So Glastonbury is here again, Dear Reader, and with it comes the inevitable arguments over who ‘deserves’ to headline and who doesn’t. The consensus from boring people seems to be that The Cure and The Killers have ‘earned’ their headline status by having existed forever and featuring at least one guitar each, while Stormzy shouldn’t be headlining because he’s only one album in and has the sheer audacity to not be a collection of white men.
But here at Dork, we don’t believe in boring. One of the most vital and exciting acts in the UK headlining its biggest festival is undeniably a good thing; the fact that he hasn’t been around for 6 million years or written a song your dad used to listen to in the car on the way to school is a vote in his favour as far as we’re concerned.
And anybody claiming he isn’t a big enough deal? Don’t be daft. His debut album ‘Gang Signs and Prayer’ was grime’s first ever Number 1 album and got more UK streams in a week than Drake’s ‘Views’, which is mind-boggling for a bloke in his early twenties from Croydon. Even before the debut Stormzy had marked himself out as something special, he broke the Top Ten with ‘Shut Up’, and that was just a freestyle he recorded in a car park.
It isn’t just musical success that makes Stormzy special, though. #Merky Books, his imprint with Penguin, has already released Rise Up, a part-biography, part business guide and part self-help book. But his next aim is to make #Merky Books the home for “a new generation of readers, and a new generation of writers.” To do this, he’s set up a New Writers’ Prize which will give one writer a publishing contract and representation, giving a voice to someone starting out.
This spirit of giving doesn’t stop there, he’s also announced plans to fund two scholarships for black British students to go to Cambridge University, paying their tuition fees and living costs. Initiatives like these, coupled with coming across as a normal bloke on chat shows like Jonathan Ross mean the man isn’t just at the top of the game musically, he’s become an established figure in the mainstream UK media in a way that most massive acts never manage.
If all of this hasn’t convinced you, we’re probably wasting our time, but consider this: Stormzy isn’t just one of the headliners at Glasto, he was the first act announced for the entire festival. That kind of thing doesn’t happen by accident; it happens when the organisers know they’ve got one of the most exciting, culturally relevant and explosive performers in the UK music scene and want to shout about it. Sure, The Cure and The Killers have been around longer, but they haven’t truly strayed into the mainstream in years.
So he’s big enough to headline, we’ve got that sorted. But what we haven’t talked about yet is that his set will be the best headline performance of the whole weekend. Tracks like ‘Shut Up’ and ‘Cold’ will get the crowd going, sure, but it’s going to be when he breaks out his softer side that it’ll really feel special. Glastonbury is all about moments, and while ‘Mr. Brightside’ will probably be the biggest singalong of the festival, tracks like ‘Blinded by Your Grace Pt. 2’ will be responsible for the most hugs, tears and lighters in the air.
When Boy Better Know headlined the Other Stage in 2017, it was the most talked about set of the weekend – grime had come of age. Now Stormzy’s been passed the torch and is headlining the whole bloody festival. It’s been 17 years since the first grime tracks started poking their heads out of London’s estates, which is almost as long as The Killers have been bashing out arena-rock bangers. It isn’t just a triumph for Stormzy; it’s a triumph for a whole genre.
The Killers will be great, and the Cure will undeniably put on a good show (when they finally get through the 300 B-sides and deep cuts and decide to play ‘Boys Don’t Cry’), but neither of them are new or exciting. Anyone who has wanted to see them headline a festival could have done so in 2009, whereas this is Stormzy’s first time in the spotlight. He headlined Wireless last year and smashed it out of the park; he turned the Brit Awards into a political statement that people were talking about for weeks – you think he won’t win Glastonbury over?
Words: Jake Hawkes