Years & Years singer Olly Alexander has emerged as one of the most outspoken frontmen of his generation, and today he used that platform to deliver the most powerful and thought-provoking message of Glastonbury 2016.
Appearing onstage in a flamboyant, multi-coloured, feathered jacket and tiny silver shorts, he twirls about the Pyramid Stage as the London band opens with the tropical ‘Take Shelter’. It’s perversely appropriate, given that it’s pissing down and everyone’s up to their necks in soup-like mud. Then comes ‘Shine’, continuing the theme. A victory lap of the featherweight chorus coincides with a burst of confetti showering the front rows and during the applause, Alexander says of his outfit, “I feel like a bird of paradise – a rainbow bird of paradise.”
He’s certainly a rare breed: only such a well-loved musician could get away with introducing new material (the synthy ‘See Me Now’) in the midst a festival set that’s only an hour long and Years & Years even manage to successfully rework Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ as a sultry R&B ballad. Alexander invites the crowd to vogue with him and at one point dances sexily with a female dancer in a ripped white t-shirt. Openly gay, he’s made it his mission to set an example as someone who’s comfortable with their sexuality. It’s a role that fits him as snugly as those silver shorts.
Towards the end of the set, he delivers his speech, which references the tragedy that befell 50 people shot and killed at a gay club in Orlando last month. “It’s been an amazing show,” he says, “and I can’t believe we’re here today. But what I keep thinking about is how in the last year there’s been a lot of pretty scary and messed up stuff. As queer people, we know what it’s like to be scared. We know what it’s like to live with fear; it’s part of our every day life.”
“Tonight, Glastonbury, I would like to ask you to join me, on [Gay Pride] weekend, and say, ‘No thank you, fear.’ Just say, ‘’By, fear, bye!”. Shove a rainbow in fear’s face. What I have to say is, ‘I’m here, I’m queer and, yes, sometimes I’m afraid – but I am never ashamed because I am proud of who I am.’”
The field was eerily quiet during his speech but explodes into cheers at the last line. The band’s rendition of the whirling ‘King’, with Alexander writhing about with backing dancers of both genders, feels like a celebration of everything he stands for.
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