How Frank Ocean and The Weeknd Paid Massive Homage to the Legends of Bowie and Prince in 2016
    • WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2016

    • Posted by: Ben Feit

    When 2016 took David Bowie and Prince away from the world, a global community mourned the loss of pioneers whose influence extended far beyond music. The two men consistently pushed and broke boundaries in their extensive careers, smashing stereotypes left and right in their quests for uninhibited creative expression. There was no shortage of tributes to Bowie and Prince in 2016, and certainly no understatements of the men's legendary statuses. But perhaps the most interesting pair of tributes came in the form of Frank Ocean's Blonde and The Weeknd's Starboy. Ocean and The Weeknd displayed their passions as star students of the schools of Bowie and Prince, revealing a multifaceted influence on their 2016 work.

    To begin with, there were the obvious nods, the direct acknowledgments of the legends. If Starboy's name reminded you of Bowie's classic "Starman," it wasn't just coincidence. The Weeknd, in speaking with the Wall Street Journal, confirmed the name was inspired by Bowie and dubbed him the "ultimate inventor." He also called Prince a hero and mentioned that they had planned to work together in the studio just before the tragic loss. Prince's death also generated a rare Frank Ocean appearance. On his only remaining social media account, Tumblr, Ocean shared a heartfelt note the same day Prince passed. The note praised Prince's brand of individuality and named "When You Were Mine" as Ocean's favorite song of all time, among other things. Frank would also affirm the importance of Bowie to his career months later with the release of Blonde. Bowie received an album credit, which caused a bit of an internet craze. The credit remains a mystery to some extent, but has been labeled mostly as credit for influence and inspiration (as well as the appearance of a Bowie image in Ocean's Boys Dont Cry magazine). Read Ocean's note below.

    Beyond the actual words of the artists, Starboy and Blonde took pages out of the Bowie and Prince books. The Weeknd took on a major reinvention, literally murdering his old self, hair and all, and taking on the villainous Starboy persona. Reminiscent of another star's reinvention of himself? Bowie's Ziggy Stardust didn't have the same air of villainy, but personified the chaotic rockstar lifestyle fueled by drugs and sex. Like Bowie, The Weeknd has mined his crazy lifestyle for material over the years, and continued to do so with this 'persona album.' The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Starboy both saw already-successful artists boldly altering their images and sounds. Bowie's influence can't be missed in Abel's transformation - in name and in concept, the Starboy would not have been the same if Bowie hadn't brought Ziggy Stardust and "Starman" to the world four decades earlier.

    Just as Abel carried a Bowie legacy, it's easy to see where Frank Ocean drew from the Prince repertoire in some aspects of Blonde. Namely, Ocean made defying gender norms and conformity a central theme on the album, just as Prince did with his aesthetic through his entire career. For Frank, that included donning some fierce eye makeup in his striking free-love fiesta video for "Nikes," as well as the dual naming of the album - the cover reads "blond," the male equivalent of blonde, which may serve as a shot towards binary terms and an embrace of gender fluidity. These may seem like small gestures, but they're radically important considering Ocean's influence in the hip-hop world (though he's not necessarily making hip-hop). That world is historically pretty damn homophobic and sexist, so strides like the ones made on Blonde may be just as trailblazing as what Prince did at points in his career. Another glaring similarity is Ocean's desire for obscurity and anonymity, which echoes Prince's 'The Artist Formerly Known As' period. Prince seems in many ways a precursor to Frank Ocean in style - and fittingly, with the loss of the teacher, we welcomed the student's most radical work to date.

    Starboy and Blonde solidified the superstar statuses of The Weeknd and Frank Ocean in 2016. The two artists defied and crossed genres, creating artistic personas and attacking archaic norms along the way. The influence of David Bowie and Prince, as true icons who had global influence, is undeniable. The legends we lost will not be forgotten because their music and their styles were truly larger than life. And even those who are unfamiliar with Bowie and Prince will experience their legacies through the birth of new stars. The cycle of musical influence continues, no matter how terrible 2016 was, and new releases that tribute lost legends are one of the many ways we see that cycle. Frank Ocean and The Weeknd would not be the same without Bowie and Prince, and neither would 2016.

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