For Paradise International Music Festival’s first run, it seems that anything less than West is a felony.
I’ve never been a Kanye fan, never liked his songs beyond some choice singles. I knew there was talent there, but I was also aware of his mercurial personality: that of a guy who easily shifts between being a genuine artist to being a douchebag to Taylor Swift. He is self-aware, proud, quick to vent his anger on Twitter. I wasn’t keen on his ego, so I mostly kept a polite distance from anything Kanye-related.
Like most people I knew, I had my doubts that Kanye was really going to show up as Paradise International Music Festival’s headliner. Not doubts that they could actually get him to come, but I had a feeling that he would cancel out at the last minute for whatever reason. It just seemed like a very Kanye thing to do. After all, would he really go all the way to our little country to perform “The Life of Pablo” for the first time? “I won’t believe Kanye is coming until I see him onstage,” said I, the doubter.
A terrible paparazzi shot of him walking out of NAIA finally surfaced, and still, I thought, he wouldn’t do it. Even when I learned that I was going to write about the festival, I headed to Aseana City wondering what my headline would be. “KANYE KAN’T KOME THROUGH,” maybe, in the style of his famous in-laws.
Upon arriving at Aseana City after sunset, I discovered that the sprawling dust bowl was actually impressive. The lines to the ticket windows were organized, the bouncers were polite — nay, nice??? — and the areas well-defined. High street brands like American Eagle Outfitters and Havaianas were giving out cool giveaways like tote bags and flip-flop floaties. The whole festival was cashless, too. Everyone’s wristbands were fitted with a chip that was scanned to ring in purchases.
DJ Rudimental had just finished on the second stage, so while everyone faffed around, I walked to the beer booth. The great part about these festivals is that at some point, people will just be too drunk/out of it to care about what’s going on. All the better, too, because the signal at the venue was crap.
I had been alone for the past two hours, unable to find my friends. I passed by a girl who was trying to get though to her friend on the phone via some kind of Lil’ Jon rap. “I’m at the bar! The bar! That place where we bought the rum! The rum! No, the rum!!!!” I turned to my left, and I realized I was a scant meter away from the son of a presidential candidate, trying his best to be discreet with a baseball cap in the general admissions area.
I decided to make new friends instead, and started chatting with a tall white boy during Wiz Khalifa’s set. Over beers he told me that he was with his friends, and they were really excited to graduate from high school. I made my excuses and walked away. Foreigners can be so deceptively mature-looking sometimes.
Eventually I found my friends, and by some power we made our way upfront. Everyone seemed really chill, despite the humidity. Later on I would learn that Paradise is actually on time, and only Kanye took a little longer setting up.
I felt like a fraud as we waited for Kanye to come out. My best friend and I insisted that we only knew 3.5 Kanye songs, and that’s all we needed to know. I kept offering people my spot as a pseudo-good deed. But there I seemed to be planted, with a really good view of the stage. I still ended up there even after I rushed out of the portalet, as though the cosmos knew what to do with me. Because when Kanye’s simple but elaborate light set came down, as though from heaven, I was a goner for life.
Kanye opened with the anthemic crowd pleaser Stronger, and I started to yell out the lyrics to a song I thought I barely knew. The same thing happened to proceeding tracks like All Day and the heart-thumping Black Skinhead. The energy was so palpable, as if I could bottle it up and sell them like Yeezy Boosts, and even when the song was unfamiliar it still made me dances presence, the crowd and I would raise our arms, as if to beckon him to pull us up. Is this how cults are made?
I wish I could tell you more about the technicals of his performance. I wish I could give an in-depth analysis of every lyric, every move, every song he repeated, every bit of his long rant. (In which he said, “If I get in trouble for saying the truth, what’s being said the rest of the time?”) When he played Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 there were tears in my eyes. (I don’t even know why, the lyrics aren’t particularly inspiring.) All I can say is that he made a believer out of me. The hype is real. He didn’t need backup singers, dancers, or anything else to give us a great show.
Perhaps my only gripe about Paradise International Music Festival is that it happened in April. How everyone else is going to keep up with the best concert of the year is beyond me.