The Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal

A Premier Humanities Research Journal at the University of California, Berkeley

All of the Lights

Michelle Rabe

Using Robert Brustein’s analysis of modern drama as a bridge from dramatic theater to rap music, ʺAll of the Lightsʺ features Kanye West’s multi-genre rap music and performance. West’s career as an entertaining performer and a rap artist travels through an array of ʺtheaters of revolt,ʺ reacting to social, political, and economic inequalities. And, it is through comparing his performance drama to his lyrical rap that his artistic genius shines.

“Turn up the lights in here, baby
Extra bright, I want y’all to see this
Turn up the lights in here, baby
You know what I need
Want you to see everything
Want you to see all of the lights”
(West “All of the Lights”)

For Kanye West, it is about enlightenment, it is all about enlightenment, everything is for enlightenment—through symbolic enlightenment. Only Kanye West, the innovative, creative, crafty, imaginative, explosive, dynamic, driven, and contagious Kanye West, can resurrect humanity from its fallen state armed with “cop lights, flash lights, spot lights, strobe lights, street lights” (West “All of the Lights”). Only Kanye West, an artist that emerges amidst “broken hierarchies, discredited values, and collapsed institutions” of the devastated traditional world, can shine brighter than any other artist can amidst these dark conditions that scholar Robert Brustein describes as the landscape of modern theater. Theater critic Robert Brustein’s Theater of Revolt, a work of theatric criticism concerning the inception of modern drama in a distinctly rebellious framework, sets the stage for the analysis of Kanye West’s music as underscoring the dramatic gestures indicative of modern drama. He thoroughly recognizes and understands that constructed, modern social realm is “transient, fleeting, [and] contingent,” and he handles his art, his lyrics, his videos, and his performances accordingly (Nichols 5). From the moment the beat drops, West combats the “images of decay, mutability, and disease” of the modern society with his caustic, incisive, and insightful phrases and productions (Brustein 8). His rapping becomes a “subversive gesture—a more imaginative reconstruction of a chaotic, disordered world” as West himself is “stalked by chaos” and seduced into modernity’s draw to “continuous[ly] reproduce the same relations” (Brustein 7-9, Nichols 6). For the majority of his career, Kanye West believes that the only way to structure and to stage his reaction against modernity’s summon is to revolt in a carefully prepared theater of revolt. West is painstakingly strategic in his execution of his theater of revolt, and he consumes himself with the perfection of his lyrics, his sound, and his performance, especially in terms of his usage of light. Only by his most recent artistic endeavors does Kanye West begin to realize how to use light effectively and brilliantly—he stops manipulating light and flickering the lights and repositioning the lights and he becomes the light. Although Kanye West’s distinctive uses of light in his social, existential, and messianic theaters of revolt ultimately fail to enlighten society, his latest theater of transfigurative revolt in which he becomes the light and everything that that light represents powerfully bombards modern society with undeniable, irreversible, unbeatable enlightenment.

In production, subject, form, delivery, and reception, rap is theater. A play revolves around characters and the dialogue between them—the dialogue of spatial movement, unspoken language, and, of course, spoken conversations. In regard to this dialogue, dramatists concern themselves with voice presence, the idea that his or her voice and ideas should be distinct and clearly expressed, and voice control, the idea of taking unnecessary breaks and effective pauses without disrupting the dialogue’s flow. When producing these strategic dialogues, dramatists collaborate with mentors, with traditional values, and with varying characters. It is a collaborative manufacturing both with others and for others, as dramatists pit contrasting ideas against each other in dialogue and as it is ultimately an art form for social reception. Dramatists must collaborate with historical views, contemporary controversies, and his or her audience. In composing dialogue, the dramatist uses metaphors, witty wordplay, and double entendres to manipulate and to challenge linguistic standards. The resulting play is a structured, creative delivery of sociopolitical, cultural, religious, and moral ideas, and it is a conversation among these competing ideals. It is a rap song.

To rap is to converse. In the same way that a play revolves around characters and dialogue, a rap song focuses on dialogue between rappers, rap crews, and competing social ideologies. And, like the dramatists, rappers must establish an effective vocal presence on their tracks for individual identity and memorable talent, and they must control their voices in order to satirize, emphasize, or heavily criticize a person or a practice. Rap is about identity, the sound of the rapper’s voice on the track, what the rapper says, and how he or she says it, just as the dramatist must develop a unique voice, identity, and dramatic technique to distinguish himself or herself in the theatrical realm. Furthermore, composing rap songs is essentially producing a play. It depends on collaboration from other rappers and mentors in different verses and in different lessons. It depends on the collaboration from society, the rapper’s audience, and whether it is receptive to the rapper’s ideas and style. It thrives on wordplay, lyrical poetry, and crafty rhyme that all bend linguistic conventions. Like a modern play, it is about the performance and the spectacle of the entertainment, rather than simply being words. A finalized rap song, then, is a structured, artistic vehicle for clever social, cultural, religious, and moral criticism. It is a play.

Thus, the modern playwright and the rapper have the same task and they face the same challenges. Rappers, whether from the East, West, South, Midwest, or Canada are “highly individualistic artists,” just as Brustein describes the modern dramatists, but they are “unified by a common theme: an attitude of revolt” (Brustein 5). Rappers pride themselves on their individuality, stamping their beats with trademark adlibs, characteristic tone, and personalized nicknames, but they do so in pursuit of rebellion. Kanye West embodies this rebellious spirit comparably and remarkably, as he “chafe[s] against restraints” in pursuit of individual freedom prevailing in society (8). This means that, in the avalanche of inherited metanarratives, constructed scripts, and traditionally appointed roles, West refuses to conform, rejects obedience, and spurns societal ideals in his works.

Kanye West does this with enlightenment. “In modern drama,” artists use “topographical patterns and motifs” that can range from their calculated arrangements of “linear and spatial movements” to “visual and mental perspectives” in order to convey the thrust of their textual themes (Gullestad 12). For West, the topographical pattern, or the “figure,” he uses in “dynamic patterns” is light—light to chart his artistic development and his most significant themes (12). While West’s entire artistic, lyrical, and performative abstractions and executions “cannot be explained by having recourse to the single element” of light because it is the “interplay” between all of his decisions that creates his art, light is the most significant component in West’s art and philosophy (128). In his stage of social revolt, he lights up society and puts a spotlight on societal darkness, specifically demonstrated in the lyrics of his representative track “Flashing Lights” and his live performances during his Touch the Sky Tour. In his theater of existential revolt, he turns the lights out and initiates a blackout mode in his artistry, specifically shown in his characteristic song “Street Lights” and his live performances during his Glow in the Dark Tour. In his period of messianic revolt, his passions are re-sparked and he proceeds to illuminate the issues in modern society, specifically exemplified in his illustrative song “All of the Lights” and his cinematic My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy companion film. In each of these theaters of revolt, West dedicates a song to his conception of light, symbolically using lights as images and ideas that seek to enlighten his listeners to the specific aspect of life that he is revolting against at that specific time. And, although he continues to concern himself with light in his most recent album, Yeezus, he utilizes the theme differently by becoming the very light that he uses for his desired goal of enlightenment. In his transfigurative revolt, West figuratively becomes the light by mimicking Jesus Christ in his album title and his nickname manipulation (Yeezy) in Yeezus, specifically exhibited in his controversial song “I Am a God” and his live performances during his Yeezus tour. By becoming the light, Kanye West achieves the intellectual and thematic levels for which he strives, he achieves the objective for which he raps, and he achieves the enlightenment for which he always crusades.


Act I: “Flashing Lights” Social Revolt

[The Touch the Sky Tour—Kanye West takes center stage, donning bright, flashy attire, reminiscent of a wealthy interpretation of street clothes, and adorned in layers of jewelry. It is a common concert stage with floor lights shining on Kanye West and his background crew, multiple spotlights shining from above, and background lights illuminating the entire stage. The lights consume the set and allow for fully visible recognition of West in an almost messy way, bathing every instrument, every individual, and every detail in light. The stage is sparsely decorated, relying on this heavy lighting to track Kanye West and to amplify his performance.]

Although Kanye West creatively addresses social issues in his unique theater of revolt, his overly satiric, heavily anti-establishment, and recycled mindset in his early works result in his failure at effective social revolt. In his early works, Kanye West is a “militant of the ideal” and an “anarchist individualist,” specifically targeting societal establishments and institutions to call for drastic social reform (Brustein 9). His The College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation mark his spirit of social revolution, as they showcase his anti-establishment mindset, focusing on “man in society in conflict with community, church, family, and academy” (22). In his first three albums, he reflects upon the idea of the societal institutions being too rigid, restrictive, and altogether a faulty measure of developing creative minds in an effort to enlighten society to its downfalls and to its self-defeating institutions. This enlightenment is the reason he raps, the reason he pursues the theater of social revolt, and the reason he communicates his themes.

West’s attempt to enlighten his audience in his stage of social revolt through both his lyrics and his performance is represented by the song “Flashing Lights” from Graduation and its themes, which directly parallel the theme and the performance of his Touch the Sky Tour. During his composition of “Flashing Lights” and his Touch the Sky Tour, Kanye West felt the oppressive suffocation of modernity, that “the promise of radical change had suddenly evaporated” and that the “state institutions and the political life circulating around [him] seemed degraded and farcical” (Nichols 6). For the first time, Kanye West augmented his textual prowess with performance in a “converging of genres and art forms” in a typical “modernist characterization” of performing styles (Gullestad 8). This “dramatically reshap[ed]” both of the art forms’ “identities” through a “fusion of their respective characteristics,” and, for West, it enhanced the artistic integrity of each of his artistic pursuits (8). His work became true performance by “com[ing] into being through the bodily presence of actors and spectators and through their encounter and interaction” in one of his first live showings of his newfound international fame (Fischer-Lichte 124). His live performances visually represented the thematic undertones to his lyrics during his stage of social revolt, especially the lyrics to “Flashing Lights,” which is representative of the sound, theme, and specific focus of revolt of West’s early career. With its “mixed chilled-out electronics, jittering synths and laid-back, old skool hip-hop, he creates a sumptuous track” in “Flashing Lights” (Billboard). It has a “glitzy sound” in its commerciality and typical rap structure in common time (Billboard). For Kanye West, this is tame. This is conventional. The lyrics of “Flashing Lights” follow suit in terms of tameness and conventionality in accordance with rap trends. He speaks of materialism with “shoes and cars” and fame with getting “flashed by the paparazzi” (West “Flashing Lights”). He speaks of “show[ing] off” and experiencing a complicated relationship (“Flashing Lights”). He speaks of typical rap themes, and the Touch the Sky Tour reflects this typical musical atmosphere. In the period of social revolt, Kanye West constructs societal norms only to deconstruct them and to enlighten his audience to their hollow meanings; thus, he uses a typical concert landscape to emphasize its replicability and shallowness. In addition, the lights he uses to accessorize his set are predictably placed and unremarkable in an attempt to highlight societal institutions and their restrictive nature on the creative mind. Since West needed the lighting to be so perfect to convey his ideas, he refused to perform on the original conception of the set “because he was upset with the lighting” (MTV). He needed the lights to be perfect in order to spotlight his complicated and driven goals. West’s social revolt is overwhelmingly unexciting, unaudacious, and underwhelming, and he uses strategically placed spotlights to forward the appearance of social tradition so that he has the means and the set-up to criticize them.

However dedicatedly West sought to enlighten his audience in his theater of social revolt, he relied too heavily on his predecessors to initiate any innovative, groundbreaking social revolt. His staging and performance, as well as his lyrics in his representative enlightenment track “Flashing Lights” are too conventional, are too tame, and are too regurgitated. West’s early efforts to socially reform his society fails to introduce any novel ideas or criticism of society due to his dependence on conventional lighting and themes, and this prevents him from instigating effective awareness of social issues. As exuberant, witty, satirical, snide, accurate, blunt, and unapologetically honest West might be, he fails to initiate any real change in society. The social revolt eventually fails to amount to anything beyond satirical accounts of society because social revolt is “more imaginative than practical” (Brustein 8). His ideas are too lofty, too “radical,” and too disconnected from reality for him to be anything but a “metaphysical rebel” because his performance remains too conventional and repetitive to accommodate his far-fetched aspirations (8). Since West’s social revolt is overwhelmingly “negative” in his attempt to expose societal institutions in order to “whip and scourge” them in a purely “satiric” fashion, he does not offer any “clear-cut alternatives to the things [he] wish[es] to destroy” (24). He does not offer effective enlightenment, which means that Kanye West’s social revolt is not enough. He highlights society’s issues, he puts a bright spotlight on the ironies of the modern world, and he places enormous flashing lights on the cruel inefficiency and idiocy of the modern world, but this is not enough for the enlightenment he wishes to achieve.


Act II: “Street Lights” Social Revolt

[The Glow in the Dark Tour—Kanye West becomes a silhouette of a man, a trifling, small, singular, overwhelmed artist in the midst of bright, colorful lightscapes behind him. The intense, vivid, awe-inspiring color streaks behind him belittle him and shrink him to a dark, lonely, black figure. Waves of color grandly sweep behind him and reduce him to a vague form, a dark entity. The atmosphere is moving and vast and amazing and detailed and expansive and gorgeous and complicated. Kanye West is still, striking definitive, firm, powerful stances that become swallowed by the revolving lights. The lights surround his world. He is darkness.]

After his failure in his attempt to socially revolutionize society, Kanye West sank into a stage of dramatic self-wallowing, illogical pessimism, and political lethargy. Although he achieved commercial success, his efforts to change society or to enlighten his audience to the absurdity of the institutions that modern society robotically participates in and perpetuates failed. Thus, for this self-conscious artist seeking to dismantle societal superficiality, failure is disillusioning and disheartening. And, thus, West began to rebel against “existence itself,” what he begins to view as the “insufferable fate of being human” and the “discontenting basic structure of human life” (Brustein 26). And he “anguishes” (26). And he “despairs” (26). And he broods in “exhaustion” and “hopelessness” (27). As represented in his 808s and Heartbreak, West “examine[s] the metaphysical life of man” in the form of “existential revolt” (26). His album reflects a “fatigued” existence, a tired, robotic wandering through the motions of life in a sort of somnambulic fashion (27). Since the album is so listless, it only conveys any vivid emotion and expressive passion through Expressionism, attempting to channel inner distress and depression to expose the work’s “tragedy” externally in “tone,” “atmosphere,” feeling, and artistic choices (29). The works carry a sense of coldness, miserable life-draining chill, which demonstrates the “melancholy complaint” of existential revolt (29). Punctuated by tribal percussions, electronic vocal cries, and resonating drones, Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak features synthetic tones, expressionistic techniques, and cold, sleepy atmospheric components to showcase his existential revolt against his very life. After his social revolt, West moved to existential revolt in an attempt to enlighten contemporary society to the darkness that encapsulates and traps them and their every action.
West’s attempt to enlighten his audience in his theater of existential revolt through both his lyrics and his performance is shown in the song “Street Lights” from 808s and Heartbreak and its themes, which directly parallel the theme and the performance of his Glow in the Dark Tour. During his composition of “Street Lights” and his Glow in the Dark Tour, Kanye West felt the dread of “endless repetition” in his everyday existence of modernity (Nichols 7). His heart was broken, he was in a “state of devastation” while producing the album, and his very human existence was swallowing his human spirit and lulling him into a sleepy depression (“808s Review”). His lack of lively, alert interaction, especially in “Street Lights,” with the world shows West’s description of the somnambulant human condition—no one can ever know reality, thus humans sleepwalk through their lives, daydreaming and experiencing night terror. West feels like he is “just not there” in a lively human life, and that he just suffers while the “street lights glow” and just “happen to be just like moments, passin‘” through his life (West “Street Lights.” The Autotune effect in the song lends his lyrics a lethargic and groggy effect that essentially characterizes his somnambulance in his existential album. The song is a “synthesized voice,” “simple, repetitive lyrics,” tribal “percussive beats” and other electronic sounds that unite to express West’s raw, damaged “emotions bursting at every seam” (“808s Review”). “Life,” to Kanye West, “is just not fair” (West “Street Lights”).

His existential conception of humanity as detachment from reality and interaction with reality. Humanity is forever alienated from the structured universe, and West exemplifies this passive and ultimate meaninglessness of routine human action in his “dense drums, lengthy strings, drowning synths, and somber piano” (“808s Review”). He pits natural, traditional body percussion against the synthetic, deforming Autotune to represent the human condition of humanity’s unfailing separation from nature. He rejects his very human existence by going through life in a sleepy, dreamy, lifeless somnambulance that is reflective of his alienation from life, and he expresses this deeply and thoroughly in his Glow in the Dark Tour. Because “any performance is also to be regarded as a social process in which different groups encounter, negotiate, and regulate their relationship in different ways,” West’s Glow in the Dark Tour is reflective of the multitude of moving parts in his artistic process and mindset (Fischer-Lichte 126). “The specific mode of experience” that Kanye West’s Glow in the Dark Tour invoked was “a particular form of liminal experience” in which Kanye West’s dark, enervated spirit engrossed the audience in a dazzling display of multicolored lights and fantastic, alluring background spotlights (Fischer-Lichte 124). The manner in which West executes his existential revolt with the assistance of tactical lighting “foreground[s] the energy of the text and shows its potential to transform human perception and life” (Gullestad 11).

Yet, once again, however forcefully West dedicates himself to enlightening his audience in his theater of existential revolt, his lack of avid support from a disillusioned fan base results in his ultimate failure to incite any existential revolt. Drowning in despair over his mother’s recent, unexpected death and his separation from his fiancé, Kanye West and his broken heart was predisposed to utter sadness and deathly life. His explosive success in the beginning of his career left him struggling in the media spotlight, scrutinizing his pain, and emphasizing his existential crisis. Although he successfully rebelled against genre and transformed rap into a blend of flow, witty lyricism, identity discovery, philosophy, and the notorious Roland TR-808 Autotune machine, West did not successfully achieve the enlightenment that he sought to with his theater of existential revolt, specifically with “Street Lights.” He synthesized, mechanized, industrialized, commodified, and roboticized his very humanity in an effort to parallel and to emphasize his troubled, distorted human existence, but this existential revolt did not enlighten his audience to their enslavement in modern society. The “revolt of the fatigued and the hopeless” revolves around the “disintegration of idealist energies” and, thus, is overwhelmingly pessimistic and energy-draining (Brustein 27). “Raging against existence” does not inspire people to exist differently, rather it causes people to rebel against existence and to whine about their dreary, dreadful, heartbreaking human existence (28). Existential revolt does not offer effective enlightenment, which means that Kanye West’s existential revolt is not enough. He highlights modern existence’s cruel traps, he puts a bright spotlight on the ironies of human existence, and he plants street lights along the journey to stress the unrealistic perception all humans have of reality, but this is not enough for the enlightenment he wishes to achieve.


Act III: “All of the Lights” Messianic Revolt

[The My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Film—Rejected from the social scene, scorned by the public, and condemned by his followers, Kanye West turns from a live tour to a filmed companion piece to his album. Even though the live aspect is removed, the lights are still there. And they are brighter than ever-“cop lights, flash lights, spot lights, strobe lights, street lights”—all of the lights, all on West’s themes, all aimed emphatically, blatantly, forcefully at enlightenment at whatever cost (West “All of the Lights”).]

Because he failed in his attempts to revolutionize society both in the theaters of social and existential revolt and in light of his recent isolation from society, Kanye West turned to a theater more suitable for his newfound reclusion and his absolute refusal to sacrifice his ideals for an unhappy audience—messianic revolt. West had an unwavering ferocity to himself and to his mission and considered himself a “new Messiah,” and he believed he was “destined to replace the old God and change the life of man” (Brustein 17). The title of his album in itself suggests his “assum[ption] of divine power and the refashioning of the world after his own plan” (17). West had a “beautiful dark twisted fantasy” about humanity and the state of the world, and he intended to implement that fantasy into society by whatever means and publicity that he could. Obviously “grandiose,” fearlessly “egotistical,” and incredibly self-confident, West felt the “absolute liberation” of his “human limitations” as he “indulge[d] his insatiable appetite for the infinite” (17). After the failure of his social and existential revolt, West moved to messianic revolt in an attempt to enlighten the modern world to his fantasy and to initiate his theoretical fantasy into practical social transformation.

West’s attempt to enlighten his audience in his stage of messianic revolt through both his lyrics and his performance is represent by the song “All of the Lights” from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and its themes, which directly parallel the theme and the production of his companion film. During the composition of “All of the Lights” and the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy short film, Kanye West strove to “redefine the artist’s role” due to his “new sense of the incompatibility between artistic vocation and social obligation” (Nichols 11, 13). West wants to “turn up the lights” so everyone can “see everything” about his fantasy to revolutionize society (West “All of the Lights”). “This time,” West is “going all the way” (“All of the Lights”). “This time,” West is “going all the way” (“All of the Lights”). “This time,” West is “going all the way” (“All of the Lights”). “This time,” West is “going all the way” (“All of the Lights”). “This time,” West is “going all the way” (“All of the Lights”). As he repeats this line and this sentiment, he feeds his voracious ego and inspires his lofty dream to be “omnipotent, omniscient, infallible, and withal completely, unilludedly self-conscious: in short, a God” (Brustein 18). He restlessly seeks change for the next generation, refusing to allow future children to “grow up in that ghetto university,” that same classist trap that destroys many lives in urban settings (West “All of the Lights”). But, instead of just highlighting these social traps, he assumes the role of an “inspired visionary” in full, performing “miraculous deeds” of artistic creation that “raise[s] him about the common run of men” (Brustein 21, 22).

Of course, this optimistic aim is “almost unstageable” in a dramatic sense—a production that fully satisfies the demands of messianic revolt must be “conceived on a grand scale,” have an “epic structure,” and “consist of episodic scenes with multiple set changes” to appropriately address the expansiveness and depth of West’s messianic theater of revolt (Brustein 21). The film does not disappoint these standards, in fact, it upholds the attributes of messianic revolt fully in its ever-changing landscape, grand introduction, and monumental light shows. Lights, in West’s messianic stage of revolt, extend beyond simply being objects and they become an “ecstasy of the object,” as they “influence their environment, attract attention, even demand it, and appear to those who perceive them as being present in a particularly intense way” (Fischer-Lichte 129). West begins to ambush the audience with all of the lights, to “invade the bodies of the perceiving subjects” with light, and to “immerse” them in it—as if a “stream of energy would emanate from them” (129). In his theater of messianic revolt, West does not abandon his attachment to lights and their symbolic value, but he amplifies his usage of light to supernatural proportions in order to accommodate his ambitious aspirations.

Although Kanye West seeks to use the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy film as a “testament” to himself, “who functions as an inspired seer” and who “hand[s] his enlightened revelation to a benighted world,” his messianic revolt ultimately fails like his campaigns of social and existential revolt (Brustein 21). Despite his unbridled handling of lights and his brazen manipulation of typical production lighting, Kanye West’s messianic revolt fails because, in his “restless search for coherence in a world of abandoned gods,” he attempts to project himself as a god without actually embodying any substantive godlike qualities (Nichols 20). In the modern world, West is gripped by the “concept of the perverse” that devours any chance he has at self-fulfillment or messianic revolution because it leads him “towards the idea of self-destruction” (19). And, the bigger the conception of the self, the harder and rougher the fall. In a web of “self-irony,” West is engrossed in his own infatuation with engendering the “ideal desires of the hero” and selfishly ignores his audience and “other people” (Brustein 21, Nichols 20). This “clash” that exists as a detrimental, toxic result of messianic revolt eventually dominates Kanye West’s fantasy and any hopes he has of inciting this fantasy in society (Brustein 21). Messianic revolt offers overly bright and overly inflated facades of enlightenment, which demonstrates that Kanye West’s messianic revolt is too much. Too lofty, too strong, too bright, too forceful, too blinding, West’s unrestrained attempt at using messianic revolt to enlighten society inevitably collapses and strands a fallen hero in fallen dreams and devastation.


Act IV: “I Am a God” Transfigurative Revolt

[The Yeezus Tour—Light remains in Kanye West’s new, unprecedented, lyrical and performative masterpiece. Not in spotlights. Not in flashlights. Not in floor lights. Not in background lights. In one, single beam of pure, unadulterated, unbroken, bright, white light, Kanye West owns his stage, owns his audience, and owns his enlightenment. No longer is Kanye West Kanye West, Kanye West is Yeezus: the god of performative rap, the savior of disillusioned humanity, and the enlightenment. In a single beam of light, Yeezus faces Jesus, rises from earthly life, is transfigured on a mountaintop in blatant biblical allusion, and becomes a god. Yeezus is the light. Yeezus is transfigured.]

Social revolt failed. Existential revolt failed. Messianic revolt failed. In his Yeezus Tour, Kanye West explicitly references each stage of his career of successive theaters of revolt amidst the demanding and insufferable conditions of the modern world. With the stark, dynamic contrast of white words on a black video screen, West communicates his artistic development in order to welcome and to announce his final, unforgettable, and permanently effective theater of revolt—the theater of transfiguration. For representing social revolt, the screen reads:

Noun: violence or conflict,
Adjective: displaying combat or aggressive, pugnacious, truculent, belligerent bellicose
“Light beamed into the world, but men and women ran towards the darkness.”

which marks the frustrated, angsty, and unchecked passionate urges of a fledgling artist fighting against the societal institutions that seek to restrain him. In his theater of social revolt, West wholeheartedly believed that he is “beaming light into the world,” but that everyone is “running towards the darkness,” and this frustrates the young West into a fighting spirit. For representing existential revolt, the screen reads:

Verb: detach, move downward, succumb, surrender, crash.
Mere mortals can’t run their own lives.
“Who will give me wings,” I ask—“wings like a dove?”

which serves to demonstrate the aimless free-fall of the existential crisis that plagues the middle of West’s career. Desperately, pitifully, and painfully, West cries to the unresponsive universe, asking who will “give him wings” and free him from his earthly, oppressive chains. For representing messianic revolt, the screen reads:

Verb: hunt, seek, pursue
“When you go looking for God, you won’t be let down. Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find.”

which exemplifies West’s optimistic fantasy that he can find god in himself and in his own vision. If he “seeks” God in his lyrics, in his performance, and in himself, he will “find” God in his lyrics, in his performance, and in himself. Yet, Yeezus understands and acknowledges that these theaters of revolt, this fighting, falling, and searching, repeatedly lead to demise and failure to initiate any sort of effective, realistic enlightenment in the surge of his modern environment.

For the culminating theater of revolt, the revolt that has the potential ingredients to enlighten society to its darkness and misconceptions, Kanye West reveals this message on his video screen:

“God arrives right on time. He’s not hiding or sleeping, but on the move, revealing, He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock and put a new song in my heart.”

and it is this message broadcasted in his Yeezus Tour that proclaims Yeezus’ triumph over his failures in prior revolts and his final, well-earned prevailing over the limitations that his previous pursuits involved in terms of light orchestration. This powerful component of documenting, comprehending, and admitting the failures of different avenues of revolt is crucial to Yeezus’ effectiveness in his theater of transfigurative revolt. And it is significantly complimented by the use of stage lighting to physically enlighten Kanye West himself on stage. It only takes a single beam. In nearly every section of his Yeezus Tour, West is radiating white light, utterly shining with gleaming, luminous white light. His face is indiscernible, his form is veiled, and his outline is blurred because he is being baptized, crucified, resurrected, ascended by the light—he is transfigured into light itself. Like Jesus Christ himself, Yeezus stands atop the mountain on his stage and shines in the single beam of light, and he is transfigured. There needs to be no lyrical proof of his transfiguration beyond the powerful, all-encompassing, definitive assertion “I Am a God,” the statement that self-admittedly and self-reflexively upholds the nature of Yeezus’ metamorphosis into the light (West “I Am a God”). Yeezus’ enlightenment leads to the potent, effectual enlightenment of the modern world. Yeezus is transfigured and, with him, lies the potential transfiguration of the world upon proper reception and heeding of his enlightening enlightenment—through the perception and the contemplation of all of the lights.

“[He] tried to tell you, but all [you] could say was ohh
[He] tried to tell you, but all [you] could say was ohh
[He] tried to tell you, but all [you] could say was ohh
[He] tried to tell you, but all [you] could say was ohh
[He] tried to tell you, but all [you] could say”
(West “All of the Lights”).


Works Cited

Billboard “Kanye West.” Billboard. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2013.

Brustein, Robert. The Theatre of Revolt. New York: Little Brown and Company, 1964.

“808s and Heartbreak Review.” Rap Genius. N.p., June 2011. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

Fischer-Lichte, Erika. “Culture as Performance—Developing a Concept of Performance” from Exploring Textual Action. Aarhaus University Press, 2010. Print.

Gullestad, Anders, et al. Exploring Textual Action. Aarhaus University Press, 2010. Print.

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