The people who don’t want Kanye West to headline Glastonbury don’t get what a rock star he really is

What, no guitars?
What, no guitars?
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Glastonbury began in 1970—a day after Jimi Hendrix died—at Michael Eavis’s farm, in Somerset, England—and 1,500 people attended to watch The Kinks headline. Last year, in the same place, more than 120,000 attended the festival, one one of the world’s biggest music events.

It traditionally features rock and indie music—and like many music festivals, the audience tends to be young and white, the kind people who like to roll around in mud for three days. The headliner this year will be Kanye West, who is black and doesn’t play rock music, and not everyone is happy about that. A petition to cancel his performance and “get a rock band” has got more than 126,000 signatures.

Eleanor Head, from Kent in England, wrote:

Glastonbury Festival is about classic bands, not these sorts of hip-hop artists.

Joseph Roberts, from Las Vegas, added:

I’m taking a stand for “real” musicians. Please don’t let this animal ruin music.

The message is quite clear. This subtle variation of what Kanye West would call “classism“ is not new—it manifested itself in 2008, when Jay Z was invited to be the first rapper ever to headline the festival. The outrage was even louder then, summed up best by Oasis lead singer Noel Gallagher, who opined:

Glastonbury has a tradition of guitar music… I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It’s wrong.

Jay Z went on to triumphantly headline the festival, opening with a video of the controversy and then playing a mocking version of Oasis’s biggest hit:

Michael Eavis’s daughter, Emily, who runs the show now, has felt compelled to comment on the new backlash, noting that the “originator of the petition admits that he has never actually been to the festival.” She added:

Our message to the man who started the petition is that like any other ticket-holder, he is very welcome to get a refund. But better still, come to the festival and open your mind to some wonderful music and performances from all corners of the world.

Ultimately, there is no question in my mind that we have got one of the greatest artists of his generation headlining, and we have no regrets at all about booking him. As the late, great Glastonbury regular Lou Reed said about Kanye: ‘The guy really, really, really is talented. He’s really trying to raise the bar. No one’s near doing what he’s doing, it’s not even on the same planet.’ And we’ve got him coming to our farm! In rural Somerset! That’s great, right?

Indeed it is. And it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see West, famous for his elaborate sets and showmanship, perform songs like this in front of 100,000 people: