Like many Frank Ocean fans, I find myself particularly drawn to Frank Ocean's "Novacane" which was one of his singles from the 2011 release "Nostalgic, ULTRA".
It's the perfect song to space out to in the middle of the night and get into a deep emotional spiral about when you sit and think about what's been making you feel numb lately.
But what was making Frank Ocean numb when he wrote this track?
While he hasn't given a full song interpretation in an interview, he did have a couple of interesting talks (one illuminating one with Melissa Bradshaw from The Quietus) that helped bring light to his thought process when he made this one.
As it turns out, there may be more than one accurate interpretation of this song, and that's what makes this release such a hit.
Not too much is known about the process that Frank went through with writing the song in terms of bar for bar, but he did say in his 2011 interview with Melissa Bradshaw:
"I don't do cocaine for breakfast! At all. My kitchen is usually pretty clean, you know. But you have fun with the imagery, and for me, the whole concept that everything has to be"
While many of Franks's most loyal fans love to break every little line down to see what hidden meaning was behind this one, I find that the overall story tells much more than what you will find line by line.
This is further proven when he talks about the fact that it isn't so much of an R&B release as it was a hip-hop release when he spoke with Melissa.
He stated, "...when I hear 'Novacane' I hear a few things. If you take my vocal off of it, I hear hip-hop, I hear it in the storytelling".
If you look at the story behind the lyrics as a whole, with the overall themes being presented section by section rather than bar for bar, you won't get as lost in the translation of it all.
As listeners, we can all agree that the story starts with Frank meeting a girl at Coachella that he wound up getting sexually involved with. She was a dentist who was very much into the drug scene, hence where the novocaine comes in.
The chorus (which is quite addictive in itself) comes in where he blissfully yet emptily chants about how he wants to be loved until he goes numb while under the influence.
By the second verse, Frank involves himself with multiple drugs (women) around with hopes of getting a feeling like the one he got with the dentist, but to no avail.
"You put me on a feeling I never had, never had, never had (never), and ever since I've been tryna get it back."
When the chorus comes back in, you wonder if he is singing to the original dentist woman, or the many women he is feeling numb with afterward.
Suddenly, the hook's line "love me none" shines a new light. Maybe the first chorus was from the dentist's perspective and not his. Either way, the second verse shows that Frank isn't doing well.
Toward the end of the song, he makes a direct reference to the pain he is numbing and how he can't feel a thing, but it doesn't seem like a positive thing. Is the numbness helping him, hurting him, or both?
He sings, "Pretty girls involved with me Makin' pretty love to me, pretty, pity, pity. Novocaine for the pain, for the pain I can't, can't feel, feel her, feel her..." with his voice trailing off, and ends the finale word on an unresolved note.
The ambiguity comes in when you try to make sense of who the woman (or women) represents. When Frank sat with Melissa Bradshaw in his interview with The Quietus, she asked what Novacane was really about.
"I ask if that commentary is directed at the music scene, and he knowingly laughs "Can't feel a thing? Uh, more or less.""
Frank doesn't want to go too far in-depth with what the definitive meaning behind the song is, but that one metaphor, at the very least, is there.
When it comes to the music scene and not feeling a thing, the song doesn't just tell a story of a girl who seduces him with drugs and amazing company that he can't replace.
The woman represents something or someone else he longs for much more. He's surrounded by pretty women but bored; he's recording songs with no emotion and autotune. Who or what is that woman? Frank will probably never tell.
He could be longing for the feelings he had when fame was first exciting and addictive. He might be longing for the life he had before fame. There could be one special girl that he just misses like hell.
He tells Melissa Bradshaw in his interview that he'd love to discuss his songs further, but he doesn't want to spoil the listener's experience. For this reason, I believe that there is no one interpretation of this song. He wants it to speak to everyone differently.
You can take this song at the most surface level with a love-lost story between frank and the Dentist, and it would still be a depressing masterpiece. Many listeners can relate to experiencing something with "the one who got away" and have tried to numb that pain with other lovers.
But the problem with numbing the emotional pain is that feeling empty doesn't feel so great, either.
Due to Frank's sexual preferences, some fans suggest that the song speaks on how he can't feel a thing when he is having experiences with women and trying to get that feeling back that he had with one particular guy, but this is just a rumor for now.
Many listeners going through mental stress from depression and other mental conditions could find this song particularly relatable because they can't feel what they once did when they were in a more upbeat mood or time period in their lives.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her recent collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!
If you are in need of singer, songwriter or song producer services, see what Yona Marie can offer you on her services page. As an Amazon Associate, Yona Marie earns from qualifying purchases. Amazon and other affiliate products are recommended to genuinely help readers and keep this site up and running as well.