Stormzy Headlining Glastonbury Proves He’s Far From His Final Form

So what if he only has one album? He's evolving, which is important for fans who enjoy seeing their faves level up – and for music in general.

by Ryan Bassil
16 November 2018, 12:02pm

Image via PR

An Oxfam charity shop in Streatham were the ones to first bear the news that Stormzy would be a Glastonbury headliner. It makes sense. The charity shop bit, since Oxfam are one of the few brands linked with the festival (the other big one being Water Aid). Streatham, too, as it's relatively close to where Stormzy grew up. And finally, of course, that one of the UK's biggest acts would be headlining the UK's biggest festival. Everything in its right place, as Thom Yorke once morosely sang.

Some pub trivia for you: Stormzy is the first artist to headline Glastonbury off the back of one album in over a decade. The last was Arctic Monkeys, who released their debut in 2006 and were booked to play the 2007 edition of the festival. By the time that date rolled around though, they had a new album – Favourite Worst Nightmare. Maybe Stormzy is prepping something similar, since one album is barely enough for a headline set. Or if he runs out of time, perhaps he'll read extracts from his new book. That kid who got a Stormzy tattoo could make an appearance: idk! The world is big. Whatever the case, it's bound to be a headline set worth keeping an eye out for.

Just remember his performance at this year's Brit Awards. For me, that was the moment Stormzy levelled up. You can feel it when an artist is evolving into a new form, like Kendrick Lamar when he gave his first TV performances in the period between his breakthrough album good kid, m.A.A.d city and its follow-up To Pimp A Butterfly, performing new, jazz-inflected material on Colbert with a live band. Or the Grammy performance he gave once the album was out, rapping "The Blacker The Berry" while dressed in prison overalls and chains. It's a higher artistry, with more experience.

Stormzy could have done the Brit Awards with a microphone.... and nothing else. Instead he recreated his debut album's cover art, brought in a choir, cussed out the Prime Minister in a freestyle and did it all while performing under a faucet of torrential rain. It was fierce and fired up; it was political – "Theresa May, where's the money for Grenfell?"; and it was also heartwarming, especially when him and the choir sang their way through the gospel-influenced "Blinded By Your Grace". Yes, sure, the Daily Mail spilt tea all over their trousers about it, but music-heads were into it – including Classic FM who praised Stormzy's virtuoso talent, comparing him to Pavarotti in the way the MC gave that performance with all the vigour and determination of it being his last.

And look, I could reel off a load of banal platitudes here like "well, either way he's made history (he has – he's the first UK rap act to headline)". But if he's headlining, I want a spectacle. The last few headliners on the Pyramid Stage have been so forgettable they're not really any more distinguishable from the other blurred memories I keep in my brain regarding time spent in fields.

Radiohead? Good, but no better than expected. Kanye West? Didn't deliver. If you think I went to see Ed Sheeran, you're reading the wrong website. Really and truly, the last good Pyramid Stage set I witnessed in the flesh was Beyonce in 2011. It was a performance, it was unexpected and it had high-production value. OK, I'm lying; Radiohead exceeded my expectations because I thought they were gonna be terrible. But the point is we're long overdue a proper Pyramid headline set.

The time is ripe for Stormzy to come through and deliver, too. If that Brit Awards performance was the first stage in his metamorphosis, Glastonbury will be the culmination of an extended period of growth and we'll be witnessing an artist operating at a new level of prime. It's going to be anything but boring. Also, isn't this the sort of thing festivals should be doing? For years, music fans have bemoaned the lack of new headline acts. In Stormzy, we have a new rising star who properly fits the bill.

You can find Ryan on Twitter.

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