The Glastonbury Alex hype is proof of how the media and the music industry continue to overlook black artists

Gross double standards by the mainstream media resulted in a white teenager being praised for reciting the 'Thiago Silva' rap after AJ Tracey – the artist who wrote the lyrics – was accused of promoting gang violence in his music videos

Roisin O'Connor
Music Correspondent
Friday 05 July 2019 12:11
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Young fan goes viral rapping 'Thiago Silva' with Dave at Glastonbury

Last week, the rapper Dave was performing on the Other Stage at Glastonbury Festival. Scouting the fans at the front of the audience as he asked someone to help him out on a track, he spotted one teenager wearing a bucket hat and a Thiago Silva football shirt.

“I see a PSG shirt over there. Do you know the lyrics?” he asked. “He looks like he knows the lyrics. He’s wearing a Thiago Silva shirt. Let’s take a chance on him.” And the rest, as anyone who was watching the set will know, is history.

Alex Mann, as the 15-year-old was later identified, did know all the words to Dave and AJ Tracey’s track “Thiago Silva”. He did very well, despite looking understandably petrified in front of thousands of people, and the millions more watching from home. It was a wonderful moment – one of those rare occasions where a spontaneous bit of crowd interaction during a live show really comes off, forming a combined sense of joy and relief.

At first, it seemed like the world had fallen in love with that moment too. Newspapers wrote about the Dave fan at Glastonbury who’d won hearts with his gutsy performance. Thiago Silva himself responded after seeing the now-viral video, commenting “thanks Alex!” below the BBC clip and tagging Dave and AJ Tracey on Twitter, to the rappers’ delight.

Meanwhile, Alex was invited onto Good Morning Britain, where Piers Morgan – who usually only acknowledges rap during debates on knife crime and gang violence, or else to insist white people should be allowed to use the “n” word – gushed over how Alex had supposedly “slayed” Glastonbury (no mention of Dave’s performance or Stormzy’s explosive headline show).

“That’s what the youth of today should be doing more of,” Morgan proclaimed, fawning so much he turned even redder than usual, “taking their chance and slaying it.”

It was excruciating, not just for the fact that everyone watching will have known that, until now – and perhaps even after that interview – Morgan had no idea who Dave and AJ Tracey were. The same praise he was lavishing on this white teenager from Somerset would never be applied to the artists who actually put in the work, who made the beats and came up with the flow and the lyrics, and who both achieved top 5 albums this year. Interestingly, Morgan didn’t bring up the lyrics of “Thiago Silva”, which reference gangs and violence, in reference to Alex rapping them.

On Twitter, @staybalanced_ pointed out the contrast to when – during promo for his self-titled debut – AJ Tracey was forced to suffer a BBC Victoria Derbyshire interview as the reporter, Chloe Tilley, stumbled through a question where she tried to accuse him of promoting gang culture... because his video showed a group of black men hanging out together.

“It’s almost like a bit of a shout-out to gangs in London – I’m not suggesting you’re advocating gangs – but there does seem to be a lot of, you know, guys hanging out,” she blustered, failing to name the specific video. “Is that a conscious message or is that just the scene that you’re in?”

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Racial bias highlighted on social media between AJ Tracey and 'Glasto Alex' TV appearances

Tracey was seen giving an eye-roll off to the side of the camera before giving the blunt response: “All my videos just have my friends in it.”

Now Alex has claimed he’s been approached by record labels and managers, and by this point, the whole thing has descended into a farce that shines a grim light on the double standards of both the music industry and the mainstream media. To make it clear – this is not Alex’s fault. He had an opportunity and he took it and he did well. Dave and Tracey are big enough people that I doubt they feel any resentment towards Alex, either – especially since it helped get some recognition from their mutual hero. But it's not the same scenario as when Stormzy brought out Dave on the Pyramid Stage and shouted out dozens of other young artists, heralding the future generations of talent. This is about two industries failing black artists in favour of a white kid who, so far, has displayed no original talent.

Dave and AJ Tracey are both independent artists who have capitalised on live performances and streaming, along with raw talent and hard work, to build their own careers with little support from traditional platforms. Just this month, it was revealed that AJ’s music has been streamed more than half a billion times, marking him out as a growing number of artists pursuing commercial success on his own. The only person he splits the profits of his music with is his mother. He’s a talented businessman as well as an artist, but without label support he has to work 10 times as hard as someone signed to a major.

Which is why it’s such a sore point that Alex has reportedly been made offers. It’s a symptom of the music industry’s lack of effort to work out how best to support real talent, rather than trying to make some quick cash off the back of a viral star. I wish the media and the music industry would get a clue, and learn how to recognise the difference between a fun moment between a fan and an artist at a festival – and the original talent that’s really worth supporting.

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