entertainment

Years & Years Glastonbury review: 'Olly Alexander confirms status as UK's best queer pop star'

Olly's sexy, magnetic and jubilantly gay set left Glastonbury crowds in awe on Sunday evening.

2022-06-27

Words: Will Stroude; Image: BBC

Years & Years ensured Glastonbury festival came to a spectacularly queer climax on Sunday evening (26 June) as the sun set on another year at Worthy Farm.

It was a golden hour in every sense as Olly Alexander - now a solo artist - delivered a jaw-dropping set that confirmed his status as the most exciting gay pop star in the UK today.

Any lingering doubts as to whether Years & Years' musical momentum could be maintained following an 18 months that saw Olly take a career detour with a BAFTA-nominated turn in It's a Sin and bandmates Mikey Goldsworthy Emre Türkmen depart the group were immediately dismissed as Olly took to the stage.

 

Pairing thigh-high leather boots with a sheer S&M-styled playsuit and bleached eyebrows, Olly burst from a telephone box looking like something out of The Matrix. The BRIT Award winner was a sexy queer alien ready to take the audience straight to his home planet and the 31-year-old duly delivered with an electrifying opening combo of infectious pop hits 'Night Call' and 'Sweet Talker'.

Backed by a standout group of dancers who served as much face as moves, this was a high-concept set by festival standards that saw Olly recreate an orgiastic queer night over the course of 60 minutes: Palo Santo's hypnotic 'Sanctify' brought the grubby, scintillating thrills of cottaging to an awed Glastonbury crowd, while last year's 'Crave' saw Olly writhe around between the sheets as he was groped by scarlet-gloved hands emerging from within a specially-made bedframe.

Even Years & Years' most radio-friendly fare like 2018 Jax Jones collaboration 'Play' took on an edgy new intensity as Olly's sensual delivery collided with the raw sex appeal of the choreography, while fan favourite 'Shine' and The Magician collaboration 'Sunshine' induced moments of collective euphoria in the evening sun.

Never anything less than a captivating personality, Olly's vocal confidence and stage presence have only grown since he first burst onto the scene eight years ago: The star's demeanour was that of a newly-liberated and uninhibited artist and the former Attitude cover star was visibly emotional throughout. "I don't want this to end, ever", Olly declared. "I'm going to remember this for the rest of my life."

A brief interlude saw Olly slam the recent US Supreme Court ruling on abortion - "Any attack on any human being's bodily autonomy is an attacked on all of us. It doesn't matter who you are, it affects us all," - and touch on being gay: "I love it. I can't recommend it enough." The evening's showstopping moment followed immediately as Olly donned a cape and took to a grand piano to deliver a searing performance of Pet Shops Boys' 'It's a Sin', which Years & Years covered to tie in with the Russell T Davies drama.

As Olly - who would later join Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe on stage during their own set later that night - paid tribute to Pet Shop Boys, it was hard not to marvel at how the histories of theses two queer pop acts from different generations have become so intertwined, with gay creativity inspiring and shaping gay creativity across decades. The image of Olly stood defiantly atop the piano, microphone in hand, Pride flags emerging from the sea of people before him, is one that will live long in the mind. And who knows what young queer pop star of the future may have been there watching, listening, and waiting for their turn?

Years & Years' Glastonbury setlist:

Night Call
Sweet Talker
Consequences
Shine
Muscle
Play (Jax Jones & Years & Years)
Sunlight (The Magician & Years & Years)
Sanctify
Worship / Rendezvous
Desire
Hallucination
It's a Sin (Pet Shop Boys cover)
Crave
Starstruck
If You're Over Me
King

Years & Years' Glastonbury performance is available to watch on BBC iPlayer in the UK now.