When I read this morning’s report that Madonna has been lined up to headline Glastonbury 2019, my first thought was “about time – she’s only been the Queen of Pop for 30 years”. Then I braced myself for the inevitable gammony backlash. Glastonbury is the UK’s most iconic music festival, and though it’s retained its bohemian spirit and staggering capacity for strangeness, some people get very protective about the headliners. If you’re not a “proper rock band”, you’re not quite right – as Kanye West discovered in 2015.
For these people who’ve somehow managed to reduce the limitless potential of music into a set of numbingly conservative norms, Madonna’s an easy target. Already there are jokes on Twitter about her needing a Zimmer frame and resembling “your drunken aunt at a karaoke-themed christening”. These people clearly didn’t catch 2015’s awesome ‘Rebel Heart Tour’, when she delivered yet another arena show masterclass packed with spectacle, physicality and pure emotion. In terms of unflaggingly energetic stagecraft, her only real peer is Mick Jagger. Incidentally, he was 69 when the Rolling Stones headlined in 2013 – nine years older than Madonna will be when Glasto rolls next June.
Of course, the rockgammon’s problem with Madonna isn’t just that she’s “old”; it’s that she’s an “old” woman who does pop. Only three female artists have headlined the last 10 Glastonburys – Beyoncé, Adele and Florence and the Machine – and Madonna would be older and more obviously pop than all of them. But if we want Glastonbury to remain an iconic music festival, shouldn’t it be booking iconic headliners? It’s difficult to think of anyone more iconic than the fourth best-selling artist of all-time, the performer who alongside Michael Jackson set a template for the modern pop star, the activist who lobbied for LGBTQ rights before it was fashionable, the provocateur who was so dead-set on pushing the envelope that she simulated analingus and S&M in 1992’s jaw-dropping ‘Sex’ book, the punky upstart who cut her teeth with Basquiat and Keith Haring on the Lower East Side and became a superstar.
Madonna has earned the right to headline Glastonbury – several times over. She knows how to create an incredible stage show and her catalogue of hits is dazzling. Imagine a setlist that includes ‘Like a Prayer’, ‘Vogue’, ‘Holiday’, ‘Ray of Light’, ‘Music’, ‘La Isla Bonita’… you get the picture. And crucially, she’s still hungry. “I’ll stop doing everything that I do when I don’t want to do it anymore. I’ll stop when I run out of ideas. I’ll stop when you fucking kill me. How about that?” she told Harper’s Bazaar last year. It’s this defiant attitude that could – and should – illuminate the Pyramid Stage next June.