When Jay-Z was announced to headline Glastonbury in 2008 - becoming the first rapper to do so - the reception was almost staggeringly divisive, with Glastonbury purists (and Noel Gallagher) criticising the decision. Obviously he smashed it, and it opened the door for the likes of Beyonce and Kanye West to follow in his footsteps and make history on the Pyramid Stage. Tonight feels like another one of those moments. Fittingly, then, Stormzy’s headline set, which has also attracted large amounts of criticism, begins with a VT of Jay-Z talking him through what it takes to top the bill at the biggest festival on the planet. “That’s culture,” he repeats to end the video, and said culture takes a giant leap forward tonight.
Criticism levelled at the booking of Stormzy to headline this year’s Glastonbury largely came from his relatively light discography, with only one full-length to draw from. Tonight’s set manages to not feel flimsy, though, and the songs he chooses to cover are carefully, cleverly chosen. Belting out versions of UK garage classic ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ and Kanye West’s ‘Ultralight Beam’ in a row highlight the two sides of his musical upbringing, while his version of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape Of You’ shows his prowess at providing radio-ready features. Then - as this is Glastonbury after all - Coldplay’s Chris Martin comes on stage for a delicate, tasteful performance on keys and harmonies for ‘Blinded By Your Grace pt. 1’; it really does feel like Stormzy has fully bought into the culture of Glastonbury, as well as showcasing his own.
When Dave and Fredo join him on stage for a run through their number one hit ‘Funky Friday’, it’s yet another nod to those who Stormzy has grown around and graduated to the big leagues with; as much as it’s his headline set tonight, it feels representative of the culture as a whole. This is most clearly shown when he reels off a massive list of names in the UK rap scene, all of which feel represented tonight, from Little Simz and slowthai to Dizzee Rascal, Skepta and Octavian. “This was the first British rap song to go number one in the UK,” Stormzy says after ‘Funky Friday’. “It means we’ve come a long way… but this is the second one,” he quips before viscerally launching into recent chart-topper ‘Vossi Bop’.
The set is punctuated by fireworks from the start, but it’s the set’s quieter, more touching moments that hit the hardest. One of the highlights is a mid-set interlude with two ballet dancers taking the stage, accompanied by an explanation on the screen of how black ballet dancers now finally have ballet shoes to match their skin. It’s one of a number of moments that make tonight feel important and pivotal for a lot more than just Stormzy himself, and he manages to use his platform tonight to raise up those alongside him as well as cement his status as a star. That’s how it’s done.