insanely anticipated: Frank Ocean is a genius, and his next step could be a monumental one. We should be anxiously awaiting his next album! This isn’t a rebuke of enthusiasm, but a call to respect the creative journey, even when it’s not tidily documented in a string of tweets or contained to a straightforward writing/recording timeline.
Ocean probably wasn’t trolling fans when he said that Boys Don’t Cry would be released in July 2015. He probably wasn't trolling them when he hinted that July 2016 would finally be the release month, either. In all likelihood, he probably was aiming for those dates… and something happened, and it didn’t come out.
Maybe it’s because of some issues with his management or label or artistic collaborators, which cause hiccups—and don’t get publicly detailed—all the time. Maybe he had a finished album and wanted to make some tweaks to it. Maybe he wanted to… live his life! Why wouldn’t we want him to see this process through and birth its most compelling product, even if that takes an extra month or an extra year? Doesn’t Frank Ocean deserve to have his vision fully executed?
After Boys Don’t Cry drops on Friday, Ocean might apologize or try to explain the album delays. He doesn’t have to. Even if we never find out what exactly held up the album over these four years, Ocean doesn’t owe us anything. Fuck apologies—just share that gift when you’re ready, and we’ll be ready for it.