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Frank Ocean Explains How He Chooses Songs To Cover

The singer has dropped interpretations of “Moon River,” ”At Your Best,” “Close to You,” & more.

The ever-elusive Frank Ocean didn’t exactly deliver on his promise that his fans would “love 2018,” but the R&B star is on the cover of GQ’s new music issue to kick off the new year. In a conversation with his Blonded Radio cohosts Vegyn and Emmett Cruddas, Frank discusses his skincare routine, his recent move to New York, and, most interestingly, his thought process behind recording covers.

Ocean has released just a handful of song covers in his career, most recently “Moon River” in early 2018. In GQ, he explained that a song really has to speak to him in order for him to record his own version.

“Nowadays, I have to live with the song for a bit and I have to see if it’s worthwhile to interpret it first. To see what I can do with it, where I can insert my voice,” he said. “It’s much more deliberate than when I was just focused on the rap mixtape approach of taking a beat or flow, swapping the lyrics and performing it. The performance almost being the stream-of-consciousness, in-the-moment thing, whereas now I would much prefer having the song be with me for more time before I have to record it.”

His decision to cover Aaliyah’s “At Your Best (You Are Love),” which appears on his 2016 album Endless, came after he heard it at a party. “I had to sing it. And I didn’t connect it to ATL, with T.I. and Lauren London,” he said, referencing the 2006 film. “I didn’t connect it when I was at that party years later that it was something from nostalgia.”

A cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Close to You” appears on 2016’s Blonde, and came from a spark of inspiration in a hotel room.

“I was living in a hotel, and I remember listening to it and being really nailed to the floor by Stevie Wonder’s interpretation of it,” he said. “That version moved into my favorite-songs-of-all-time list, right there with Prince’s ‘When You Were Mine.’ I don’t know what creates that feeling of ‘I have to sing this song.'”

“Moon River,” however, came about because someone asked him to sing the song. “That was the only reason I listened to it,” he said. “It was something that I wanted to do because I thought the song was small and beautiful and neat.”

There’s still no word on when new Frank Ocean material could be on the way. Aside from “Moon River,” the only music he released last year came from features on Travis Scott’s “CAROUSEL” and A$AP Rocky’s “Brotha Man” and “Purity.” In 2017, he hinted that his next album was already completed, but it still has yet to be released.

Check out Frank Ocean’s full GQ interview here and catch up on all the lyrics to his covers and original songs on Genius now.