Kanye West Sees the Light at iHeartRadio Music Festival, Keeps Presidential Bid Alive

Kanye West at iHeartRadio Music Festival 2015
John Shearer/Getty Images

Kanye West at iHeartRadio Music Festival 2015 in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas

Anyone looking for Kanye West to perform his brand-new song "Fade," or go on an epic tirade, or make an album announcement left disappointed from day one of the iHeart Radio Music Festival on Friday night (Sept. 18). It turned out that West did something even crazier at Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena: He energetically ran through 18 of his hits and even smiled a few times.

Following an epic introduction from Jared Leto -- "visionary, artist, madman, musician, producer, provocateur, director, husband, father and just maybe the future president of the United States of America" -- a slowed-down version of "Stronger" began and orange and yellow light flooded the stage. Only his silhouette was visible through the fog and lights, as his now-trademark smoke-filled stage enshrouded him.

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The smoke remained thick through "Power," but it started to thin out a bit for "Black Skinhead," though the lights were so dark that he was still basically just a shadow -- and Kanye noticed.

"You gotta turn the lights on a little bit more," he said, stopping the "All Day" track dead in its tracks. "It's not bright enough on the screen."

He was right. The minute the lights brightened up, it was a whole new show. And Kanye got used to that whole early-ending thing, cutting short the next two songs -- "Mercy" and (appropriately) "Don't Like" -- blaming time constraints.

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No worries, though, since he has a plenty-deep catalog. Next up was "Clique," minus his clique (Big Sean and Jay Z). Then there was the 808s & Heartbreak hit "Heartless," during which he let the crowd sing most of the chorus for him, except when he was taking his AutoTuned singing to new heights.

West was at his best on "Runaway," when he took control of the drum machine and milked the spare piano intro for all it was worth before kicking into the beat and letting the crowd fill in the lyrics. The set went from an over-smoky stage to a clear picture of Kanye as he rapped/sang some of his most confessional lyrics to date -- "You've been putting up with my sh-- just way too long" takes on a whole new meaning in the years since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

He then pivoted to Rihanna's "FourFiveSeconds," in which he "woke up an optimist." He took over all of RiRi's vocals on the song -- pretty admirably too. He moved from the acoustic ballad to the epic "Jesus Walks," and then on to early hit "All Falls Down" -- and he smiled his way through that one. (For the first three songs, the crowd couldn't see him, and now they could see him smile.) He kept the happy stream going for his upbeat hits "Gold Digger" and "Touch the Sky."

When the set list wound to "All of the Lights," we started to wonder if Kanye planned that whole light drama just to finish things up with the ultra-appropriate song and to complete the biblical transition from dark to light.

But once he kicked into "Good Life," we stopped overthinking it; we were just dancing with everyone else in the crowd.

He wrapped up the 30-plus-minute set by taking the emotional ride full-circle with "Only One." But it wasn't all seriousness for the touching song about his mom and his daughter: He managed to slip in a mention of his presidential run in the lyrics. "You'll be the man you always knew you could be -- 2020," he sang to huge cheers.

Set list:
"Black Skinhead"
"All Day"
"Don't Like"
"Jesus Walks"
"All Falls Down"
"Can't Tell Me Nothing"
"Gold Digger"
"Touch the Sky"
"All of the Lights"
"Good Life"
"Only One"


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