A great show, political anger, and ‘Fuck Boris’ – the first black British solo artist to headline the festival, he didn’t disappoint
When it was announced in November 2018 that Stormzy would be headlining this year’s Glastonbury, the news was met with mixed feelings. On the one hand, people claimed that with only one album out the 25 year old rapper didn’t have enough experience, and just generally objected to a grime artist taking the top Friday night spot on the Pyramid Stage. On the other hand, people that actually knew Stormzy – a brilliant performer, multiple award-winner, and philanthropist to boot – were understandably excited.
Given all that controversy, Stormzy’s set last night (June 28) sent a pretty clear message to his critics. He was ready, it said, and there was no one better for the job.
With characteristic modesty mixed with political anger and cheeky humour, the rapper confronted issues from knife crime to racial equality during his set, also making time to poke fun at Boris Johnson (ofc). But that’s not to say that he didn’t bring the music, as well.
Here’s what you need to know about the historic set.
STORMZY PROVED HIMSELF AS AN ICONIC PERFORMER
Of course, this was a headline set on Glastonbury’s famous Pyramid Stage, so some (literal) fireworks were to be expected. Besides, Stormzy’s been known to incorporate some impressive visuals into his shows before (remember the pouring “rain” as he stood onstage at the 2018 Brit Awards?). Still, Stormzy’s performance last night was something special.
The set opened with a video showing a discussion between Stormzy and Jay-Z. Jay-Z talks about creating a culture and how, right now, “the world is ready for it”. Then he asks Stormzy: “What do you do with it now?”
What followed the video was lots of flames, lots of flashing lights, and a reverberating “#Merky” before Stormzy himself appeared onstage to rapturous cheers. Even before he launched into his first song, the culture Jay-Z talks about in the video was clear.
HE MADE SOME POWERFUL POLITICAL STATEMENTS, WITH 100,000 CHANTING “FUCK BORIS”
Again, Stomzy’s first political statement was noticeable before he even spoke a word into his microphone, as he came onstage in a stab vest emblazoned with a black and white Union Flag, a reference to the knife crime that affects families across the UK (and particularly in London). Notably, this shows how a positive conversation about violence can come out of music, showing up the government’s futile attempts to blame music for urban crime.
Another comment on the state of the country came as the grime artist sampled a speech from David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, who later tweeted that he was “humbled and inspired” by the reference.
✊🏿👊🏿 @stormzy using his headline spot at #glastonburyfestival2019 to speak out about the injustice of young black kids being criminalised in a biased and disproportionate justice system. Humbled and inspired that he sampled my speech. Salute #Merky pic.twitter.com/iSG3PMssrd— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) June 28, 2019
Then there was the estimated 100,000 people shouting “Fuck Boris”, a lyric from Stormzy’s first UK No 1 single, “Vossi Bop”, that reflects attitudes towards the current Tory leadership election, in which Boris Johnson is the obvious favourite. That speaks for itself, really.
AND WON SUPPORT FROM JEREMY CORBYN, AMONG OTHERS
Another Labour politician shouting out Stormzy’s performance was the party leader. Jeremy Corbyn – confirmed king of Glastonbury 2017, incidentally – tweeted about the historical significance of the set, calling it “political” and “iconic”.
“It won't just go down in Glastonbury history,” the tweet continues, “it'll go down in our country's cultural history.”
Obviously, the feelings between Corbyn and London’s musicians and artists are often mutual. Many have come out in support of the forward-thinking politician. You can watch GAIKA, avant-garde artist and Dazed’s political editor-at-large, interview him in this video.
Tonight @Stormzy made history by being the first black solo British headliner at Glastonbury. The performance was political, iconic and the ballet was beautifully powerful. It won't just go down in Glastonbury history - it'll go down in our country's cultural history. #Glasto2019pic.twitter.com/pmRt5OuqBI— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) June 28, 2019
THERE WAS BALLET AMONG THE BANGERS
Besides lauding Stormzy’s political statements, Jeremy Corbyn also praised the “beautifully powerful” ballet in the headline set. As it to be expected, though, the dancing wasn’t just thrown in without meaning.
Behind the two black ballet dancers dancing to classical music, which punctuated hard-hitting grime tracks, was a screen of text describing the history of ballet shoes. They were only recently, it explains, made to match darker skin tones (before, dancers had to colour them with makeup). So, as well as looking lovely, the dancing was an incisive statement about racial equality.
AND FINALLY, STORMZY PAID TRIBUTE TO ALL THE ARTISTS THAT INSPIRED HIM
Other artists featured in the set, from the Jay-Z video to a cover of Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” and an appearance from Dave and Fredo for “Funky Friday”. However, Stormzy also reeled off a huge list of inspirations, ranging from the familiar grime names – Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, Skepta – to up-and-coming acts such as Little Simz, AJ Tracey, and slowthai.
It was a nice nod to the roots of the genre and Stormzy’s musical inspirations as a whole, while looking forward to the future.