Kanye West Delivers Polarizing Performance at Glastonbury Festival

OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images
Kanye West performs on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival of Music and Performing Arts on Worthy Farm near the village of Pilton in Somerset, South West England, on June 27, 2015.

The most controversial Glastonbury Festival headline booking since Jay Z in 2008, Kanye West took to the Pyramid Stage on Saturday night with the knowledge that more than 130,000 people had signed a petition protesting his presence

There were signs that online action could spill into something more serious ahead of Kanye’s performance at the famous fest, which doesn't traditionally favor hip hop. Co-organizer Emily Eavis had claimed she'd even received death threats in the wake of his announcement and one British newspaper speculated that West would be showered with bottles of urine.

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It was important for him, then, to make one hell of an entrance. Both Jay Z and, in 2011, Beyonce decided to go immediately in with the big guns, opening with their best known tunes. Wisely, Kanye did the same, with a double whammy of “Stronger” and “Power” which, with the sky lit by flares and a chaotic atmosphere in the crowd, gave the opening a sense of dangerous occasion.

Four songs in, with “Black Skinhead,” there were gasps and some confusion when a stage invader crashed the proceedings, running towards West in a t-shirt emblazoned with "Lee-Zus". Instantly grabbed by a security guard, it quickly became clear that he not only meant the rapper no harm, but he was the British comedian Simon Brodkin in his guise as character Lee Nelson. Later he would claim on Twitter he had planned to interrupt the gig as a protest against Kanye's treatment of Taylor Swift at the MTV VMAs in 2009. Still, the moment temporarily put West off his stride and he was forced to restart the song. 

There were two ways this set could have gone -- hits-heavy crowd pleaser, or avant garde hip-hop sonic terrorism, cut up with lengthy rants. In the end, it was a bit of both, though minus the rants. Pacing backwards and forwards under a lowered lighting platform which added intimacy to what was essentially a one-man show, the mid-set sludged into deep cuts, often beatless, losing the momentum.

Glastonbury 2015: Kanye West's Set Interrupted by Stage Crasher

Just as this most party-friendly crowd began drifting out of the field, a second run at “Touch the Sky” after a long pause due to a technical hitch kicked everything up a level for a triumphant last run of “All Of the Lights” and “Gold Digger.” But Kanye remained a man alone, under a bank of bright light. 

It was a brave way to take on Glastonbury but not an entirely successful one.