With Frank Ocean’s highly anticipated album, Boys Don’t Cry, hopefully upon us soon (FRANK WHERE ARE YOU), it’s time to revisit the singer’s most important moment: when he was on Gossip Girl.
Okay, “on” is an exaggeration, but four months after Ocean dropped Channel Orange in July 2012, the album soundtracked the entire fifth episode of Gossip Girl’s final season, “Monstrous Ball.” It was the first time that his music had been used on television (and according to our internet sleuthing, the only time) and the first time a sole artist soundtracked an episode of Gossip Girl. Eduardo Ponsdomenech, a music editor for the show, told me that executive producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage and music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas came up with the idea after hearing Ocean’s album. They felt that it commented on the zeitgeist of the show’s world.
At first it seems like a bizarre match—the last season of a fallen television show based on a YA series about a group of New York living rich kids on The CW and R&B’s darling. But in the opening of “Monstrous Ball,” the strains of “Super Rich Kids” hit during a montage of women dancing in ball gowns at their cotillions—more or less the welcoming ceremony for any wealthy community—and instantly the pairing feels perfect. “Lost” soundtracks a meddling phone call about breaking up Serena’s (Blake Lively) upcoming, possible engagement to a rich dad-type (typical GG fare). In a perfect bookend, “Sweet Life” opens an actual cotillion everyone in the GG world is attending. “Pyramids” plays during the initial cotillion walk, the crux of the drama of the episode, which frankly is rather boring—it’s just the lone teen character premering a semi-slutty dress at her cotillion to get her idiot rich dad to not marry Serena. Finally, “Thinkin Bout You” ends the episode while Serena and Dan, the show’s most annoying couple, eat pie and drink milkshakes in formal wear.
Even though the episode isn’t great, at least Ocean’s music perfectly lines up with the tried and true beats of the teen soap’s formula.
While it matches the beats of the narrative, Ponsdomenech mentions that “Super Rich Kids” set the initial tone for the episode, creating a “musical subtext.” He adds that they didn’t want to be too on the nose with the scene/song selection, but when songs worked, they really worked. “For instance, the lyrics to ‘Pyramids’ talk about a queen gone missing and [the song] plays under Blair and Serena—two ‘queens’—fighting for the throne.” Ultimately, Ponsdomenech said that the music of Channel Orange felt right because of the contrast that it created:
There’s something interesting about hearing an R&B vibe behind these very rich white folk. I believe the producers chose the album because it speaks to the humanity of the rich while also satirizing that world. Ocean talks about the rich “searching for real love” and something beyond the emptiness of their materialism.
However, the real question here is what was in it for Ocean (other than $$), especially if he’s so selective with what his music is used for. (This was something that Ponsdomenech couldn’t speak to—he never met Ocean.) The show was bad, especially by its last season, so it’s a little baffling why Ocean would choose Gossip Girl to be the one that got to use his music.
The only reasonable explanation has to be that Ocean himself is a Gossip Girl fan, right!? I don’t think it’s too great of a stretch to assume so. Film and television references constantly pepper Ocean’s tracks and he’s clearly a fan of films about rich kids (Less Than Zero) and how wealth effects our relationships (Pretty Woman, The Royal Tenenbaums). If that’s the case, peak Gossip Girl (Season 1 through mid-Season 3), when it perfectly combined soapy teen drama with mild class satire, would have definitely been up Ocean’s alley. (I also have a slight theory that Ocean is actually a massive fan of The O.C., that it inspired Channel Orange, and since the show had ended by the time the album came out, he chose to do the next best thing: give his music to Gossip Girl, which was created by O.C. creator, Josh Schwartz. But that’s another spiral for another time.)
What’s important is that Ocean soundtracked one of the better teen soaps in the last decade and might be a fan of it. Maybe once Boys Don’t Cry comes out—IF IT EVER DOES—The CW will yet again get to be the rare home to Ocean’s music. Josh Schwartz also has a new movie coming up, so…here’s hoping.