Meaning in the Ivy


Frank Ocean’s album Blonde has recently been named the best album of the decade by the music publication website, Pitchfork. With such poetic lyrics as in Ivy, combined with his incredibly emotional isolated vocal performances, it is not hard to see why.

Here are the full lyrics to the song:

In his song, “Ivy,” Frank Ocean opens up about a failed relationship, reportedly a sequel to a song from his previous album, “Thinkin’ Bout You”, likely detailing the trials and tribulations of Ocean’s first love. In 2012, Frank Ocean opened up to his fans in a letter on Tumblr, describing his first relationship with a man.

Without much of an introduction, Frank Ocean’s voice comes in right away with the lyrics:

I thought that I was dreamin’ when you

said you love me

Something very interesting about this song is that Frank Ocean starts right away with the chorus that is often not heard in a song until 30 or more seconds into the song. It seems that the intention of this is to convey a sense of shock when he receives this news. He sings this with a very low and quiet tone, conveying vulnerability. This immediate assertion is not only surprising to the listener but the way in a way forces the listener to think about their own past. Perrine asserts in his, “What is Poetry” that poetry is a medium that should be used when prose is not enough to convey the intended emotion. Here, the depth and complexity of emotions that Frank Ocean is feeling is not only conveyed by his tone, but by the formatting. The line breaks near the end at, “said you love me”, almost as if to convey to the reader/listener how much this line stuck with him, the separation perhaps to separate reality with a dreamlike state that he says that this statement put him in. He also utilizes hyperbole to dramatize his emotions, allowing the listener to almost feel what he is feeling.

The rest of this stanza continues with

The start of nothin’, I had no chance to prepare
I couldn’t see you comin’
The start of nothin’, ooh, I could hate you now
It’s quite alright to hate me now
When we both know that deep down
The feeling still deep down is good

Next, Frank Ocean sings, “The start of nothin’,” indicating that the relationship was ruined from the start, nothin’ used as a hyperbolic statement, almost indicating a sense of time wasted in this relationship. Ocean continues to convey his shock here when he says that he, “had no chance to prepare.” This is a very interesting and methodical way of describing a moment that is supposed to be loving between two people, indicating to the listener that the dream that he was describing before was not good. He then goes on to say, “ooh I could hate you now,”. This likely means that Frank Ocean holds some sort of resentment toward the person who told him that they loved him, almost as if that love ruined a friendship perhaps. In the rest of the stanza, Ocean contrasts the resentment that he holds with the resentment that the other person in this relationship holds toward him. He ends the stanza by repeating “deep down” from the line before when describing the nature of the feelings between the two of them. Ocean ends by summarizing the complicated feelings in this relationship, one that he is making clear should be nothing more than a friendship.

If I could see through walls, I could see you’re faking
If you could see my thoughts, you would see our faces
Safe in my rental like an armored truck back then
We didn’t give a fuck back then
I ain’t a kid no more, we’ll never be those kids again
We’d drive to Syd’s, had the X6 back then, back then
No matter what I did, my waves wouldn’t dip back then
Everything sucked back then, we were friends

In this first verse, Ocean uses figurative language in saying, “If I could see through walls,”. These walls are likely a metaphor for the facade that someone puts on when hiding their emotions. Ocean is claiming that he knows the subject of this song so well that he can tell that they are not being genuine in this romantic relationship. He then goes on to tell about how he thinks about the other person in this relationship by saying, “If you could see my thoughts, you would see our faces”. He goes on to describe a nostalgic feeling of when they were kids. Ocean even uses a voice modifier here to enhance that nostalgic feel. He describes a bittersweet feeling of being in love but also being torn between friendship and romance.

He then goes on to repeat the chorus from the beginning of the song, driving home this theme of shock, nostalgia, and bittersweetness.

In the halls of your hotel
Arm around my shoulder so I could tell
How much I meant to you, meant it sincere back then
We had time to kill back then
You ain’t a kid no more, we’ll never be those kids again
It’s not the same, ivory’s illegal, don’t you remember?

This continues the nostalgic feeling that he conveys throughout this song, but also the rotting of this relationship. Ocean asserts that this relationship was very pure and innocent. This is perpetuated by his reference to “ivory” being illegal. The purity of ivory is used in metaphor to compare to the purity in their relationship, that purity no longer existing, being “illegal”.

I broke your heart last week
You’ll probably feel better by the weekend
Still remember, had you going crazy
Screamin’ my name, the feeling deep down is good

The quickness of this bridge conveys the difference between “now” and “then”, and how he must let go of a relationship that has withered, that this relationship is nothing more than a memory.

Next, Ocean goes back again to the chorus, but with more vocal emphasis and elaboration, driving home the complexity of this song/poem.

All the things I didn’t mean to say, I didn’t mean to do
There were things you didn’t need to say
Did you mean to? Mean to
I’ve been dreamin’ of you, dreamin’ of you
I’ve been dreamin’ of you, dreamin’ of you
I’ve been dreamin’, dreaming

The outro drives home the bittersweetness of the end of this relationship, using repetition to convey indecision when it comes to the end of a relationship, and how that person and that relationship sticks in one’s mind forever.

Frank Ocean effortlessly creates poetry within his song Ivy through metaphor and repetition, representative of the complexities of a withering relationship with someone that you really care for. He completes the emotional complexity that Perrine proposes as a requisite for poetry.

3 thoughts on “Meaning in the Ivy

  1. Alexis S

    I really love this song! I never really knew it was about it a relationship, nor did I realize all the metaphors. I really like how deep you went into the song, good job!!


  2. JOHN V

    I have never heard this song, but it clearly has some deeper meanings in its lyrics. I like songs that paint a picture, and I will be sure to listen to this one ASAP.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s