Glastonbury line-up suggests rock is dead. Who's even heard of SZA (Sunak's Zorbing Atrocity)? – Aidan Smith

Aidan Smith finds himself in the shoes of an elderly 1970s judge asking the court: “What is a… Sex Pistol?”

When the children were a bit younger, we played a game on the walk to school where the aim was to make snappy sentences out of the letters of car registrations. For instance, SIB could have had my dinosaur-obsessed son coming up with “Stegosauruses In Butter” and I might have attempted to trump him with “Sunak: ‘I’m broke’”.

We called the game Zebras Play Xylophones because being landed with a Z or an X was always a challenge and I thought it was ingenious. The kids’ vocabulary was bound to improve, thus enabling me to feel especially smug in the competitive parenting stakes. Maybe some of you reading this will try out the game on your children today. You’re welcome.

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Anyway, I attempted to revive it the other day when the bill for this year’s Glastonbury was announced with SZA as the final night bill-topper. “Ess Zed Ay,” I said. “Try and make something of that.” I already had – “Sunak’s Zorbing Atrocity” – and was confident this would be a winner. Daughter No 2 groaned, eyes to the sky. “Dad! She calls herself Sizza!”

SZA, for the uninitiated, like our correspondent, answers to "Sizza" and will headline Glastonbury this year (Picture: Getty Images for Spotify)SZA, for the uninitiated, like our correspondent, answers to "Sizza" and will headline Glastonbury this year (Picture: Getty Images for Spotify)
SZA, for the uninitiated, like our correspondent, answers to "Sizza" and will headline Glastonbury this year (Picture: Getty Images for Spotify)

Cool Dad of Modern Family?

Was this the moment? Was this the dread realisation that I wasn’t even Phil from Modern Family anymore? You know, the American TV comedy buffoon who says: “I’m Cool Dad and that’s my thang.” I wasn’t even as cool as Phil who of course in reality and beyond his own delusion is monumentally unhip. Suddenly I’d turned into an even more out-of-touch figure of fun: the elderly judge you sometimes read about in reports of court cases who might interrupt proceedings to inquire: “What is a… Sex Pistol?”

Who is Sizza and how come she’s last onto the Pyramid Stage because, while I might have seen the name written down, I don’t know anything about her and have never knowingly heard her music? Tell me I’m not alone. Don’t try and pretend you’re familiar with her R&B/hip-hop oeuvre because I think you’re lying. You aren’t hot on pop knowledge anymore either; not even sizza-ling. And tell me I’m not alone in being underwhelmed by the Friday night top draw being Dua Lipa (heard of her) and Saturday’s being Coldplay (over-familiar with them, unfortunately).

This year’s festival is significant; inevitably so. After last year’s star attractions Elton John, Guns N’ Roses and Arctic Monkeys were dubbed stale, male and pale, change was gonna come. Just as Raye dominated last month’s Brits following criticism of the 2022 event for having no female nominations for Best Artist, Glastonbury is handing two of the three headline slots to women for the first time in its 54-year history.

Now, I burn no candles for last year’s triumvirate, not even Sir Elt’s Candle in the Wind. I might have preferred other acts from the latter’s 1970s heyday but David Bowie and Marc Bolan are no longer with us, Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel has just departed for that great gig in the sky, Noddy Holder of Slade is battling oesophageal cancer, Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople is 84 and Bryan Ferry’s voice is not what it was, a problem afflicting nearly all older performers.

Semi-tragic portrait of British life

So why not young and vibrant ones like Dua Lipa and SZA? Yes, they are pop and Glastonbury is a rock festival. Correction: it used to be one. Maybe the rockfest in the traditional sense is dead or at the very least dying. In the UK, 20 have been cancelled or scrapped altogether in the past year, which brings extra expectation for Glasto, always the daddy, and extra scrutiny. It has been promoted beyond its abilities – especially since the middle-classisation of the annual gathering at Worthy Farm – to be viewed as an authentic portrait of British cultural life, which is semi-tragic wherever Coldplay headline. And come June, they’ll have achieved this a record five times.

Maybe rock is dead or at least dying or perhaps rock bands are. There’s been some debate about this recently, admittedly among observers of the scene even older than your correspondent. Is social media to blame? Forming a group was once a great way to connect with like-minded souls; now you can be “friends” with people you don’t really know and will probably never meet. As the veteran rock scribe David Hepworth put it on the Word in Your Ear podcast, getting a band together used to be a “conspiracy against the tedium of everyday life”. Now, armed with a smartphone, no one need be bored ever again.

Waiting for the Oasis reunion

If you do want to make music, you don’t have to advertise in the rock press, which has gone anyway, for that tricky, undesirable position of bass guitarist – computer technology’s got that covered. But where are the rehearsal spaces? They’re disappearing almost as fast as pubs, the traditional first-rung performance venues, with 1,200 having closed in the past year. As Hepworth and sidekick Mark Ellen explain, Brexit limits touring and anyway “abroad” isn’t exotic any more. Spotify severely limits the millions you dream of earning from rock.

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Thus Glastonbury this summer features lots of middling bands who’ve been around for a bit without ever getting close to the headline spots. And there’s the creeping sense that the festival is simply waiting for the big Oasis reunion but frankly, I think I’d rather have Coldplay again.

So maybe we have to accept not death but change and embrace Dua Lipa and especially SZA. I’ve been listening to some of her songs. They’re fantastically rude and, in their way, no less rebellious and dangerous as anything from the so-called golden age. Mind you, for a name, I still think she should have gone with Sunak’s Zorbing Atrocity.



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