It is no real surprise when there is a backlash against an artist playing a festival. There has always been a trend of people deeming anyone that doesn’t fit their rigid parameters of quality as “garbage” – I have been guilty of this myself, but it now appears that not only are people disappointed by festival selections, they are actively campaigning against them.
There appear to be two lines of thought for the risible recent petitions to prevent Kanye West’s Glastonbury headline slot. The first is that his music is mainstream hip hop, perhaps akin to 50 Cent or Lil Wayne, emblematic of a once countercultural festival now appealing to the lowest common denominator. This idea seems to me to be one of people that have never listened to Kanye West’s music. On a purely artistic level, Kanye is one of the most significant, innovative artists of the 21st Century in any genre. Before his solo work, he produced one of the defining hip hop albums, Jay-Z’s ‘The Blueprint’, stamping his mark all over the album’s sound and on the collective cultural conscience.
He started his own output with ‘The College Dropout’ and ‘Late Registration’, garnering huge acclaim for his amalgamation of socially, racially and politically conscious lyrics with infectious hooks and accessible pop beats. As gangsta rap dominated, Kanye eschewed the genre for a more playful, engaging feel, in a similar way to De La Soul 15 years prior.
He did not rest within his comfort zone, and his subsequent albums, ‘Graduation’ and ‘808s & Heartbreak’, fluttered between genres while maintaining their own identity. Electronic music became a stronger part of Kanye’s repertoire, before he adopted a minimalist style, radically ditching the form that gained popularity for a stripped back, more classic ‘singing’ approach.
Then, in 2010, Kanye West delivered, simply, one of the greatest albums of the last 20 years. ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ is a masterpiece, pushing the boundaries of both hip hop and pop music, redefining a genre and striking its audience in a way that ‘OK Computer’ did for rock. Five years on, it stands up as a masterpiece. If that was his ‘OK Computer’, then his most recent album, ‘Yeezus’, is his ‘Kid A’, combining hip hop and pop with genuinely hard, challenging music, dirty bass lines, and almost avant-garde, incongruous samples.
There is an idea that music that relies on production and samples is somehow not “real music”. This real music term seems to exclusively mean “white men with guitars”. Kanye West’s music is more challenging, innovative and, dare I say, significant than almost anyone working in “mainstream” music today. Looking at some of Glastonbury’s recent headliners – Mumford & Sons, Muse, Coldplay, U2 – where were the objections for that bland list? Kanye has made a succession of albums that ignore what is to be expected, that challenge him as an artist and us as listeners. The aforementioned bands have done anything but. Yes, Kanye is arrogant, but he backs it up. Kendrick Lamar released an astonishing, creative album this week – one wonders if in 5 years there will be a petition against him playing Glastonbury as he does not make “real music”. The glorious thing about music is that it’s ever changing, not stagnant. It evolves. One can imagine that were Glastonbury around in the 1950s, people would be objecting to Little Richard as this “other” genre is not jazz, or in the 1920s they would be protesting that Duke Ellington was not “real music”.
The other common reason for the petition appears to be that Kanye West’s personality does not fit the “ethos and spirit” of Glastonbury. It is impossible to deny that he is, frankly, a bell end, but let’s look at some recent performers that were welcomed with open arms. On the bell end scale, it would be hard to usurp Bono and the Gallaghers. Of course, Kanye cannot play, but come in tax-evading, narcissistic Bono, come in Noel Gallagher, who said of Blur “I hope they catch AIDS and die”, and your brother Liam (does that even need to be explained?) Yes come in Nate Mendel, Foo Fighters bassist who organised a benefit concert in support of the idea that HIV and AIDS are not linked, and come in Keith Richards, who was arrested for possession of heroin with the intention of trafficking. Wait, who’s that at the back? And what did he do? What?! He was rude to Taylor Swift?! GET OUT!!!
Doesn’t really hold up, does it? Do we really think many people would have objected even if The Rolling Stones line-up had included Bill Wyman, who dated a 13 year old girl at the age of 47? But that’s different, isn’t it? Because The Rolling Stones are “proper music”, and Kanye pissed off Beck fans a bit. Glastonbury goers want “real rock n roll stars”, but you mustn’t mildly offend anyone else at an awards ceremony.
If you really don’t like his music, then don’t go to see him. There are over 2000 acts at Glastonbury; if you are going solely for one headliner, you are kind of missing the point. And if you don’t like him, you can always get some “real music” from the other confirmed headliners, Foo Fighters. Where’s the Nate Mendel petition again? Remember, the HIV/AIDS denier? Oh yes, of course, Foo Fighters are white men with guitars. Nevermind.