There’s anticipation and then there’s anticipation. Glastonbury’s last edition, in 2019, feels as though it took place much longer ago than it actually did. For those whose minds have been pickled by the intervening years, that was the one with Kylie, Alex from Glasto and Stormzy inducing the crowd to chant “fuck Boris” – a gesture that feels almost quaint some three years, one global pandemic and countless unpunished government scandals later.
The 2022 edition, then, was always going to be a special thing. Indeed, at times the collective sense of making up for lost time was tangible. Crowds seemed bigger, with congestion frequent: Mel C on Thursday? Forget about it. Self Esteem, playing Saturday, declared she felt “like Robbie Williams” as she took in the expanse of fans spilling out the John Peel tent, a level up from her BBC Introducing set in 2019. When Wet Leg made their Worthy Farm debut, at 2pm (BST) on Friday, it was in front of a crowd that blocked off the entire Park. An achievement that belies their breakout status if not the quality of their wry post-punk.
In general, it was a banner year for scene-stealing festival first-timers. Nigerian superstar-in-waiting Tems delivered what was her biggest UK performance with a reserved confidence, converting new fans and reinforcing day ones with her blend of languid R&B and Afrobeats rhythms. But it was Olivia Rodrigo’s Friday evening set on the Other Stage that delivered an early festival highlight. Wreathed in the glow of golden hour sunlight, the Good 4 U artist cemented her transition from Disney starlet to Gen Z flag bearer with an expert grasp of cultural legacy. The cover of Avril Lavigne’s early-00s anthem Complicated was brilliant. Even better was the calling out by name of the five Supreme Court Justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade – a breaking news story that many artists were compelled to address. “So many women and so many girls are going to die because of this,” she said passionately, before bringing on national hero Lily Allen for a rendition of Fuck You. A Glastonbury moment is born.
Megan Thee Stallion may have been another Glastonbury newbie, but her Saturday headline set on the Other Stage was one of the most effective. Dressed in a leather bodice and cap, and flanked by backing dancers, the opening triumvirate of Realer, Megan’s Piano and Freak Nasty demonstrated her MO in fine style as she meshed hard-edged, Houston-steeped rap with ebullient sex positivity. Like Rodrigo, she didn’t let the moment pass by without mentioning the Supreme Court decision: “Texas is really embarrassing me right now,” she said, referring to her home state where a trigger law enabled by the ruling will effectively ban all abortions, before leading the crowd in a chant of “My body, my choice”. By the time those unmistakable, wipe-clean synths kicked in for Savage, it was game over. An encore of Girls in the Hood, requested by members of the audience, drew the triumphant spectacle to a close.
These acts of defiance by a new generation were in direct contrast to the decision by Paul McCartney to use his platform to – intentionally or not – support Johnny Depp during My Valentine. There was a palpable wave of bewilderment as the video accompaniment saw a younger Depp beamed onto the video screen, something that triggered leavers in the first half of a divisive set that was already short on crowd-pleasing moments. It sours what should have been a joyous second half loaded with personalities (US big-hitters Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl) and the majority of The Beatles back catalogue.
As usual, some of the most special moments were on the periphery, beyond the main festival focal points and soaked in sweat and serotonin. The festival’s gay club, the NYC Downlow, was one of the most in-demand spaces across the whole weekend, with queues snaking around the faux-brownstone long into the night. It’s not hard to see why: the outrageously fun and funky chuggers channelled by Soul Summit to a clammy, capacity crowd sometime early Saturday morning was joy incarnate. A stone’s throw away, the reduced spectacle of the Genosys stage meant that the IICON was the busiest draw in the South East Corner this year. The phenomenon of a 65ft AV-mapped head is simply too tempting for so many people eager for the sensory, and aurally it delivers the kind of sound quality that shifts perceptions of what is possible in this outdoor environment. On Saturday, Shygirl’s 40-minute set of rap and playful, pulsing beats was perfect on this stage. It also reaffirmed what we all knew: Cleo should have been a No. 1 smash.
A re-imagined Silver Hayes made for another one of the festival’s primary destinations for dance music. From the reworked Wow Stage, whose interior and low ceiling strip lighting was the closest you could get to being in a loft club whilst actually being in an outdoor stretch tent, to The Lonely Hearts Club Stage’s imposing structure that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Block9, there was friendly raver energy exuding from this corner of the farm all weekend. Most notably, I. Jordan, who gave us Bonkers compilation flashbacks on the Wow Stage on Thursday night (highlight: the high velocity remix of Kid Cudi’s Day ‘n’ Night.)
It’s no surprise that Sunday’s programming is designed to eke out the last of our waning energy reserves. Unfortunately, Diana Ross’ performance in the legends slot didn’t live up to the billing. The 78-year-old Motown powerhouse and all-round megastar seemed to struggle with some of the vocals – Chain Reaction in particular – felt reedy and flat. The between-song patter was fun, but with some all-time classic tracks junked in favour of new material, the general feeling was one of rare disappointment. It fell to Turnstile on a repositioned John Peel Stage to push through to the bittersweet end. Here, the Baltimore five-piece’s fanbase had gathered early, and with good reason: Turnstile are truly one of the most cathartic and crowd-pleasing bands out there, pairing the ferocity of hardcore punk with something more melodic that appeals beyond the fans of hard music. Unsurprisingly, the setlist leaned on breakthrough 2021 release Glow On, with tracks like MYSTERY and HOLIDAY demanding absolute devotion. A true victory lap for one of the most exciting bands out there.
All that remained was the finale. Wearing a Tiffany’s diamond-encrusted crown of thorns and monochrome couture, Kendrick Lamar looked every inch the weekend headliner. His raps – by turns raw, complex, challenging and political – were elevated even further by two ensembles of all-male and all-female dancers, dressed in white shirts and black trousers, and red chiffon dresses respectively. The nervous energy that lies under the skin of opener United in Grief is wound to breaking point thanks to minimal, militaristic choreography by Charm La’Donna, before being unspooled in explosive style for the cathartic m.A.A.d city. Standouts Blacker the Berry, HUMBLE and Swimming Pools (Drank) use the stark lighting and movement in different, effective ways – the decision to rap Humble directly to camera moved the needle from the theatrical to the cinematic. It’s the closer, however, that resonated the most: introducing Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers’ cut Savior with an emotional monologue heavy on religiosity, it was hard not to get caught up in the emotion: “Imperfection is beautiful, no matter what you’re going through.” Standing centre stage, Kendrick raps bars like, “One protest for you, 365 for me,” as his crown begins to drip blood. Then, eyes tightly shut, ensemble taking their place in a tableau surrounding the star, the Compton star raps, mantra-like and with increasing passion, a line which sums up the overarching theme of the weekend: “Godspeed for women’s rights”. It’s a devastating capstone to a performance that will surely go down in history.
For those looking for a long-deferred dose of escapism – a chance, should you wish to take it, to withdraw from the ambient grind of current events – Glastonbury 2022 undoubtedly delivered. But, more profoundly, these four days acted as a lens through which to view the state of the world. As politicians the world over persist in dragging us back in time, rolling back rights and sowing division, the lasting buzz came from being in a space where progress and hope, and a lot of righteous anger, held sway. Welcome back, Glasto, you were missed.
Words by: Louise Brailey and Thomas Frost