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Monday, August 15, 2022

Kendrick Lamar joins in abortion protest

Kendrick Lamar/ Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Rapper Kendrick Lamar has ended his Glastonbury headline set with a powerful protest at the roll-back of abortion rights in the US.

With blood pouring down his face from a crown of thorns, the star proclaimed: “Godspeed for women’s rights. They judge you, they judge Christ.”

He repeated the phrase over and over with increasing intensity, eventually breaking off mid-sentence and throwing his microphone to the ground before walking off stage.

It was a forceful end to a theatrical performance that was unlike anything the festival has ever witnessed.

Throughout the show, Lamar, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2017 album Damn, addressed themes of guilt, greed, loyalty, power, ambition and prejudice, shouldering the audience’s problems by examining his own.

He emerged flanked by 20 dancers to perform United In Grief – a song that looks back over his 19-year career and the mental health problems he has addressed over multiple albums.

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As he stood still behind a mic stand, they lined up behind him, each representing a different aspect in the evolution of his personality. As they scattered, he began an almost-chronological journey through his catalogue,

Highlights included Alright, his soulful protest against injustice and police brutality; Humble, a scathing rant against toxic masculinity; and Swimming Pools (Drank), which discusses his grandfather’s alcoholism.

At every turn, dancers reflected the star’s internal and external struggles. In the second verse of the recent single N95, which tackles wealth disparity, all the stage lights went off and the dancers turned flashlights onto Lamar, highlighting his own unease with fame and fortune.

The show was heavy on concept without alienating the audience. And unlike many live rap shows, Lamar’s vocals were controlled and nuanced, allowing his lyrics to cut through.

The climax came on Savior, a song that examines Covid conspiracies, the Black Lives Matter movement, political correctness and his own personal flaws – which he juxtaposes with his faith in Christ.

Introducing the song, he explained the message was that “imperfection is beautiful”, and that in our rush to judgment, we often lose sight of others’ humanity.

The closing lyrics, “Godspeed women’s rights”, were added for Sunday night’s performance; which came two days after the US Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion.

In some ways, Lamar’s thorny and introspective songs made him a brave choice to headline Glastonbury’s main stage. But in the event he rose to the challenge, delivering a visceral and compelling set that will be talked about for weeks.

British rapper AJ Tracey, who gave a thrilling Pyramid Stage performance of his own on Saturday, said Lamar was one of the most important artists of his generation.

“He works very hard but he’s also unwavering in his message,” he told BBC News.

“There’s a meaning behind everything he does. He always stands up for black people, for impoverished people, people who are unfairly treated – and that means a lot to people.

“When you’re already a good rapper, it’s easy to be on autopilot,” he continued, “but when you stand for something and you push a message, that’s what makes people love you.”

Festivalgoers who craved something more euphoric at the end of the long weekend had the option of going to see pop royalty Pet Shop Boys play a joyous greatest hits set on The Other Stage.

The metronomic house grooves of Its Alright and Vocal turned the field into a giant rave; while Go West (“a song of gay liberation that became a football anthem,” as Neil Tennant billed it) even had the security team singing along.

The band dedicated Being Boring to the victims of the Oslo Pride shooting; and ended the night with a valedictory performance of their debut single West End Girls.

Pop star Charli XCX also gave a full-throttle performance on the John Peel stage, that illuminated her ever-expanding catalogue of pop classics, from I Love It and Boom Clap, to more recent hits like Gone and New Shapes.

Sunday’s music programme is traditionally more laid-back, giving revellers the chance to relax after five days of hedonism.

The Pyramid Stage opened with West Yorkshire’s Black Dyke brass band, followed by Dhaka Brakha, whose unique blend of Ukrainian folk melodies with African rhythms broke through the morning gloom.

“People say they haven’t heard anything like it before,” frontman Marko Galanevych told the BBC. “Most people say ‘it’s unusual but I like it’”.

During their set, the band projected images of the devastation wreaked by Russia’s invasion of their homeland – just days after a video message from President Volodymyr Zelensky urged festivalgoers to show solidarity with his country.

As morning turned to afternoon, jazz legend Herbie Hancock delivered a masterclass in cool, with a virtuoso set packed with classics like Cantaloupe Island and Take Five.

His set warmed the crowd up for Diana Ross, who drew one of the weekend’s biggest audiences for the traditional Sunday teatime “legend” slot.

Drawing on an enviable 60-year catalogue, she got the crowd singing and dancing to hits like Baby Love, I’m Coming Out and Upside Down – despite occasionally wobbly vocals.

Glastonbury stalwarts Elbow proved once again they’re the perfect festival band, with frontman Guy Garvey powered entirely by the milk of human kindness.

“There was a period there where we thought we’d never see you again,” he said, referring to Glastonbury’s two-year hiatus during the Covid-19 pandemic. “We’re so happy to be here, in the place love was invented.”

US star Kacey Musgraves brought some Nashville glamour to The Other Stage in a glittering, dragon motif mini-dress… although she griped that she’d been advised to dress for mud and had ended up with sunburn.

“These wellies apparently had no purpose,” she laughed, gesturing at her feet, “but still, they’re cute”.

Like Kendrick Lamar, and many other US acts over the weekend, she voiced her anger at the overturning of Roe v Wade.

“Honestly thinking about never going back to America,” she quipped. “Anyone know any positions for sheep farming going, as that sounds really great right now.”

Musically, the star somehow turned the artful sorrow of her divorce album, Starcrossed, into a celebration of freedom. She even threw in a karaoke version of Fleetwood Mac’s scathing break-up anthem Dreams for good measure.

Around 7pm the skies cleared and the sun started to set – the perfect moment to catch up-and-coming Jamaican star Koffee on the West Holts stage.

Her easy-flowing songs had half the crowd engaged in sort of a low-slung dance, while the rest laid back and soaked up the sun-kissed grooves.

Back on the Pyramid Stage, Lorde declared herself the “ideal comedown shepherd” for Glastonbury’s exhausted festivalgoers.

“We’re in this together. I’ll be kind and gentle and when I think you’re ready to handle it, I’ll [mess] you up,” she joked.

She kept her promise. Early in the set, she played a beautifully powered-down version of Stoned At The Nail Salon, accompanied by Arlo Parks and Clairo; but ended her performance with a massive dance party to a pounding version of Green Light.

The day also saw surprise sets from Jack White, his hair dyed blue to match his guitar, and George Ezra, whose crowd spilled out of the John Peel tent into the fields beyond.

After Lamar, festival-goers will eke out their final hours in the dance tents and silent discos of the outer fields – but, by tomorrow morning, Glastonbury will be over.

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