There is nowhere quite like Glastonbury. Nestled in Somerset’s rolling hills, a sleepy bit of countryside turns into a bustling metropolis once a year. The world famous Pyramid Stage has hosted a who’s who of music’s biggest acts, including The Who in that who’s who. Someone said you looked like an owl! Who? Exactly.
A Pyramid Stage set can make an artist, because as an amber sky gives way to the inky black of night, they walk onto the stage and dazzle tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. But the Pyramid Stage, though the temple of music legends, is just one tiny part of a monolithic festival. The festival site is around 900 acres big, with a full-and-standing 135,000 people attending every year. For context, imagine if the population of Brighton just fucked off to Somerset for a weekend. Nobody there. Deserted. Burgle them all. Bastards.
The festival also plays host to hundreds of acts each year, across 30 or so stages, so when it comes to finding something to do, you’re spoilt for choice at Glastonbury. The Other Stage hosts acts and headliners worthy of a festival themselves, and oftentimes you’ll find yourselves double booking yourselves to see two acts, at once, on stages roughly fifty miles apart.
The headliner, then, shouldn’t matter one iota. Of course, get your big dogs, your scrappy pups and your dinosaurs at the top of the bill, but if you find yourself poking your tongue out at the Friday headliner, you have a plethora of options for your evening. Realistically, one artist, albeit the headline act, doesn’t actually mean anything in the grand scheme of things.
So it’s curious to see so many raising an eyebrow, clucking a tongue or prolapsing an anus to see that grime superstar Stormzy has been announced as Glastonbury’s first headliner for 2019, and, if memory serves correct, the first British rapper to headline the festival. Now, there are some valid questions posed by Mr Skeng esq’s appearance, but a lot of the feedback just seems to be a cocktail of boiled piss and salt. Or as the metropolitan types like to call it, Brexit Sour.
We’ll address the first, and to be honest, only valid criticism of Stormzy’s appearance, in that he’s only released one album. Which is completely fair but, to flip the coin, Oasis and Coldplay headlined after only an album, and Arctic Monkeys headlined the festival just two months after releasing Favourite Worst Nightmare, so it’s fair to say they were locked in after just one album. That being said, the bin fire that was Twitter didn’t exist back then, so it’s hard to find out just exactly what the mooing public thought, but considering Definitely Maybe, Parachutes and Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not were stunning debut albums in their own right, it’s hard to argue why they didn’t deserve the nod. Further to that, all of those performances were iconic and helped cement their legend status in music.
So what makes Big Mike so different? The aforementioned albums all went to number one in the UK charts, and have all since gone on to be certified platinum, multiple times. The only difference with Stormzy is that he went to number one AND went platinum without any major label support. On top of this, Gang Signs and Prayer was the first grime album to go to number one. The criticism that this is Stormzy’s first album is valid, but that first album is iconic and successful enough to show he’s got the drawing power befitting of a festival headliner. Any savvy booker already knows what’s hot and what’s not, and Glastonbury are no different, with Stormzy being one of Britain’s hottest newcomers in a long time.
Further to this, there’s always a lot going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about. Oasis, Coldplay and Arctic Monkeys were in their second album cycle when they headlined, releasing before or after, and it’s fair to assume that the Eaviseseses knew that before we did. Same logic can be applied to Stormzy, 2019 will mark GSAP’s second birthday, and it’s fair to assume he might be working on something to come out before or after this set. Had he released one album that threatened an appearance in the top ten, then fizzled out, his appearance at the top of the bill should be analysed, but Michael and Emily Eavis aren’t idiots; they’re as cunning as the foxes that roam their land, so whilst a lot of Glastonbury’s revenue goes to charity, the Eaviseseseses know what’s best for business.
In that respect, why isn’t Stormzy a good choice? Grime has moved from an underground movement in the noughties to a large part of the zeitgeist in the 2010s, and getting in an artist that reflects current cultural trends isn’t a controversy, it’s just good business. Glastonbury is hypothetically sold out right now, all 135,000 deposits were placed, and it’s fair to say that one way or another, 135,000 tickets will be paid in full by April, so most of the tickets are bought in the knowledge that the headliners will be a surprise.
Which means that when it comes to booking headline acts, the Eaviseseseses need to make three choices that will give the most pleasing reaction when combined together. Like last year, we had Radiohead, Foo Fighters and Ed Sheeran, three artists with very differing sounds and appeals, but in that differentiation, they actually offer the most variety. With these varied choices, there’ll more than likely be at least one headliner you make it to the pyramid for, making as many people as possible happy.
The important word in the above paragraph is “Three”. Stormzy is “one” of “three”, meaning that there are “two” more headliners to be announced, with rumours including but not limited to Paul McCartney, The Cure, Arctic Monkeys, Taylor Swift, Madonna, The Spice Girls and Kendrick Lamar. So even if you’re clutching your pearls that one of those awful, awful rappers are at Glastonbury, take a look at the variety you’ve still got left to come. The smartest choice there would be Arctic Monkeys and The Cure or Paul McCartney, because it offers three things; something new (Stormzy) something wildly popular (AM) and something vintage (The Cure or Paul McCartney), that means you have something for the kids, something we can all enjoy, and something for the dads in slacks who think they’re still cool.
So another question is: does Stormzy deserve it? And the answer to that is yes, moreso than many artists out there right now. Success aside, few work harder than Stormzy, a lot of time, effort and energy has to go into independently releasing your music, and the fact that he reached number one with zero label support goes to show you how good he is. Somewhat of a YouTube star with Shut Up, he’s built his career off his own back, and is now reaping the rewards. On top of this, in 2017, he headlined The Other Stage to much fanfare, so consider that a successful audition for the top job.
Another question: Is it too soon? See above for whether it’s too soon and realise that no, it is not too soon. As Sir Matt Busby, legendary football manager once said; “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough”. Of course, he was probably not referring to Stormzy headlining Glastonbury, as Stormzy wasn’t even one when he died, so it’s impossible to know if Sir Matt Busby was making that statement in reference to Stormzy. But the sentiment rings true as although he’ll still be 25 when he takes to the Pyramid Stage, he’s more than ready to step up to the plate. There’s no airs or graces in his walk, and his feet will remain rooted to the stage. Though GSAP was his debut, the production, lyricsm and theme showed he was wise beyond his years, and if he can carry that through to album two, he’ll go out and dominate every inch of that stage.
Further to this, what can Stormzy bring to the live stage? Well if his performance at the 2018 Brit Awards is anything to go by, he can bring a stunning live performance that prompts a response from the Prime Minister. But aside from calling out the Prime Minister, to great affect, Stormzy will no doubt bring something as visually stunning as this set up.
Another question which isn’t a question is that Glastonbury like to keep their headliners as fresh as the Somerset air that lasts for all of five minutes until the smell of longdrops permeate the atmosphere. So whilst people who probably haven’t even got tickets but can’t stomach the idea of anything but rock bands appearing at festivals are asking where the likes of the Foo Fighters, The Rolling Stones, Coldplay and Muse are, with one Twitter user musing that Bowie should headline, which is a piece in itself. But for the acts that are actually alive and available, it wouldn’t make sense for Glastonbury considering all those bands have headlined in the last five years. Five years between headline slots is about the minimum.
Of course, a lot of this vitriol is quite simple, some people still have the small minded view that the only good music is rock music, and that festivals should only book rock bands. The idea that a rapper will take a spot that should be reserved for a band comprised of exclusively white guys with guitars, is an affront to them, and they will not be buying a ticket, despite not knowing what Glastonbury was five minutes ago. A similar brand of boiled piss was being served a year or two ago, when Glastonbury announced a women-only venue at the festival, somewhere for women, a group who routinely feel threatened, to feel safe. No prizes for what the average look of this demographic is.
Other comments have ranged to the downright enraged that Stormzy is headlining, with people confused as to why this “thug” will be headlining the festival. Because, of course, if you are young, and black, and rap for a living, you are automatically a thug. Stormzy might even bring “marijuana cigarettes” to the festival, something that has never, ever happened in the history of Glastonbury. Ever. These are the same people that would have both Gallagher brothers headline it every year, and have the third headline slot dedicated to a group debate over who shouldn’t headline. Hosted by a Gallagher brother. Lest we forget that last year, Stormzy’s Chelsea home was raided, because neighbours thought he was burgling his own gaff.
They are part of the “real music” set that think “rock is dead”, but say if a band like Biffy Clyro were to be given the nod as festival headliners, a very, very real prospect, maybe even in 2019, would be just as angry. Should this piece have been written to rebuke people who just can’t be satisfied? Absolutely, because it’s important to explain why Stormzy deserves to headline the festival. Though not exactly one of the “legends” people are so adamant headline the festival, a strong Pyramid Stage set is the making of a legend. Further to this, Stormzy uses his platform to highlight social injustices, not least with his performance at the Brit Awards this year. Stormzy’s political beliefs and morals line up with those of the Eaviseseses, making him a perfect fit for the festival’s ethos.
Of course, whether or not people agree with Stormzy’s headline slot at Glastonbury is academic; he’s been booked as the first headliner and despite the fact a petition has probably already been started to have him removed, he ain’t going nowhere. Same thing happened with Kanye a few years back, because the idea of a rapper headlining a music festival just doesn’t fit with their fantasies. Glastonbury after all has always showcased a wide variety of artists and genres over the years, and that will never change. Had Stormzy been announced as a Download headliner, you’d be right to argue that the organisers had made a terrible decision, but seeing as Glastonbury has always been a celebration of arts, culture and music, Stormzy fits the bill.
On top of this, Glastonbury is not a claustrophobic place, and it is not a hostage situation. If you’re reading this, angry at the idea of a Stormzy concert, you do understand nobody’s making you go? You’re not going to have a sack pulled over your head, be knocked unconcious, be thrown in the back of a van and awaken during the first bar of Big For Your Boots? Plus with the festival sizing up at 900 acres, do you think you’ll be sat on his lap? Stormzy could well be in a different postcode to you. It’s that big, he might even be in a different time zone, so you could technically time travel and miss his set.
On Friday of Glastonbury last year, for the last act of the day, you could have seen Radiohead, Lorde, Dizzee Rascal, Clean Bandit, Sleaford Mods OR a Status Quo acoustic set, all at once? So unless EVERY fucking artist ever sends the Eaviseseseses to voicemail, it’s fair to assume that if Stormzy isn’t your cup of tea, there might, just might, be someone else to your fancy. If you think your festival starts and ends at the main stage, it’s your own fault for being so small minded. On top of that, there’s places like Shangri-La, Arcadia, Unfair Ground, or you can just sit outside your tent and get hammered on cans. Stormzy will be one of hundreds of artists to appear at the festival that weekend, so whilst he’s a hugely successful and popular artist, his appearance means absolutely fuck all in the grand scheme of the festival. If you’re THAT opposed to his appearance, and there’s nobody else you want to see, you can probably go for a walk and be miles away from him if you so please.
The other option is, if this one act, again, of hundreds is so upsetting, you can just… not say anything and not go? Again, nobody’s forcing you to go, if you don’t want to buy a ticket, then that’s fine pal, it’s a free country, but the fact you have to announce it to the world isn’t really needed. Nobody, in the grand scheme of things, is going to feel a seismic change in their mindset because @PureOasis and @MorrisseyMightBeASaggyOldRacistButIStillSupportHim1 are clutching their pearls. Life moves on, tastes change, and any promoter with their head screwed on recognises that.
So we go back to the important question: Does Stormzy deserve to headline Glastonbury? Undoubtedly. Going to number one and being certified platinum with your debut album, independently is a huge feat, and shows that whilst you’re still a wee baby boy, you have the talent, the knowhow and the work ethic to make such a thing happen. Whilst there will undoubtedly pearl clutching, puce foreheads and petitions, it’s doubtful Stormzy cares, as his Instagram story already shows.
With that said, it’s reasonable to assume that Stormzy will say one thing, and one thing only with his Glastonbury performance: Shut Up.