“There is no more line!” a brolic security guy in all black repeated over and over as he walked down the second block of Frank Ocean fans waiting in line at the artist’s New York City pop-up shop on Saturday. “No more line! It closed 45 minutes ago.”
The short 50+ year old Asian woman in front of me, dressed in a purple floral matching shirt and short set, cocked her head, but didn’t move. Neither did anyone else. We all slowly crept further up the sidewalk to the Mulberry, which served as the temporary venue, in hopes of getting our hands on one of Ocean’s famed “two versions,” and a physical copy of his latest album: Blonde.
In the four years since Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange dropped, there have been a lot of rumors about the Louisiana artist’s follow-up effort. For a majority of that time, we’ve thought that the project was titled Boys Don’t Cry. We’ve posited that he was going to release a line of merchandise after analyzing some content uploaded into the source code of his site. We even came to terms with the artist preparing to release a magazine. But in all of that, there was no substantial talk of Frank Ocean opening a series of pop-up shops until Saturday afternoon.
Call it a “Beyonce” if you want. Say it’s the Kanye West approach if you’d like, but at 7pm, a full hour after the first bit of news on the pop-up shop surfaced, I found myself headed down the FDR in an Uber with the just released Blonde album blasting on the auxiliary cord. “What is this?” my driver asked as “Nikes” came on. I was already singing some of the words, the powerful visual for that track having been released hours earlier. “I like it!”
That first listen was perfunctory. It’s sort of like stuffing your face full of a slight altering of your favorite food after you’re famished; you know how it should taste because you’ve basically had it before, but you’re not really savoring it. You’re just blindly consuming. But then at some point, you slow down and begin to realize the details. “Pink + White” comes drizzled with Beyonce vocals at its tail end. The palette of “Solo” comes reconfigured as “Solo (Reprise),” featuring an extended riff by Andre 3000.
At 8pm, after leaving the Uber and walking a few blocks, passing randoms with silver cased magazines of their own with the title Boys Don't Cry in large letters, I was there.
The shop itself was small. Tiny. A team had taken over Mulberry Iconic Magazines earlier in the day and stocked it full of two versions of the oversized magazine, which features everything from Frank Ocean poetry to McDonald’s commentary from Kanye West. Outside, there was a crush of staff, wearing all black, posted up in front of displays full of the two different covers and then the line, which snaked lazily down the block, turned a corner, and went three quarters of the way down the next.
The thing about line waiting for the uninitiated (hi, hello, that was me) is there’s this constant balance of “will this be worth it?” or “should I cut my losses?” Commentary like what came from the security guard 10 minutes into my queue pushes you towards the latter, but with Ocean already in my ear, and the continued progression of the line, I chose to stick around.
“He’s definitely, like, my favorite artist,” someone said behind me. “You’re not going to find a straight dude who listens to Frank Ocean more than I do.” Being amongst fellow fans does something to you.
About 40 minutes into the wait, from about halfway down the shop’s block, we could see staff take the first magazine from the display case and hand it to a customer. Off-duty models who had been working line security were ending their shift, walking away with an issue as payment. Another lucky guy stepped into a ramen spot, having just left the shop with a copy. As soon as he got inside, he sat down and started to feel the magazine, petting it. After a while he started to flip through it. Not reading it, just fanning the pages over and over. It was a precious item to him. Finally, he went up to the counter, the oversized issue cradled like a baby, held tight to his torso, and placed an order.
Back on line, some people were getting restless and leaving. There were reports that the line was snaking around three sides of the block. A security guard from the front picked up an issue and started walking up and down Mulberry yelling, “WHO WANTS THIS?” There was a sparse cheer. “WHO WANTS THIS? WHO WANTS A COPY?” The cheer grew. One guy ran out of line and sprinted up to the guard who waved him off. Another started to do the “why the f*** you lying” meme dance in an attempt for attention. None of it worked.
After at least an hour and a half in line I was in front of the small shop. The window displays were empty, though the windows themselves were printed with the words “Blonde” and “Boys Don’t Cry." People were still going inside and coming out with issues. Seven people away from an issue of my own, the “who wants a copy” guard came back out.
“IT’S A WRAP!” he yelled. “IT’S OVER. THERE IS NO MORE.”