Stormzy was the first black British solo artist to headline the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, and boy did he make the most out of the historical moment.
Last night (Friday 27 June), my 62-year-old mum - whose record collection heavily features ABBA and The Osmonds - watched the whole Stormzy at Glastonbury set while tapping her foot and enjoying a glass of red wine. “That was great, he must be knackered,” she concluded, before heading off to bed.
I don’t know what I was more amazed at: Stormzy or my mum’s unexpected reaction to him?
After a quick Twitter scroll, it was clear that the set managed to engage with and emotionally move thousands of other viewers. The headlines quickly followed, calling the show “iconic” and “a glorious victory”.
In case there was any doubt before, this confirms the full scale of Stormzy’s exciting talent, refreshing appeal and political reach. It also proves that generations can listen to and learn from each other – which, sadly, seems to be what our society is lacking right now. Because if my 70s pop music-loving mum is now Stormzy’s biggest fan, she’s clearly very interested in what he’s saying.
Stormzy has already done a lot for black voices, especially those from under-privileged backgrounds. The rapper set up the Stormzy Scholarship last year, which offers two scholarships to black students at Cambridge University. He also recently launched the #Merky Books New Writer’s Prize at Penguin Random House UK, dedicated to publishing books from a new generation of voices. And he’s the second youngest artist ever to headline Glastonbury (beaten by a 24-year-old David Bowie in 1971), which will surely inspire younger people who identify themselves in him.
So, it’s no surprise that he used his platform at Glastonbury to raise political issues during a moment when political apathy is arguably at its peak. This is a time when we still haven’t resolved Brexit, Boris Johnson is likely to become prime minister and there is still no real justice for Grenfell fire victims two years on.
Wearing a Union Jack stab vest as he walked on stage, which highlighted the news that the rate of knife homicides is at its highest in England and Wales, it was clear that Stormzy had a lot to say.
The set opened with an introductory video of Jay-Z explaining to Stormzy how he could use the moment to change culture and inspire future generations of black children. “Culture moves the world,” he said. “When you step on that stage, you’re going to see it because they are really ready for it.”
Later in the performance, crime statistics flashed on the video screens while sampling a speech by Labour MP David Lammy on racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system. Stormzy also highlighted racism and privilege in the arts by inviting classically-trained dancers on stage. And he paid tribute to all the artists before him who made it possible for the “greatest night” of his life to happen.
Oh, and we mustn’t forget the moment he got the world’s biggest festival’s crowd to chant “f**k the government, f**k Boris Johnson” back at him during a song.
Further proof of the rapper’s ability to connect with people from all generations and backgrounds - even if they don’t like rap music - was evident on Twitter:
The fact that the set of the first black British solo artist to headline Glastonbury was played in people’s living rooms by the BBC on a Friday night is iconic in itself. But the way it engaged with so many people, and started so many important conversations, cements the fact that we – all of us – need to listen to more diverse voices.
My mum, whose politics actually often differ from my own, 100% agrees.