Grime superstar Stormzy has won plaudits for an electrifying and history-making headline set at Glastonbury on Friday night, which saw him highlight Britain’s knife crime crisis and racial inequality in its criminal justice system.
Stormzy became the first black British solo artist to headline the festival in its 49-year history, delivering a high-charged, political and at times emotional performance on the venue’s legendary Pyramid Stage.
He started his set in a stab-proof vest bearing a Union Jack flag, which street artist Banksy later said he had designed.
“I made a customised stab-proof vest and thought – who could possibly wear this? Stormzy at Glastonbury,” Banksy wrote on Instagram, alongside an image of the star backstage.
The design is a likely nod to the knife crime epidemic that has plagued British streets in recent years, an issue Stormzy has spoken and rapped about in the past.
The 25-year-old became the second-youngest headliner at the festival, after a 24-year-old David Bowie played the festival in Somerset, western England, in 1971. He also shone a spotlight on the proportion of Britain’s incarcerated population that is black, sampling a speech by Labour politician David Lammy and flashing statistics on the screen behind him.
“Humbled and inspired that he sampled my speech,” Lammy wrote on Twitter in response, along with a video of the moment.
Stormzy also invited a black ballet dancer onstage, while highlighting that ballet shoes have only recently become available in skin tones other than white.
And during his new single “Vossi Bop,” he allowed the thousands-strong crowd to gleefully sing the most political line: “F— the government and f— Boris” in a reference to the front-runner in the race to be the next Prime Minister.
The set was the culmination of a stratospheric rise for Stormzy, who has propelled grime music — a genre which emerged from the jungle and garage scene in economically marginalized parts in London at the turn of the century — comfortably into the mainstream in the UK and beyond.
His debut album, “Gang Signs & Prayer,” became the first grime work to top the UK album charts, and it won him Brit and MOBO awards and numerous other nominations.
The rapper has also earned praise for his political interventions and his involvement in a variety of social issues, and has criticized the lack of diversity in higher education and the music industry.
Music stars including Drake and Adele, and politicians including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, were quick to congratulate the star on his milestone performance.
“I’m so proud of him, Stormzy just monumentally headlined Glastonbury in his own right with one album,” Adele wrote on Instagram. “I have love in abundance for this strong, sweet and honest man,” added the singer, who headlined the festival in 2016.
“@Stormzy headlining Glastonbury and that. Madness congrats,” Drake added on Instagram.
And Corbyn, who was supported by grime stars including Stormzy during the 2017 UK general election, wrote on Twitter: “Tonight @Stormzy made history by being the first black solo British headliner at Glastonbury. The performance was political, iconic and the ballet was beautifully powerful. It won’t just go down in Glastonbury history – it’ll go down in our country’s cultural history.”
The star performed his biggest hits throughout, bringing out Coldplay frontman Chris Martin for a performance of “Blinded By Your Grace Part One” and mixing in a cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.”
He closed with the second part of the ballad “Blinded By Your Grace” and his most-popular single, “Big For Your Boots.”
A video of a sign language interpreter working during his set went viral shortly afterwards, as users flocked to social media to comment on Stormzy’s performance.
The Killers will headline at the festival on Saturday, before The Cure close out the weekend on Sunday night. Festival-goers have been sweltering in temperatures of more than 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) at the event, as Britain experiences the fringes of a heat wave that is sweeping through mainland Europe.