All I can do this time is sigh. The overwhelming feeling of “haven’t we been here before?” is so disappointing. No matter how much anyone against Kanye West headlining on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage claims it’s nothing to do with racism or hip hop (a genre of music intrinsically tied to black people and the black experience), I can’t help but feel uncomfortable and unsatisfied with these denials.
As the petition to continues to gather names (well over 54,000 as I type this), the title of online appeal “Cancel Kanye West’s headline slot and get a rock band” makes it very difficult to feel that there isn’t an element of racism in there somewhere.
Some people will deny this and say we’ve come a long way since Noel Gallagher said having a hip hop headliner was “wrong” when Jay Z was booked in 2008. After all, there’s been Beyonce and Wu-Tang Clan since then. But, I feel underneath the surface, there’s an element of Glastonbury Festival die-hards and young bloods (with preconceived ideas about what the event should be like) that were just waiting for the opportunity to formulate a mass complaint about hip hop again. And Kanye West has given them the best excuse they could hope for. I can’t help but feeling as though many of these angry petitioners have been gifted a target they can fire at whilst dodging accusations of racism.
Don’t get me wrong. I agree that with many peoples’ assessment of Kanye as an egotistical, for want of a better word “knob”. I have cringed at his VMA antics regarding Taylor Swift and then again at the Grammy’s with Beck. But whether I like him on a personal level or not, he is undeniably a hip hop and music heavyweight. With album sales of 21 million and 66 million downloads, Kanye’s musical achievements are nothing to be scoffed at. He is just as worthy of headlining as Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkey, The White Stripes and many other “rock bands” to have graced the stage over the last 15 years.
My white best friend makes the very good point that the motivation for this petition is more to do with Glastonbury’s traditions as a rock festival, but I don’t really see how Simply Red or UB40 (who both headlined in the 1980s) fit that bill. Neither of these acts provoked such outcry. Perhaps it’s more acceptable when “black” music is presented with “white” faces?
Hip hop is a major musical force. The overwhelming majority of popular hip hop artists are black. And it leaves a bad taste in my mouth to see such a massive groundswell of support to reject it. If a group with a song voted the most controversial in history can headline at Glastonbury (link to Smack My Bitch up poll result), why not Kanye West? It’s difficult enough being in the minority and when you are in the majority, I believe you have a duty to think about how your actions may be perceived. Whether or not you mean it to come across this way, I know I’m not alone in feeling that the furore about Kanye has uncomfortable racial undertones. So, if you’re thinking of signing the petition against Kanye West, really think about the message you may be sending to many black people when rejecting a form on music so indelibly linked to our culture. In fact, why not put aside your faux outrage and have a chuckle at this instead?