Deciphering Frank Ocean's Pyramids Video

It’s been 3 and a half months since many of us were blown away by Pyramids, and Frank finally drops off some visuals for the single, as well as from the Channel Orange album as a whole.

The video is primarily based around the second half of the track, that which focuses on his unemployed self being involved with a stripper. Many will be disappointed that he didn’t do much with the more grabbing first half of the audio, but this feels much more suited to the aesthetic and creative complexity director Nabil is famed for.

The length of this video and level of detail makes this a review I can’t quite fully contain within the confines up here. If you’re interested in what is only my second ‘Deciphering..’ (here for the first, which was much longer than this!), click below for some accompanying reading that you may or may not agree with-it’s a clip that many will interpret differently. If not, you’ll enjoy the video regardless, and be sure to grab Channel Orange.

The video starts (and ends) with a short medley of tracks, throwing in snippets from Pink Matter, Voodoo, his Nostalgia/Ultra interludes and more, giving the video a sense of scale beyond this song and adding a real gravitas to it from the very beginning. Such touches make the video feel as though its an important and defining work to Frank, regardless of how us as fans feel about it, and that can only ever manifest itself as care and detail in the rest of the video.

With shots of alcohol come shots of the gun in the opening scene. The juxtaposition of these activities suggests an almost equal weighting in terms of consequence: despite the visible damage bullet shots cause, what about the invisible damage the spirit shots caused?

Frank walks away from that bleak, rainy night scene into a high-octane motorcycle ride down a hot and dusty road, the contrast matched by the upward turn in the audio, which briefly flicks to the upbeat section of Pyramids. Nabil’s visual effects come back into play here to add a trippy vibe that slows the clip down into the portion of Pyramids that the video is mostly centred around.

The skies darken, everything moves in slow-motion and leaves a trail, and Frank drops the helmet (or mask, in this situation)-naturally, during the speedier bike scenes most would expect it isn’t Frank on the vehicle and I’d say this is quite well played upon, as only when things slow down does the ‘real Frank’ reveals himself from behind the mask.

Of course, that was most probably done because they literally did have a stuntman they couldn’t reveal, but they didn’t have to take the helmet off at all. Given that they did, and added to the repeated face shots of Frank that follow, it’s easy to believe they chose to do it in order to suggest he wasn’t ‘himself’ when behind the mask.

He reaches the strip club and the demeanour becomes one of a happiness that is uncomfortable for the viewer. Frank’s expression lies somewhere between drug-addled and in-awe, but there are certainly moments where it seems he’s laughing somewhat in mocking of the dancers. That ambiguity is assumedly the intention to show the influence of the earlier shots and/or drugs, factors that also affect his physical perception of the women-each one seems to almost morph very slowly to display feline or alien features, as Nabil morphs their eyes and noses to add a layer of surrealism to the clip.

Frank’s state continues to deteriorate, and as he fixates on the blue triangle at the back of the strip club and away from the dancers, his sub-conscious takes over as he becomes almost frozen as John Mayer appears from behind a now-enormous luminous pyramid to perform a guitar solo not heard on the album version of the track.

The ‘twist’ at the end offers two suggestions for the preceding scenes: a hallucinogenic dream state resulting from a crash or failure on his motorbike, or simply ending up back out in the desert after a night at the pyramid, and walking back for more.

In either case, he’s heading back to the pyramid to either realise what he’d dreamt, or go back for even more. Why? The two sets of shots at the start of the clip are both something he was running from, as fast as he could on the motorcycle. If the pyramid (or anything) offers an escape, why leave it?

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