On the Frank Ocean subreddit, a sub-section of the online discussion website Reddit, you will find that a murdered gorilla-turned-meme and a reclusive singer-songwriter are held equally dear in the hearts of many users.
Existing as a digital island, the community maintains distinct customs derived from deep Ocean knowledge. The so-called "sh*t posts" and conspiracies can quickly alter your sense of humor—as they did mine—in a matter of weeks. Here, "big if true" and "confirmed" supply users with daily servings of tongue-in-cheek irony, the balloon emoji ranks above all others, and no mystery matters more than the Booty Club. What the rest of the world might label esoteric is instead common language. Mock headlines ("TRIGGERED") and real results (the discovery of the warehouse used in Ocean's video stream) exist side by side.
When Ocean went another week without dropping his album, one person created a thread that appeared to promise real information. It read, "I've done some pretty intense research." A click-through led to a list of locations where disappointed fans could jump from dangerous heights, the Capitol Records building and the Cincinnati Zoo (or "the mecca," thanks to the late legend Harambe) among them. At one point, members requested that "subscribers" be changed to "crying boys" (the motion was approved).
The sub, as it's affectionately referred to, is far more than a steady stream of jokes. It quadrupled its numbers between the end of July and the middle of August, and started to receive the credit it deserves within that span. From Los Angeles to London, media companies rush to publish stories first. Recent weeks have proven it's this subreddit that has a lock on any news regarding Frank Ocean. There's no stopping this band of faithful followers.
Behind any successful sub are a handful of caring moderators. In short, mods exist to foster a sense of community and minimize chaos, handling design for their domain and righting a sub's moral compass if it ever pivots south. I reached out to some of the /r/FrankOcean mods in hopes of better understanding the online gathering ground. We discussed the responsibilities of its leaders, the ups and downs of Frank fandom, and why Frank inspires such fervor.
When Nik (Eneyek), Bill (008Fox), and I begin our Skype call on August 4, Friday is fast-approaching. An album release feels all but guaranteed if the New York Times is to be believed. The two young men—seeing each other for the first time—are visibly excited to further strengthen a connection forged behind screens.
How sure are we that this project is coming out in the next 24 hours?
Nik: I don’t know, I’m staying positive. I’ll never not be positive on the sub, but, there are a lot of things to suggest it might not be tonight. For instance, he doesn’t even look like he’s that close to being done. He’s just painting the boxes. I think iTunes refreshes at 11 p.m. [EST] and that’s only, like, two-and-a-half hours away. I’ve been disappointed...several times.
Bill: [sits down with bourbon in hand] Cheers.
The real reason we’re all here is because of Frank. Where did your fandom begin?
N: Somebody I know who’s really into Odd Future showed me Frank Ocean, right as channel ORANGE dropped. He showed me “Forrest Gump.” I was really digging it but I wasn’t into hip-hop or R&B at all at the time, then channel ORANGE really grew on me. I have this thing where I like to go back through an artist’s discography, so I went back to Nostalgia Ultra and it was just really strong emotion. I felt like he was saying a lot of things that needed to be said but in a very discreet way. It was refreshing.
B: I started with Odd Future. A friend put me onto the “Yonkers” video, then I saw the “She” video and I was like, “Wait, who’s this guy featured?” Then I got introduced to Nostalgia, Ultra and I heard “Novacane.” That blew my mind. I heard it on the radio here in Detroit, and I remember feeling like it was a radio song by a writer’s favorite writer. It was down the rabbit hole from that point forward.
What does Frank Ocean mean to you guys in 2016? What led you to mod the subreddit?
B: If I could break the subreddit down to a metaphor… If the sub is a recording studio, Nik is Frank, and I’m probably Om’Mas... or the janitor [Laughs].
N: [Laughs] That’s not true.
B: Nik always has really good ideas, he’s innovative. He does all the design stuff. I do a lot of the cleanup. I’m like a camp counselor, more or less. I get all of the shit posts out of there. It’s good to be united, though.
N: When I was first really getting into Frank Ocean’s music, I noticed there wasn’t really a community that was that strong. And I don’t really have many friends here who like the same music I do. I wanted to have somewhere I could go, and I feel like a lot of people are in that boat. They want to get excited with other people and share theories...or post shit posts [Laughs]. There was a sub for Frank, it had like 300 subscribers. It had some of the worst design I had seen on a subreddit. I’m really into design, learning code, so I asked the mod if I could take over and he said, “Go for it.” The community’s grown a lot since then. I really like bringing people together over a really sick artist.
Have you guys ever met up in real life with someone you first saw online?
N: I haven’t yet. Bill and I have been talking for awhile. We chat a lot with a couple guys, one made this big fan album thing. We were chatting with him for awhile. I recognize names now, which is really cool, just people who post a lot—Bill, I’m sure you do too. I don’t think we’ve reached the point of real-life meet-ups but I’m sure it will happen.
B: Similar to Nik, I do recognize a username here and there. We have some very devoted fans right now.
N: Survivors [Laughs]. One thing we should probably talk about, we got contacted by one of the Reddit admins, someone in charge of all the Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions. All of the celebrity sessions. And Frank Ocean’s team apparently reached out to Reddit and was going to give us exclusive content and stuff to post on our sub, then it never happened. We’ve actually never talked about that before. We never told the sub.
B: Yep, that would have been the biggest L.
N: [Laughs] It was a big personal L, we didn’t want the sub to experience that. And our contact isn’t working with Reddit anymore.
The sub has experienced quite a few peaks and valleys. What are some memories that stand out?
B: Last July was a difficult time [Laughs].
N: Yeah, definitely the end of last July. We hadn’t really received any Ls yet. That was our first big L. And these fuckers, on July 31, 2015, they updated the website. The code in [Frank’s site] began to change. Then nothing happened. But it started getting fun. This year we started having fun with it, just people sharing jokes in a much bigger community. It’s a lot easier to take these losses together. It’s not as bad. I got pretty pumped when Frank’s team contacted us though, that might be the worst loss.
What thoughts entered your minds on the night of July 31, 2016, as the clock struck midnight?
N: Man, I was just… You get to that point where you lose enough and you’re just like, “Shit.” I was worried the community was going to fall apart. I don’t know if you’ve seen Kanye’s sub but it’s just awful. For the Frank community to go down the gutter…We’ve worked pretty hard to build this community. I was mostly disappointed. It’s so funny though, because I was like, “I’m gonna wake up tomorrow, I’m gonna check the Reddit. Nothing’s gonna happen.” I must have gone to sleep like ten minutes before he updated the website and there the video stream was.
You guys get to see into the window of passionate fandom while you participate. What has moderating the forum taught you guys about music fans, and Frank’s fans in particular?
N: Bill, you got this.
B: One of the things I noticed off the bat was passion, even before I was a moderator. Frank’s fan base might not be the largest in the world, but it’s a very devoted cult following. People who enjoy him love his music. That’s something I see in our subreddit that I really don’t see elsewhere. That devotion, and the attention to detail. This guy has no social media. He’s done a handful of interviews on YouTube. There’s not that much known about this guy. So the people who care about him, they pay attention to what he’s doing and where he’s seen. They read a lot into what he does. We’re back in the 1960s again, when we see an album cover for The Beatles’ Abbey Road. We see John, Paul, George, and Ringo lined up, and we think Paul’s dead because of the way he’s walking. Crazy theoretical shit like that. That’s on our subreddit all the time because of Frank’s mystery, his solitude.
N: The dedication is insane. Like Bill’s saying, with a lot of artists you get constant reassurance. They’re constantly in the news or there’s always something to keep you interested. With Frank, it’s just his music, which means a lot. Take Kanye. I love Kanye, but he does so much. If you love Frank it’s because of his music, which is pretty cool. I notice a lot of positivity in Frank’s fan base too. The fact that he’s gay or bisexual also tends to mean that everyone who likes Frank is accepting of that. We have pretty liberal-minded people in the fan base. We’ll just watch negativity get shut down so quickly, which is great.
That's definitely a huge plus I've noticed too. That civility can be pretty rare in an online forum. Do you have faith Frank will live up to the hype?
N: I’m terrified I’m going to be disappointed. Absolutely terrified. Especially us, because we’re moderating the subreddit. It’s not like we can take a break and not check for a week. We gotta make sure things are alright. When you’ve devoted this much time to something, you really don’t want to be let down. Unless it’s like To Pimp a Butterfly and wins 13 Grammys, I think someone will be disappointed. A lot of people are saying anything is good right now because it’s been so long.
B: It’s crazy. I’ve had dreams about this album. Sometimes very pleasant, sometimes disappointing. These are very vivid dreams. The album had 17 tracks in my last dream, like channel ORANGE.
N: [Laughs] This guy’s probably thinking, “These kids are so obsessed.”
Could you give people a glimpse into the operation of the sub?
N: I originally hopped on the sub because I wanted to redesign it. I thought that’s what a lot of moderating was, especially on a smaller sub. The last few days, though, Bill and I will actually get requests for people to be banned. We’ll get requests for things to be removed, stuff like that. You’re at this fork in the road where you can piss of the community by doing this, or you can piss them off more by doing that. One of them is the right thing to do, maybe. It’s a lot of trying to put out the fire, not fuel it. I’m a mod for the Donald Glover subreddit too. Before I joined that sub, it was something the community got really mad at. Everyone started bashing the mods. It’s tough because you don’t want to tear apart these communities by accident.
B: We really just try to uphold the community and make things quality. I think a lot of Frank Ocean fans, like him, are perfectionists. Nik is. I am. When I’m doing mod work, I’m locked in that shit.
N: Yeah, I want to be perfect.
B: You want to have it look good. You also never know who’s watching. I always wonder if He, our lord and savior Frank, has ever visited our sub.
N: He definitely knows. He’s too internet-savvy not to.
B: I wonder what his feedback would be.
N: That’s definitely something I’m conscious of too. I want this internet community to represent the best of Frank’s fan base. If he was checking out our sub, I wouldn’t want him to be disappointed
Nor did Nik want to be disappointed that Friday. Of course, Boys Don't Cry did not drop. Apple Music unpinned its enthusiastic "FRANK" tweet and Ocean disappeared from his visual art piece, leaving 14 boxes and hundreds of thousands of people in the dark. What felt like a safe bet slowly crept toward limbo.
Undeterred for several days, the sub entertained itself. Wild theories sprang from its deepest recesses. A Boys Do Cry mixtape surfaced. (Its chief creator was soon after banned for bragging about it.) "Plots" to kidnap Ocean's little brother spawned coverage from major news outlets, and a series of hopeful evenings (mostly Sunday and Thursday nights) piqued interest. The deafening hype wave became cyclical.
Things got interesting when Malay—Frank's friend and a key creator behind channel ORANGE—agreed to host an AMA. The online event revealed next to nothing about the project but did provide plenty of memorable moments.
The mod responsible for Malay's participation was a fresh face. Andres (OBJesus/Dad) signed on to help Nik and Bill when the subscriber base ballooned. During his first night, users orchestrated Pupper Takeover, a half-joke coupe that saw users flood the sub with puppy pictures. The shenanigans were to be expected: /r/FrankOcean experienced unprecedented growth.
"Page views for the subreddit went from 196,000 in June to 981,000-plus in July to an insane 6,803,993 views in the month of August, and we're only halfway through!" Andres tells us, incredulous. "The page views on August 5, the supposed due date, were more than a 10-month span between September and June combined."
Such a rush gave way to chaos, but the sub soon stabilized. Andres didn't let his day job stop him from strengthening the community, and the Malay AMA provided a much-needed morale boost. Folks began referring to themselves as OB's son after the session proved successful.
"I learned of Malay's Snapchat from the sub," he remembers. "I sent him a short message saying I was a fan of Frank. I told him there is an insane amount of love and support for Frank and him. He replied saying he will check it out. That alone made me lose my shit.
"The day after I became a mod, a post said Malay had gone through comments. He was impressed by the passion. Then he asked how he could personally connect with us. I was very skeptical. The user was unable to provide proof it was Malay's snap, and he didn't save the message. So I was convinced it was fake. I messaged Malay again, he said it was him and that he was interested in connecting with us. So that blew me away."
The session launched or bolstered a number of theories and customs. Nik changed the upvote button to the balloon emoji after Malay repeatedly used it. As of this writing, the 16,600 sub members are no longer subscribers, or "crying boys," but "in the booty club," another reference to Malay's cryptic answers. It was a lighthearted, positive afternoon for a sub then trying its best not to drown in negativity.
Fast forward a week or two and an endless losing streak had snapped. A visual album gave the crying boys (and girls) their first real W. Days later, wins multiplied in a big way when Blonde and its accompanying magazine were released over the weekend. We reached out to the mods one more time to document their reactions. Rest assured, they were joyous.
Nik had been hanging with his girlfriend, also a big fan, on Endless eve. One eye never left the stream, and his diligence paid off.
"If this was the album I'd be so happy," he admitted at the time. "Maybe it is, but I'm pretty sure it's not. SPOILED AS FUCK. TWO VERSIONS, TWWWOOOOO VERSIONS."
Two versions indeed. Bill responded to the second album by relaxing, as one should after a long search. "Feeling blessed fam," he exclaimed. "Got the bottle of Rosé, some fruit bars, sitting in the backyard."
Andres found himself on a date when Blonde struck the internet. The newly minted mod—a fan ever since a YouTube safari led him to the 2011 video for "Swim Good"—wasted no time, frantically starting a new thread to confirm the album's release. His situational post was met by a surge of support from sub users, who collectively confirmed that the long-awaited moment had come.
"I am feeling great man, amazing day yesterday," he tells us the next morning. "Date went alright, nothing special, I did not have very good coverage where I was. I was in line waiting at a local pizza place [Laughs]. I got a tweet notification along the lines of "Listen to Frank's new album Blonde" and I was just like what the f*ck..."
Call it a happy ending.