Frank Ocean

Decoding the Twitter: Frank Ocean & the Language of Emojis

So, we still do not have a Frank Ocean album. The release date came and went and the non-appearance of Boys Don’t Cry nearly broke the internet – it certainly broke Ocean’s fans. It’s no wonder that neither head nor tail of the singer has been seen, as Twitter assumed the persona of a spurned lover. One who is possibly gonna turn psycho on his sorry ass, and kidnap his family!

It’s been a hard time for all of us. Just one scan through Twitter and the sheer intensity of feeling is overwhelming, as fans have ridden out a whole rollercoaster of emotion. From hope and anticipation, to heartbreak, disbelief, anger and frustration. In fact, the reaction has been so immense that Twitter itself has charted the activity around Frank Ocean over the last week.

And what better way to illustrate our modern psychology than through the use of emojis? The universal language of feeling today, more expressive than words and more subtle than a Shakespearean sonnet.

According to Twitter’s findings, the “face with tears of joy” 😂 was the expression of choice for many Tweeters, followed by “thinking face”. And obviously, emoji activity peaked on August 5, the supposed release date. You can view the charted use of both emojis below:

If emojis really are the windows to the soul, then what is that saying about Ocean fans? And can we really examine the psychological state induced by these events by reading the language of emojis?

In the days preceding the release date, you will notice a predominance of hopeful, optimistic and almost spiritual emojis from fans. A classic “thumbs up sign” 👍 denotes a feeling that everything will be ok, that there’s nothing to worry about. The “person raising both hands in celebration” 🙌 also indicates a growing excitement, unmarred by doubts as yet.

However, a lean towards the use of “person with folded hands” 🙌 expresses something a little different. Despite the politically correct terminology, it is universally recognised as a spiritual act of prayer, and sometimes thankfulness. Definitely still an optimistic emoji, however this hints at growing doubts – the feeling that they may need some help on this one. Even asking a higher power indicating the magnitude of this event. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Frank Ocean fans have been let down, so a certain mistrust is totally normal.

However, one Twitter user couched his announcement with two “police car revolving lights” 🚨. On one hand this could be viewed as expressing “alert”, however most psychologists would argue that the colour red and the police association indicates a warning. There are definitely negative connotations attached to this emoji, and maybe on a subconscious level this user was sending out a warning that all may not be as it seems.

There was also one user who employed a “sign of the horns”, which is of course the universal hand gesture for “rock on!”. It seems to have little to do with either Frank Ocean or the impending doom, and, honestly, I’m not sure they knew what was happening. They just wanted to get involved – like any good rock fan.

As the morning of August 5 dawns, twitter is immediately on the alert. And the emojis are coming thick and fast – a clear sense of desperation is driving this increased use. In fact, the “speaking head in silhouette” appears at this point. Putting aside its somewhat timid title, the visual appearance of this emoji is mildly aggressive, and also suggests a need for an outlet. As the tension mounts, fans are in need of a bigger outlet than 140 characters, as this emoji expresses.

It is on this day that we see the biggest use of facial expression emojis, as Twitter users attempt to express very personal feelings. Predominantly the “disappointed face” 😢 with it’s single tear, which needs to explanation. The “persevering face” 😣 also appears frequently, again as fans struggle through this very difficult time.

As fear mounts that the album may not appear, we do see the spike in use of “face with tears of joy”. This is interesting, some may perceive this to be an ironic inward turning of emotion. Fans may be laughing darkly at their own naivety and expectation. Another interpretation could be that the stress of the time has actually toppled some into hysteria, where their perception of events is now skewed and distress has turn to a sort of delusional hilarity. This is a worrying idea, as it hints strongly towards mental instability.

A third reading is that we have truly lost the ability to read facial expressions after restricting our communication to screens. Some users may be perceiving the double tears as simply extreme sadness, only associating one element rather than examining the uplifted mouth and positive eyebrow positioning. This is also worrying, but not relevant to this study.

Once it became apparent that the album was not going to appear, we can see much more assertive use of emojis. The “broken heart” 💔 appears often, a clear expression of upset and betrayal. We also see a lot of “fire” 🔥, often used in multiples. A primal symbol for immediate danger, and also extreme anger, this is very speaking from disappointed fans. While users employing the broken heart could be seen as despairing, those posting fire may be reacting more strongly and with more vigour. These Tweeters are more likely to take dangerous action.

I have already mentioned the other key emoji at this point, which is the “thinking face”. An intellectual response to the situation, these are people who are sincerely analysing what has happened. This expresses a more pragmatic, less emotional response to the lack of music.

Finally we come to the emoji that Twitter users have assigned to Ocean himself. At first glance the “water wave” 🌊 is an obvious choice as a visual representation of the singer’s moniker. However, let’s look at that wave – it’s dramatic, verging on tidal. A clear indication that Ocean may be drowning in his efforts, or about to be swamped by the weight of it. A second interpretation could be that he is simply surfing this wave, with no set plan and no schedule. Either would be highly expressive of a fan’s understanding of Ocean’s psyche at this time.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words – which means I could have just done this whole article with two emojis, but hopefully this will help towards a better understanding of Frank Ocean fans in this difficult time. ✌️.

Image: The Indie Sound (edited)