He could have called on Paul McCartney – an old-time Glastonbury favourite. He could have brought out cult British grime collaborator Skepta, or kept to the hits: none of the rampaging, racially-charged abrasion of his recent ‘Yeezus’ cuts. But Kanye West wanted to win over Glastonbury on his own terms tonight. The talk backstage at Worthy Farm all day had been of how the Chicago rapper, possibly the most controversial booking in 45 years of the Somerset festival, might try to endear himself to a crowd anticipating disaster: the guest stars he might bring on, the poppier, crowd-pleaser hits of old he might lean on to charm critics.
But Kanye, it turns out, wasn’t particularly interested in smoothing out his rough edges for any of the 133,000 who signed a petition asking for him to be cut from the lineup after his headline spot was announced. Instead, alone onstage throughout, bathed in gold light and dressed in blotted denim, he tore through a set that refused to plead for the Pilton’s approval. At least not in the way Ye’s former mentor Jay Z did when he took to the same stage in 2008, bundling nods to Oasis and AC/DC into his set to keep those who believed hip-hop has no home at Glastonbury on-side.
Alright, there was a burst of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in the encore. And yes, he declined to slip into one of his notorious 25-minute, corporation-criticising rants, a fixture of his stage show last year. But otherwise, this was Kanye at his usual confrontational self, filling the BBC airwaves – and likely tens of thousands of UK homes – with the explicit references to race, a week after Barack Obama caused a minor controversy by declaring that racism is about more than “it not being polite to say nigger in public.”
From a set that was always destined to get music fans talking – here are the five biggest talking points from tonight’s career-spanning spectacle, which culminated in Kanye proclaiming to an approximately 100,000-strong crowd: “YOU ARE WATCHING THE GREATEST LIVING ROCKSTAR ON THE PLANET!” Never change, Yeezy.
The stage invader
An early rendition of ‘New Slaves’, as Kanye tore out of the gates with high-tempo tracks, was interrupted by a stage invader. It transpires the trespasser was BBC3 “comedian” Lee Nelson – real name Simon Brodkan, probably best known for pulling a similar stunt on the England football team in 2014. Security quickly removed Nelson, but for a second it looked like Kanye’s rhythm had been disrupted, perhaps irrevocably. Kanye academics will tell you it’s a fine line between ego and insecurity that Kanye tightrope-walks in his music. As the rapper barked to his backing band to shut down the track, and stage lights turned to black, there was a moment where you wondered if the famously temperamental Mr Kardashian would actually return.
The Bon Iver guest spot
Justin Vernon is, according to Kanye addressing his Pyramid Stage faithful tonight, “one of the most badass white boys alive”. The ‘Skinny Love’ man’s appearance, sort-of kind-of visible beneath a cap through a mist of fog onstage, was an undoubted highlight of Kanye’s set. Turning ‘Lost In The World’ into a long and lush auto-tune jam, the pair recreated the chemistry they struck up in the studio on 2010’s ‘…Dark Twisted Fantasy’, also contributing to a brief, aborted attempt at ‘Yeezus’ track ‘Hold My Liquor’. Vernon was flown in especially for the show, suggesting that the pair’s working relationship remains strong. Could he feature on Ye’s upcoming new album? Speaking of which…
Sign up for the newsletter
No sign of a new record
Rumours online had suggested Kanye might use tonight’s show as a platform for his imminent new album, supposedly titled ‘SWISH’. Instead there was no new songs and no sign of the long-delayed ‘Yeezus’ follow-up, initially talked up by the rapper as potentially out in summer 2014. Instead, new material was limited to what we’ve already heard: the booming ‘All Day’, debuted at the Brit Awards, ‘Only One’, his lullaby-like organ ballad collaboration with Paul McCartney, released in January, and recent Rihanna collab ‘Four FiveSeconds’, also featuring Macca. The wait for ‘SWISH’ goes on.
“Now let’s them hiiii-iiiiii-ghhhhh! I’m gon’ touch the sky!” brayed Kanye towards the end of his set, returning to one of the anthems that introduced him to the American mainstream: ‘Touch The Sky’. He’ll have never sung it as literally as tonight. Hopping into a cherry picker for the song, he was lifted 30m into the air and floated over fans for the track and ‘All Of The Lights’, each met with huge, boisterous cheers and massive singalongs. All hail Crane-ye West.
So – is he the greatest living rock star on the planet?
He’s said it before, and tonight, he said it again – hot on the heels of a singalong snippet of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which he roared along with (Kanye-oke, anyone?). Whether or not this evening was enough to convince the haters of this remains to be seen: the crowd seemed to dwindle as the set went on, with opinion on Twitter divided, to say the least. But whatever your stance on the rapper, it’s tough to view tonight as anything but a milestone for Kanye, who proved no crowd can daunt him: even one, you imagine, that was partially full of people drawn to the set by its controversy, expecting to see him booed (bookies were offering 7/1 odds on him being jeered offstage earlier this week). Instead, Kanye let his intense, provoking six albums’ worth of modern hip-hop invention speak for itself, powering impressively – and alone – through his set. Dave Grohl may have something to say about it in 2016, should his leg recover and schedule allow. Till then: Kanye has made his rock star credentials well and truly known.