Frank Ocean’s “Lovecrimes,” an Alternative Interpretation
The crime of ownership is not intentional, just immature.
A weak love centers ownership; a love born of status and lust centers ownership; a love fixated on the landscape of the body, the hills, and valleys of the chest, ignoring the peaks and crevices of the mind, centers ownership. Ownership only falls to the wayside in place of growth and respect when we have a mutual and reciprocal love. When we have a fulfilling and encouraging love, ownership becomes an afterthought. So much of young love and puppy love starts from a place of ownership. Think of a love lacking in maturity, selflessness, and longevity; this is the kind of love we are imagining.
This is also the kind of love Frank Ocean sings of on “Lovecrimes.” Often read as a song about abortion, I would like to offer a complementary reading, suggesting “Lovecrimes” is far more concerned with husbanding a woman’s body than it is about terminating a pregnancy. “Lovecrimes” is about a hounding puppy love that consumes Frank Ocean as all infantile romances tend to consume us. The song is a reminder that real love releases the need for ownership in place of a desire to watch your lover grow into themselves and be free.
Contrast this potential freedom with the bounding and straightforward percussion guiding the song. “Lovecrimes”’s natural production has a catching quality, as if everywhere you step, there is a trap laid. The patter of the drums leaves no space on the track. The song itself does not breathe, working well with the content to give us the full sonic scope of a curiously binding romance. The textures of the production are subtly harsh, as the love Frank sings of is subtly harsh. Everything comes together in harmony to tell the tale of quiet chaos.
There is a trust to real love absent from a song like “Lovecrimes,” where the fear of losing the thing that makes you crazy high overtakes your appreciation of your partner. Just look at the intro, where Frank declares himself insane. Here, we’re leaning into the standard romantic tropes of losing yourself in the face of romance and sacrificing your mental well-being for the sake of having a partner. Where sitcoms teach us this behavior is normal, we have to imagine “Lovecrimes” exists as a dramatic foil. We have to imagine Frank wrote “Lovecrimes” as a primer in what not to do, but we can prove that in a moment.
In the opening verse, which features there-and-not energy, Frank is more concerned with owning his partner than loving her. “Talk to me and I better not hear a word / Do me baby, oh I better not feel it girl,” he sings. Demanding one thing and expecting another, we get the sense Frank does not know what he wants. This is important because it illustrates the fraught nature of trying to own and command your partner. These beginning lines feel like a whirlwind of desire and confusion, bringing us right into the storm of premature love. We realize Frank’s love is more concerned with staking claims than it is understanding and supporting his partner.
This brings us to the first declaration of committing a lovecrime. In the first verse, this very clearly suggests Frank is having an orgasm. Pair this with the hook, where Frank suggests this love and his lover are both killing him. What we’re left with is a haunting notion: Frank Ocean’s pleasure is a crime upon itself, but the power imbalance goes both ways as Frank seems to be losing control of his partner by the hook. In the pursuit of pleasure—lovecrimes, as they were—Frank is realizing his partner has the power over him. Now, we realize Frank Ocean is playing the victim. A victim to his pleasure, as is a significant theme of nostalgia, ULTRA., we see the dynamics of the track shift as we enter the second verse.
Here, we open with the subject leading the discussion. Now, the woman in question is in the pursuit of love and control over Frank, whose desire is overtaking his good sense. The “freaky” nature of the love letters she pens suggests she derives her pleasure from controlling Frank’s pleasure. It’s a complicated dynamic; these are not victimless lovecrimes. The shifting power dynamics of “Lovecrimes” are what give us the sense this song is a touch satirical. Either Frank has no idea he’s painting a picture of wobbly love, burning from both ends, or he is a master writer, showcasing all the ways we do each other wrong when we first fall in love. I’d like to imagine it’s the latter.
Shared negligence is most clearly a theme on the bridge, where both Frank and his partner are placed in a “getaway car.” Here, Ocean makes sure both parties are culpable, and the notion of the lovecrime shifts from the pursuit of pleasure to the pursuit of control, which gives us pleasure in the first place. As with the preceding songs on the mixtape, Frank Ocean loves his morphing themes and images. Central to Frank’s writing are living motifs taking shape and breathing across the track.
All of this brings us to the Eyes Wide Shut outro, which illuminates the notion of an evolving lovecrime even further. This outro affirms our reading of control versus freedom of aimless pleasure, necessitating a weak love. This sample, beginning with a tirade against the sexual immorality of men, is the first nod to our original reading of a lovecrime as an orgasm. From there, we get a conversation surrounding jealousy—a cardinal sign of desiring ownership. It reads as if the woman is first condemning the man for not being jealous; then, she begins to demand he be envious. The structure of this dialogue mirrors the structure of the first verse. We see Frank using the sample to uphold his broader thesis: We are all guilty of lovecrimes.
The crime of ownership is not intentional, just immature. Young love is not inherently evil, just inexperienced. Frank’s “Lovecrimes” paints this picture with broad strokes. He uses the track to showcase how we subtly wrong each other in pursuit of pleasure when our understanding of love is bodily and shallow. Before we realize lovers push each other before we realize lovers encourage flight and freedom before we realize lovers are not to be our whole worlds, before all this, we have Frank Ocean, and we have our lovecrimes. May we only commit them for so long.