Brendan O’Neill

The great irony of Stormzy’s Glastonbury set

The great irony of Stormzy's Glastonbury set
Text settings

Look, I like Stormzy. I’ve been listening to his new single on a loop for the past week. He’s a talented guy. But the fawning over his Glastonbury performance has been bizarre.

Everyone from Glasto’s mostly white middle-class attendees to Jeremy Corbyn and his online army has been hailing it as a high point of musical rebellion and a historic two-finger salute to the evil Tory government. Get a grip — it was nothing of the kind.

In fact, musically Stormzy’s set may have been thrilling, but politically it was kind of ridiculous. Sure, he said ‘Fuck the government’ — making square lefties chirp with excitement — but his show was infused with government thinking. He opened his set with a surreal, Big Brother-style video manifestation of Labour MP David Lammy talking about racial unfairness in the criminal-justice system — which all comes from a government-commissioned report!

The Lammy Review was set up by David Cameron. It was continually backed by Theresa May. Its advisory board included three dames, two baronesses, two sirs and a lord. It was enthusiastically welcomed by those evil Tories. The Lord Chancellor, by Command of Her Majesty, hailed it as ‘important’, ‘detailed’, and ‘incisive’.

It’s about as establishment as it gets. And that subject framed Stormzy’s show and his comments on the bias black youths allegedly face. Stormzy wasn’t rebelling against the government — he was doing its bidding. He was behaving effectively as an establishment spokesman, foisting upon the Glastonbury audience the political elite’s view of why so many young black men get mixed up in crime.

Stormzy headlining Glasto sampling @DavidLammy on racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system. Wow. Talk about using a platform to give voice to those who are maligned and ignored because of their race and class.

— Jack McKenna (@_jackmckenna) June 28, 2019

Stormzy’s much-lauded lyric ‘Fuck the government’ looks increasingly like a desperate attempt to disguise what he has become — an entirely establishment figure. There is no chattering-class orthodoxy Stormzy hasn’t embraced. The woke obsession with race, the politics of victimhood, the ill-thought-through Tory-bashing — it’s all there.

And the idea that the former residents of Grenfell Tower haven’t had any money yet, too. ‘Yo, Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell?’, he rapped at the BRITs last year, once again making the Twitterati whoop with delight.

And yet, as Andrew O’Hagan pointed out, blasphemously in this era of Stormzy worship, the Grenfell families swiftly received more than £23m after the fire. Stormzy looked like ‘just another rich pop star taking advantage of people’s pain to sound relevant’, O’Hagan said.

That’s what it looked like at Glastonbury too: a wealthy, widely-celebrated rapper trying to appear relevant, this time using the speech of a politician.

To be fair to Stormzy, he wasn’t the only Glastonbury attendee posing as countercultural while pumping out cultural orthodoxies. They were all at it.

Watching Glastonbury feels increasingly like being hit over the head with a copy of the Guardian. David Attenborough rocked up to congratulate the festival on giving up plastic. ‘Yaaay!’, screamed the crowd, before heading back to their plastic tents. (Attenborough rather overlooked the fact that, thanks to the plastic-bottle ban, people had to queue for ages in blazing heat for water refills...)

Olly Alexander of Years and Years gave a five-minute lecture on the meaning of the word ‘queer’, because that’s exactly what you want when you’re at a rock gig, right? There were anti-Brexit posters — put up by the billboard movement Led By Donkeys — and what could be more establishment than loathing Brexit?

Columnists caught the spirit of the new, stiff, PC Glastonbury with articles titled ‘Beauty tips for Glastonbury that don’t include cultural appropriation’ and ‘Can Glastonbury help me shed my toxic masculinity?

That latter piece, published in the Guardian natch, is about a new zone in Glastonbury, called the Shed, in which blokes go to detoxify. It teaches you how to be a ‘better ally to women’. Remember when men went to music festivals to shag women? (And women went to shag men.) Now they go for painful PC lectures on how to tone down the manliness.

What a frightful affair. Whether the audience is being fed claims about black victimhood or being trained to neuter their masculinity or being lectured about queer culture, it seems Glastonbury is becoming a kind of church for the tragic and right-on. 

Rebellious? Please. That’s the great irony of the Stormzy set: he said ‘Fuck Boris’, and yet Boris, being pro-Brexit, un-PC and sceptical about climate change (once upon a time), is far more countercultural than Stormzy will ever be.