Arts & Entertainment, Music

‘Sunday Service’ is a sonic delight crippled by contradiction

At 9:00 a.m. on the morning of Easter Sunday, Kanye West led the first public ‘Sunday Service‘ from atop a grassy hill at Coachella. This unconventional, but overtly Christian take on Easter was not the artist’s foray into the spiritual: Accessible only to those on a Hollywood guest list, weekly ‘Services’ in which Kanye, a full band, and The Samples Choir perform renditions of gospel classics and the artist’s hits started in early 2019. The spiritual content of the show suggests that Kanye might be attempting to incorporate a new humility into his work. However, Kanye has inextricably tied this project to a cultish worship of himself. Although sonically convincing, the performance only further highlighted Kanye’s narcissism—Sunday Service seems to indicate that Kanye wants his audience to be fulfilled by his own spiritual fulfillment. In this way, Kanye’s musical worship is really a worship of Kanye.

The music itself, if temporarily removed from its chief orchestrator, was funky and mesmerizing. The sounds jumped from restrained harp sequences to the vocal drama of gospel, and even to the wavy vibes of soulful house. Such a combination—sometimes astro-jazz tangents, sometimes rap—may be Kanye suggesting a vastness of spiritual potential in all music. This eclectic medley composed a musical feast that evades easy characterization. The sound was experimental and playful, recalling Sun Ra’s Arkestra or The Orb. Kanye’s debut of the song ‘Water’ was feeble and shaky, especially when compared to a powerful rendition of ‘Family Feud,’ which segued into gospel collective in ‘Otis.’ But, the music, however enthralling, is besmirched by its conductor.

At the top of the hill, Kanye seemed to stylistically project himself onto the performers below him: Each musician and dancer wore a uniform of Yeezy-branded mauve sweat-poncho and track pants. Far below and corralled behind gates, spectators gazed up at the hill as if they were intruding upon some sort of otherworldly seance. The fact that Kanye’s performance took place atop a mountain, out of spectators’ reach, quickly sullied any notions that this was not an exclusive event. The show climaxed with Kanye openly crying in rapture and then crouching before his disciples in silent prayer for several minutes.

This scene represents the degree to which spirituality at ‘Sunday Service’ is not something for the audience to tap into or an end found through the music, but rather a product to consume itself. Such physical and theatrical displays of faith, although perhaps genuine, serve only to commodify and create a spectacle of the very spirituality that Kanye attempts to make accessible through music. This most literally manifested in Kanye’s ‘Church Clothes’ line of merchandise for sale at the show including a sweatshirt with the words ‘Holy Spirit’ on its chest.

The entire event was streamed through a circular peephole lens, which is indicative of the degree to which the audience was meant to be peering in on Kanye’s religious experience from the outside; it was as if he merely granted rights to a sneak-peek, looking through a keyhole but without a key, at his relationship with God. Kanye, who has both titled an album ‘Yeezus’ (splicing his name with Jesus’s) and choreographed this quasi-Christian ceremony, seems unsure about whether he wants to be a god or venerate one. His act seeks the establishment of a new Church of Kanye in which congregants are expected to prostrate before Kanye’s spirituality rather than experience their own. His display of self-worship, although not hard on the ears, further muddies Kanye’s creative genius with narcissism.

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