Emily Eavis: The real reason we invited Jay-Z to Glastonbury

One of hip-hop's biggest stars is exactly the sort of act we should be putting on

Tuesday 15 April 2008 00:00
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When we booked Jay-Z as the headliner for this year's Glastonbury Festival, we were delighted. He has not only become one of the world's greatest hip-hop stars, he is also an artist who has an amazing live act. In truth, we felt honoured to have him on board, and believe that he is absolutely the right act for our festival.

So I was surprised when articles started to appear questioning the selection of Jay-Z as one of our headliners, and linking it with supposedly poor ticket sales. Since then, all sorts of things have been said in print and online, most of which only go to show that these critics fail to understand Glastonbury.

Some of the claims have been wild. First, we were blown away by selling 100,000 tickets on the first day of sale, especially given that it was a snowy Sunday in April. Second, Jay-Z is far from the first hip-hop artist to perform at Glastonbury, as one might assume from some strangely hysterical press reports. We have a long history of attracting top rap artists, including De La Soul, Cyprus Hill and The Roots. Glastonbury has always managed to attract a diversity of acts, which is, I hope, part of its unique appeal.

The main misconception, however, has been the suggestion that signing Jay-Z was all about trying to capture a different audience for the festival, an attempt to move it away from its more "traditional" supporters. That is just not the case. It is much simpler than that: we respect Jay-Z as an amazing artist and so, obviously, we want to see him at the festival. There is no reason why we should not have the greatest living hip-hop artist on at Glastonbury; in fact, he is exactly the sort of act we should have performing.

The critics do not understand the Glastonbury's audience. It is a bunch of really open-minded people, who come to the festival to learn and experience new things: new music, new food, new people, new politics and a whole range of new experiences. This is what, I hope, makes our festival special – Glastonbury is about more than just the music. Certainly, it is a quality that many of the bands mention to me.

Many of this year's audience will not have experienced a Jay-Z show before. Great. That is exactly what Glastonbury is all about, and why people love to come so much. The people who will be coming to the event this year will be real Glastonbury supporters, ready and willing to listen to something out of their normal music scene.

Perhaps this is why the hysteria in sections of the press has not been matched by a similar reaction from the public. The feedback we have received from Glastonbury fans has been overwhelmingly positive. I have had letters from all over the country backing the festival, and saying how much they are looking forward to coming this year.

Maybe what the critics have really revealed is something about attitudes that are still all too prevalent in Britain: an instinct to go back to base and play safe. An innate conservatism, a stifling reluctance to try something different.

This is not something that Glastonbury has ever embraced. And there is also an interesting undercurrent in the suggestion that a black, US hip-hop artist shouldn't be playing in front of what many perceive to be a white, middle-class audience. I'm not sure what to call it, at least not in public, but this is something that causes me some disquiet.

In the end, this is nothing Glastonbury has not faced before. It is just another chapter in Glastonbury's colourful history. Back in 1984, there were similar criticisms made when The Smiths were named as the headline act. Hippies just wanted acts that had played before. A disgruntled stage hand even deliberately mis-spelt The Smiths' name on the stage. The reason we had the Smiths perform then is the same reason Jay-Z will play this year – Glastonbury must continue to evolve and develop. With so many smaller music events cropping up, it needs to keep moving and trying new things, whether hip-hop, African music or just an amazing new indie group. That is what has made it so popular for so long.

In the end, the hot air surrounding Jay-Z's performance will blow away. We are all confident that the best answer to the critics will come in June, when Jay-Z strides on to the stage. By the time he walks off, after perhaps the most eagerly awaited performance in Glastonbury's history, we are sure that everyone will know why we are so happy to have him headlining. Those new to Jay-Z will join his established fans in understanding how he has become such a pioneering figure in modern music.

And I know that personally, I can't wait to see him perform.

The writer is co-organiser of the Glastonbury festival

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