On Easter Sunday morning, Kanye West captivated Coachella with his attempt to rise from the depths of cultural cancellation. West brought his “Sunday Service,” previously reserved for elite worshippers, friends and family, to the masses. The rapper’s recent turn toward outspoken faith hints at his desire for redemption, or at the very least a search for community and meaning in the wake of a public fall from grace.
West is an inarguably talented and influential artist, but he’s an increasingly controversial one.
Many fans lost their faith after West repeatedly, insistently expressed his support for Donald Trump. In addition to sporting a telltale red MAGA hat, West has also visited the president and defended him against criticism. The rapper’s previously beloved Twitter feed has seemingly been converted into a tool for generating backlash, with posts shouting out far-right activist Candace Owens and repping “Trump all day.”
West’s decision to bring his Sunday Service to Indio, California, much like his increased role on his wife’s reality show Keeping Up With the Kardashians, reads like image repair. The rapper is understandably trying to regain control over his own narrative, counteracting bad press with good vibes. Then again, West’s holy performance didn’t start out too auspiciously; after Coachella promoter Goldenvoice reportedly refused to build Kanye a “giant dome” for his headlining set, West initially pulled out of the event. He was, however, willing to bring an elevated version of his star-studded, invite-only worship sessions to the festival.
Anyone who watched the Easter Sunday Service via Coachella’s livestream or in person—fans lined up hours in advance for the 9 a.m. PT proceedings—would agree that this novel event was a departure from the average Coachella set. Coming off of the release of Beyoncé’s Homecoming, a concert film about Bey’s instantly iconic Coachella performance, it was hard to ignore the Sunday Service’s palpable chill. West took his time making an entrance, finally arriving after about 45 minutes of intro.
Of course, this being a Kanye West production, the setup itself was striking. Lines and lines of singers snaked through the grassy hillside terrain, decked out in a uniform of muted, flowing garments. Nothing if not consistent in his vision, West returned to one of his favorite visuals: an assemblage of people standing very still and slightly apart for a long period of time, wearing earth tones. Swap out the tunics for elevated Spanx and it would’ve looked like a Yeezy fashion show. A full band grooved on, the music peppered with vocal harmonies and Easter-appropriate exaltations.
When Kanye finally did arrive, he leisurely greeted his musicians and then joined his VIPs, more or less taking a back seat (dancing, nodding his head, playing a little bit of piano) for the majority of the show. And while the audience may have been hoping for more Kanye West, they were left in capable hands as the phalanx of gospel singers seamlessly bridged the spiritual and secular divide, riffing West tracks into church songs.
In addition to Jesus, the set also paid homage to musical greats like the Clark Sisters, Otis Redding, and Stevie Wonder. While a good deal of planning and talent clearly went into executing these musical transitions, the overall effect was loose and comfortable. Singers vocalized, musicians meandered, and the audience was encouraged to participate. At some points West appeared to be directing on the fly, prompting the choir with lyrics or reconfiguring the group on a whim. Whether you come away from Sunday Service crediting Kanye with artfully curating powerful, informal vibes or accusing him of over-relying on filler and spontaneity might depend on how Christian you’re feeling today.
Luckily, a handful of A-listers delivered some big, social media-worthy moments for the occasionally restless-seeming crowd (yes, the Kardashians were in attendance, and yes, Kylie and Travis Scott did engage in PDA). Teyana Taylor stole the show with her performance of “Never Would Have Made It,” complete with stunning choreography and hairography. Taylor is a gift, and we do not appreciate her enough! DMX slowed things down with a partially-rhyming prayer, and Chance the Rapper fully committed to his verse on “Ultralight Beam.” And of course, North West made multiple appearances, dancing along to the music and at one point even taking the mic.
While West seemed content with his role as aspiring megachurch hype man, he did deign to rap a few songs, and even debuted a new track: “Water” with Ty Dolla $ign. His rendition of “Jesus Walks” stood out as a testament to West’s power, not to mention his legacy—there’s still nothing quite like it. West was so moved by his own show that he broke down at one point, and had to be comforted by DMX, Kid Cudi and Chance.
Hours of dancing, singing and praising later, as the service came to an end, it appeared obvious that West had ascended to some higher plane, delivering a genuinely unique and profound experience (and at Coachella, no less). But for the cynics among us, there’s still cause for concern—namely, the expensive new merchandise that West has already been called out for selling at his overtly religious service.
According to photos from the Coachella performance, a tent marked “Church Clothes” offered sweatshirts from $165 to $225, $70 shirts and $50 socks. The merchandise reads “Trust God,” “Jesus Walks,” “Sunday Service,” and “Holy Spirit.” In light of a brewing social-media backlash, it looks like West’s decision to sell outrageously priced pseudo-religious garb at his Sunday Service has already undermined his nascent redemption.