SZA’s striking set failed to set Glastonbury alight

SZA performed on the Pyramid Stage on Sunday night
SZA received a mixed response to her Sunday headline slot [Cass Meyers]

After Dua Lipa and Coldplay's sleek and efficient sets, Glastonbury's Sunday night headliner had a tough act to follow.

After a rumoured appearance by pop queen Madonna fell through, the slot eventually went to US R&B star SZA.

One of the most-streamed artists in the world, she's a vibrant, confident performer, whose complex, messy dissections of modern relationships have endeared her to millennial fans.

But their passion failed to ignite any magic on the Pyramid Stage.

The star drew the smallest audience I've ever seen for a Glastonbury headliner, in more than 20 years of coming to the festival.

It didn't help that, for at least the first half an hour, her microphone was both distorted and muffled - an issue for an artist whose appeal lies in the precision of her lyrics and the beauty of their jazzy vocal runs.

The 33-year-old also committed the festival sin of failing to address the crowd. Her only interaction in the show's first act was to ask if any of her "day one" fans were present.

"You know I need you, right?” she said, perhaps acknowledging that this was not her natural audience.

By the time she got to her biggest hit - the darkly comic murder fantasy Kill Bill (1.9 billion Spotify streams) - people had already drifted away to watch sets from The National, James Blake and London Grammar elsewhere on the site.

View from the crowd of SZA's performance
The US singer's set did not receive a huge crowd, despite putting on a great performance [BBC]

That's not to say that SZA put on a bad performance, or that the thousands who stayed to the end of her set were disappointed.

She has spectacular vocal command, projecting to the back of the field without sacrificing intimacy.

Towards the middle of her set, she played Nobody Gets Me - a devastating ballad about her struggle to let go after breaking up with her fiancé. It was by some distance the most vulnerable, moving performance I saw from a Pyramid Stage headliner all weekend.

Young fans in the audience clasped their hands to their chest and mouthed along silently.

'So nervous'

Other highlights included the brittle, rock-infused F2F and the 80s-infused pop smash Kiss Me More - which she fused with Prince's Kiss.

It was a visual feast, too, divided into three distinct sections that mapped out the process of getting over a broken heart.

She started in a dingy cave, the metaphorical fortress of her own solitude, surrounded by stalactites and performing Drew Barrymore while perched on a giant ant.

For the second section, dubbed "robot world", she struggled with conflicting emotions, simultaneously pining for her ex and wishing pain upon him, in songs like Snooze, Kill Bill and I Hate U.

The final segment was titled "Coming Home". SZA, sprouted wings, climbed a tree, and played some of her more liberated, feel-good songs - including Saturn (about escaping the earth for a better life) and the self-explanatory Good Days.

SZA performing at Glastonbury 2024
[Cass Meyers]
SZA performing at Glastonbury 2024
SZA ended on 20 Something - her anthem about entering your thirties [Cass Meyers]

Her final song was 20 Something, a declaration of solidarity for anyone else going through the turmoil of their third decade and she climbed down from her elaborate set and sang in communion with her fans in the front row.

"Glastonbury, I was so nervous about today," she said. "I'm so grateful. You have my deepest love and my deepest respect. God bless you and please get home safely."

With sinuous choregraphy and a compelling stage presence, SZA's set was a sublime show in the wrong venue - a problem that has repeatedly blighted this year's Glastonbury.

Beloved acts like Sugababes, Fred Again and Avril Lavigne were booked into areas too small to handle their fans; while the Pyramid Stage struggled to attract sufficient numbers for compelling, muscular sets by PJ Harvey and Janelle Monae.

In the end, it's a shame that those performances, like SZA's will go down in history for the wrong reasons.

After the set, the singer posted a message that seemed to acknowledge the negative response.

"The bravery required to be alive in public is remarkable," she wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

"S/O [shout out to] everybody doing that."


  • PSA

  • Love Galore

  • Broken Clocks

  • All the Stars

  • Prom

  • Garden (Say It Like Dat)

  • Drew Barrymore

  • F2F

  • Forgiveless

  • Ghost in the Machine

  • Blind

  • Shirt

  • Kiss Me More

  • I Hate U

  • Snooze

  • Kill Bill

  • Low

  • Supermodel / Special

  • Open Arms

  • Nobody Gets Me

  • Normal Girl

  • Saturn

  • Rich Baby Daddy (Drake cover)

  • The Weekend

  • Good Days

  • 20 Something

Avril Lavigne singing
Avril Lavigne played all her big hits on Sunday evening [BBC]

Elsewhere on Sunday, Shania Twain played the coveted Legends slot, delivering big, brassy anthems like That Don't Impress Me Much and Man! I Feel Like A Woman! while conveying a wide-eyed disbelief at the size of her audience.

"I find moments like this very life-changing and I mean that very sincerely," she said, choking back tears towards the end of her set.

Over on the Other Stage, Avril Lavigne was just as popular, causing major traffic jams as fans clamoured to hear era-defining pop-punk hits like Complicated and Sk8r Boi.

She kicked off with the brilliantly snotty Girlfriend, and the cartoonish sneer remaining plastered across her face for the next hour.

“I can’t believe it’s taken me 22 years to play Glastonbury,” she said. “It’s about time”.

Burna Boy making a heart sign
Burna Boy warmed up for SZA with hits like Ye and Last Last [Getty Images]

Janelle Monae played a tight, funky set on the Pyramid Stage - going through multiple costume changes, including a replica Michael Jackson suit.

Lithe and limber, she celebrated her sexual freedom on songs like Pink, Yoga, Lipstick Lover and Make Me Feel, while dedicating her set to the queer community, in the final hours of Pride month.

Later, she expanded that dedication to other marginalised and persecuted groups around the world.

“I am proud to stand with you as you fight back against genocide,” she said. “As you fight back against the criminalisation of homeless people. As [politicians] bring in laws to [regulate] our bodies.”

She went on to call for an end to violence in Palestine, Sudan and the Congo - while also calling out anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

“These are our people. So when we see injustice, we know,” she declared.

It was a powerful moment, expressed more eloquently than many of this weekend’s onstage protests.

She was followed onstage by Nigerian star Burna Boy, in party-starting mood as he raced through Afro-fusion hits like Sittin’ On Top Of The World, Ye and Last Last.

Flirting with the audience throughout, he eventually removed his top and invited everyone else to follow suit. If it had been warmer, they might have obliged.

Headline sets came from French dance maestros Justice on the West Holts stage and indie-pop group London Grammar, who drew an enormous crowd to the hillside Park Stage, despite singer Hannah Reid's misgivings about being scheduled against SZA.

But the biggest headliners, in terms of audience size, were US indie band The National, who immersed The Other Stage with epic guitars, rich horns, and Matt Berninger’s emotive confessional words.

From the intimate Light Years, to the pounding Abel, their grown-up sound and intense delivery capped off an uneven Sunday, as Glastonbury prepared to shut up shop for another year.

The festival will return in 2025, Emily Eavis has confirmed, before taking a fallow year in 2026.

BBC Glastonbury graphic