Kanye West and the Glastonbury Incident

This was written by author Warren Ellis, from his latest newsletter. Worth a read.

The most fascinating thing about Kanye’s set at Glastonbury was the lighting rig. I’m not being snarky. It was a giant plate of lights that lowered down on the stage like a blazing lid. And, with the absence of any other set dressing, and Kanye alone on the floor, it turned A Big Thing into something weirdly intimate. And then the lighting swirled, so that Kanye came in and out of view. If you were any more than fifty yards back, he would have been alternately revealed and hidden, sometimes picked out as a single silhouette. A welter of statements and responses to his status, the festival, the hating and the anticipation. He and his lighting and design crew are clever, clever buggers. The early imagery was pure confrontational rock heroics. We had great fun watching the bass drop so hard that one of the BBC cameras started vibrating. I actually felt bad for him when his right ear monitor clearly went out and he started slapping at it.

Pure rock heroics is, of course, a thing that goes in and out of fashion. Statement performances like that can seem culturally tone-deaf, in a space where Taylor Swift spends her days providing hugs for her audience and others have to profess daily that they’re “learning” from theirs. This is a time where much of the artistic community has to be seen to be in active, engaged conversation with their audiences. Supermystification gives way to radical demystification, and social media has massively extended the demystification period (add the usual exceptions to the rule yourself).

Demystification is also performative. In art, truth is illusion. Don’t trust any of us, not for a second.