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Odd Past: Frank Ocean Sings Backstreet Boys’ ‘PDA’

Frank Ocean

You think you have a bad boss? Somebody made the putative genius who created last year’s gorgeous, free-wheeling nostalgia, Ultra mixtape feel like he oughta be doing this. Fashionably Early has dug up a recording of Frank Ocean, pre-“Frank Ocean,” belting out a song that ended up on a post-reunion Backstret Boys album, and though he gives it his supple best, the results are soberingly craven. Definitive proof sagging record sales aren’t Napster’s fault!

A key piece of Ocean’s tale is the fact that the Odd Future-affiliated singer previously notched a few songwriting credits and a major-label deal under the name Lonny Breaux. His sadly faceless rendition of “PDA,” a generically pro-making-out-at-at-the-coffee-shop dance-pop song that ultimately appeared on the Boys’ 2009 This Is Us, is proof of the singer’s agile pipes, the ridiculousness of the music industry, and not much else. The origins of this track, which was rightly left off Ocean’s pre-ocean The Lonny Breaux Collection mixtape, are unclear; although the Fashionably Early blog’s report that it was a reference track for Backstreet seems plausible, Ocean doesn’t get a songwriting credit on the album, at least not according to AllMusic.

It’s a bittersweet music-biz irony that Ocean had to break out of what executives surely thought was a highly commercial template in order to become a highly commercially artist in his own right. The Ocean we know and love would be more likely to sing over Interpol’s “P.D.A.” than to squander his considerable gifts within such a narrow, emotion-stifling straitjacket. That’s the Ocean who graces the recent OF Tape Vol. 2 with the beautifully spacey ballad “White.” And that, in a fuck-you to uptight suits everywhere, is the Ocean who will be hitting the road on what will surely be a lucrative series of gigs with his previous sample victims Coldplay. A true story with a happy ending.

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