Winner: Stormzy's Glastonbury headline set
With an array of events making the year memorable, our Music Moment of 2019 happened back in June, when one Croydon MC etched his name into Glastonbury legend.
Glastonbury Festival. A national institution and global celebration of music, culture, literature and more that descends into an extravaganza for the senses. A monolithic event which manages to sell more than 100,000 tickets every year in a matter of minutes, it truly is the most diverse festival in the world, yet its reputation for producing world-class line-ups stumbled on 15 November 2018 when it was announced that Stormzy, grime’s crowned-prince-in-waiting, would be topping the bill on the Friday night of the 49th edition of the festival, posters of which appearing in Streatham, near his hometown of Croydon.
Glastonbury’s reputation for booking world-dominating bands and everyday crowdpleasers has been well-documented. After all, with over 100,000 festival goers, which artists are going to be most recognised by parents, children, grandparents and teenagers alike? Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, Adele, Arctic Monkeys and more have all graced the Pyramid stage in the last decade. Would they turn out in force to support a rising grime rapper with just one album to his name? Given rap’s rocky reception when headlining the festival, crowds were tentative at best when the news broke of Stormzy’s appearance. The very best in the genre have tried and failed to be accepted by the Glastonbury bourgeoisie. Jay-Z’s set was criticised by rock royalty in Noel Gallagher, whilst Kanye West’s headline announcement was followed with large-scale petitioning beforehand, and general bafflement afterwards.
Yet, on a momentous night, Stormzy defied all odds and reached a pinnacle for both his career and arguably the festival. With a Banksy-designed Union Jack vest, a DJ and an immersive light show as company, the Brit Award winning rapper used his opportunity to celebrate black British culture. A ballet interlude, gospel choirs, breakdancers, BMX-bikers and special guests added even more to a show which already had everything it needed. Whilst pyrotechnics kickstarted the set, the more vehement sonic explosions came through his vitriolic raps which were spat with a fervency that a Pyramid Stage with yet another Coldplay performance would never see. Yet that didn’t stop Chris Martin making an appearance, his cameo slot for Blinded By Your Grace, Pt. 1 a surprise for all. The most impressive cameo however came later with grime MC’s Dave and Fredo bounding the stage to perform the genre’s first chart-topping hit Funky Friday.
Even in the moments that the Croydon artist isn’t hoisted front-and-centre, the show is all his. The staging, lighting and set are staggeringly personalised for the occasion, acting as the rapper’s own acknowledgement of the historic occasion and the importance of that moment. Despite having just one album, his set failed to waiver or lull. His recognition for the founding fathers of the genre as important as his listing of its future stars. Nods to Little Simz, slowthai, Not3s and more, all confirmed the humbleness of a man standing in music’s prime-time spot, small names etched into the national consciousness and bound to benefit from a night of firsts. The first black British artist to headline Glastonbury, the first British rapper, the first grime artist, the youngest solo artist to headline since David Bowie in 1971. The first Glastonbury headline set in years to have gathered so much acclaim and support since its happening.
On a night of questions, he answered them all and then asked his own. Why hadn’t grime been given this spotlight before? Should festival headliners only be long-established artists, or should they be the one’s that will provide a show that will sit long in the memories of thousands whilst inspiring millions further afield? For Stormzy, a man who left nothing to the imagination, his set was his soul. He bared it to Glastonbury’s crowd and they embraced it. The rapper did not just deserve to headline the Pyramid Stage, he belonged at the top of the bill. Despite the incredible rise of grime over the past two decades, there will never again be a moment so vital for the genre. For one night, grime ruled Glastonbury and the celebration of a culture was felt by millions across the globe, harnessing the present whilst lifting and inspiring the future.