Two Worlds Collide: The King of Bling. Jay-Z Was a Strange Choice to Headline a Hippie Festival, but Perhaps Both He and His Audience Came Away a Little Wiser

By O'Keeffe, Alice | New Statesman (1996), July 14, 2008 | Go to article overview

Two Worlds Collide: The King of Bling. Jay-Z Was a Strange Choice to Headline a Hippie Festival, but Perhaps Both He and His Audience Came Away a Little Wiser


O'Keeffe, Alice, New Statesman (1996)


Michael Eavis, founder and director of the Glastonbury Festival, was clear about his motives for inviting the rapper Jay-Z to perform in the headline Saturday-night slot. "I don't understand the music," he admitted to the BBC's hip-hop guru Tim Westwood. However, "I was very keen on the Obama thing ... With [Barack] Obama coming through in America it seemed very appropriate to have a black fella headline Glastonbury."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

If the booking was a symbolic one, Noel Gallagher of the rock group Oasis helped to make it controversial by denouncing the lack of Anglo-Saxon rock in the top slot. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said an interview shortly after the lineup was announced. "Glastonbury has a tradition of guitar music ... I'm not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It's wrong."

The subsequent discussions on blogs and in pubs around the country had an uncomfortable racial dimension. But it wasn't simply Jay-Z's skin colour that riled the critics; for many people he represents a high-rolling, Cristal-swilling, misogynistic hip-hop culture that seems at odds with the festival's hippie ethos. The British rapper Tricky, for one, sided with Gallagher. "He's not actually that good," he said. "If it was like, Public Enemy or Rakim, you might get away with it, because Rakim's an extreme talent, and Public Enemy changed the face of music. People in England would probably relate to that more. But the 'bling bling, I'm God' sort of bullshit, English people ain't into that."

All the chatter gave Jay-Z's appearance something of a clash-of-civilisations significance before he had so much as raised a bejewelled hand to the mike. Never one to sell himself short, he began the show with a video montage featuring world leaders, including the Queen, Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin, contributing their tuppence-worth to the debate. "I'm pleasantly surprised he is playing," read the subtitles beneath footage of Putin making a speech. "He's definitely got better hair than me," proffered Kim Jong-il. The masterstroke came when the opening chords of "Wonderwall" by Oasis rang out across the field and Jay-Z made his entrance clutching - what else?--an electric guitar, delivering a tuneless rendition of the indie classic.

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