Last week it was announced that Kanye West has been booked to headline Saturday night at Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, commonly known as Glastonbury (or Glasto, for insiders or willing-to-be-cool ones), taking place from 24th to 28th June. This festival is an incomparable institution and established benchmark for the music industry not only in the United Kingdom, the country which is hosting it, but literally worldwide. Almost everyone revolving around the music business eagerly awaits the announcement of its usually star-filled line-up and it clearly represents one of the global highlights of the live entertainment industry. This year, the announcement of Yeezus on Earth Kanye West as one of the headliners has been accompanied by an incredible amount of (mainly) negative reaction on the Interweb, which even peaked with an online petition launched to prevent the US rapper from performing at this year’s event. While I’m probably not among the best suited ones to comment on this – not the biggest Kanye’s fan, never been to Glasto (see what I did there?), not planning on going this year – I can’t do anything but say a few words about this outrageous outburst of negativity.
First things first, in response to the huge amount of shitstorm devoted to the decision – and apparently quite exceptionally – Glastonbury’s organiser Emily Eavis took some time to write dedicated words of commentary in the “always-useful-in-these-cases” Guardian. She said that she and her father Michael wouldn’t normally comment on such a online campaign, “but given the enormous amount of media coverage from all corners of the globe we felt compelled to respond this time”. According to gatekeeping criteria applied by news practitioners her main response was: “We think the story this year should not be: ‘Why is Kanye coming?’ but: ‘How amazing is it that Kanye is coming?'”. But what struck me even more than such filtered headline is the following passage from Emily’s letter to the paper, which I think entails too many truths about current self-indulgent and disruptive online mentalities:
“I’ve realised over the years of announcing line ups that, literally, whoever you reveal will be met with some hate online. I have such faith in humanity, but believe me, some of the vitriol being thrown around this week has made me question the dark underbelly of the web. Who are those people silently shouting in disgust, throwing out threats from behind their screens? It certainly isn’t pleasant to be on the receiving end of that. I can’t even imagine how it makes Kanye feel.”
Besides the fact that every music or art festival should be a celebration of talent, open-mindedness and diversity a priori and should make every artist feel welcome, I don’t really think contesting Glasto’s decision to pick Kanye as headliner with the launch of an online petition is really holding ground even on a more facts-oriented level. He’s arguably the biggest pop-star in the world, does what he does pretty well as well as confidently and can always assure with 100% certainty a hell of a live show, like it or not. Again, not the biggest Kanye’s fan myself – he’s actually making it quite hard to make himself likeable, cf. the recent drama scenery with Beck at the Grammys – but even if you can’t stand a single note off his music or don’t wanna look at him at any cost, as Emily rightfully pointed out, he’s just grabbing a “particular two-hour slot on one of the 100 stages at our five-day event” off of the precious time of thousands music connoisseurs who know everything better anyway. Also, even after doing the effort of neglecting to expand on the fact that petition-starter Neil Lonsdale has never been to Glastonbury before and should therefore be the last one to claim authority with regard to the sake of the festival, it’s hard not to see such explosion of rage against Glasto’s decision as only enabled by the clustering anonymity of the web and, above all, a rising tendency of disentanglement on the part of users who feel more and more disconnected from each other.
I believe Emily is sadly right in calling the portion of online haters involved in the anti-Kanye campaign the “dark underbelly of the web”: why are they spending so much energy onto something they can probably not even change anymore on the one hand, and which they should peacefully and serenely accept as a clear representation of the present mainstream music landscape on the other hand? Is this episode not a clear manifestation of a larger tendency taking place online which commands to criticise, intoxicate, and wreck as much as possible in any given case – just take a look at the comments section of a random YouTube video to see what I mean by this – behind the apparent safety of a device connected to the Internet? To me, such members of the “dark underbelly of the web” should be reminded that real life is lived disconnected from the web, there is where the magic can still happen and where individual energy is really worth using. The Internet can be a very weird and wicked place.
Anyways, I really hope Kanye’s going to rock the shit outta that main stage and gonna make everyone shut up by the intensity and greatness of his performance, which all in all should be the only real criterion used to judge his suitability to be playing there at that time. After all, he deserves to be there just like any other mainstream huge artist who’s played the main stage during a headlining stage across Glasto’s history before. Funnily enough, this unwelcoming atmosphere that embraces the approaching of the festival could also be the perfect pre-condition for Kanye to put on the perfect response in form of a show outta sight. Wouldn’t that be the biggest of ironies?
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.