The most controversial man in music? The most controversial headline set ever? Controversy seems to follow Kanye West everywhere he goes. This could quite possibly be due to his exceedingly arrogant nature and seemingly being only seconds away from declaring himself to be the second coming or the Michael Jackson of his generation – whichever would be more blasphemous in the circumstance.
His unexpected announcement as a headline act of Glastonbury 2015 unsurprisingly saw a backlash similar to the one received by Jay-Z upon his announcement in 2008. The announcement of hip-hop artists and other who don’t fit the alternative mould demanded by Glastonbury’s clientele are generally not received with too much enthusiasm. However, this backlash went much further. A petition was started to have him removed which was signed by 134,000. This petition was later discovered to have been started by a gentleman who had never actually graced Worthy Farm with his presence. Perhaps more shockingly, death threats were sent to Emily Eavis for defending her family’s choice. Within the music industry, the reception was generally a much more positive one with Mumford & Sons even suggesting West to be an obvious choice as he is the ‘last rock star left’. In many ways, he truly is. No one in the past few years has gotten away with the behaviour and outrageous arrogance that West has.
Jay-Z, West’s compatriot and partner in crime, proved his doubters wrong in 2008 after opening is set with a euphoric Wonderwall-cum-99 Problems after Noel Gallagher accused him of being talentless. It is worth noting that Noel later retracted his reservations about the rap king’s booking. The only thing left for West to do, like Jay-Z did before him, was to prove his doubters both in the crowd and around the musical world wrong.
Sadly after yet again missing out on ticket to this musical bonanza, I write my reflection on his set based on what I saw on the television. However, I did have a couple of very reliable sources in the crowd who willingly filled me in on the evening’s events (making me exceedingly jealous in the process). This performance was always going to divide opinion, exemplified by my discussion with my editor the next morning who I found held polar opposite views to myself. West will always continue to divide opinion.
However, what I saw on the evening of 27th June, from the safety of my bed, I will only describe using one word: phenomenal. West brought it and he brought it in style. From the opening seconds of ‘Stronger’ I had only one wish, to be in that crowd at Worthy Farm. I sensed from the outset the spectacle which was about to be played out before my very eyes and my premonitions did not let me down. On that night, Kanye West made history with not only one of the most controversial performances at Glastonbury, but in my mind on of the best festival sets in a long time. West opened with a stance of defiance, emerging from a shroud of smoke and bright lights to play ‘Stronger’, followed by the explosive ‘Power’. Various betting companies prior to the performance has offered odd at short as 2/1 for West to be booed off stage. However, this was not to be as West had turned up to prove all the cynics wrong and repay the faith of the Eavis’. Only at one point early on during the performance did his inflated ego look vulnerable ad he may have cracked. This was Lee Nelson’s invasion of the stage during Black Skinhead which caused momentary disruption. Fortunately, this ridiculous stunt by the washed-up comedian was quickly stifled. West quickly restarted the interrupted song, refusing to be thrown off his stride and let anyone spoil his night
The lighting display was something never before seen at Glastonbury, but West had come to put on a show and nothing short of the best would satisfy, doubling the festivals power bill in the process.
What West did well was finding the balance between his material adored by the masses and played on Radio One and the lesser known material loved by his more ‘hardcore’ fans. Kanye West has one at least one new fan with this performance and probably many other around the world. At the culmination of ‘Clique’ delivered with the same attitude and authority I immediately purchased his ‘GOOD Music, Cruel Summer’ compilation. For those not that knowledgeable about the lesser known material of West, there may have appeared to be slight lulls during the performance during which all he seemingly did was shout the word n***a a lot, in a week where racism has re-entered the public spotlight. However, whenever I thought his performance hit a low point, West came back swinging. Firstly with the hauntingly beautiful ‘Blood on the Leaves’ and then ‘Hold My Liquor’. The raw power with which the latter was delivered made the hairs on my neck stand to attention.
Even a slightly bizarre tribute to his wife Kim Kardashian who was supporting him (I doubt with the masses in the crowd) with Justin Vernon a.k.a. Bon Iver could not put a dampener on the occasion. Vernon, described by West as the ‘baddest white boy’, joined him on stage for a rendition of ‘Lost in the World’ and a cover of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Furthermore, there was some business involving a crane during which West performed ‘Touch the Sky’ and ‘All of the Lights’ above the Pyramid stage which only added to the spectacle.
Very little of West’s giant ego had been shown with about ten minutes to go during the set. This rapidly changed with West declaring himself the greatest living rockstar on the planet during ‘Gold Digga’ which, despite being cut short, was loved by the crowd. Whilst West may be the only person to make these audacious claims, I can’t think of many other artists on the planet who have the right to join him in this. West was under immense pressure to perform on the night, the world as watching, and Jay-Z had already set the bar for him to reach. West’s performance differed to Jay-Z’s in that he let his music do the talking. The only criticism I have about it all was the lack of interaction with the crowd. However, what we cannot take away from him is that he went onto that stage on his own. Millions around the world were watching and waiting for him to capitulate. Whilst many will not agree with West’s sentiments that he is the greatest living rockstar, you cannot deny that he has one of the largest sets of balls in the music industry. West is an incredibly talented musician and a showman – and he proved that. How he really surprised me was by sounding as good live as he does on his recording (though he may have been aided in no short measure by the autotune device attached to his microphone…)
To conclude, West stood up to prove his doubters wrong and justify his place at the top of this prestigious festival bill. Love him or hate him, it was an undeniable spectacle. Many argue that hip-hop and rap do not have a place at Glastonbury, but for me the jury is out. West for me has fully justified its inclusion and proved that he is, in fact, perhaps not the greatest, but one of the greatest rockstars on the planet.