Having waited two years to see Stormzy live, having bought her tickets back in December 2019, Maria Hanlon wasn’t disappointed as she attended her first gig at the 02 last week…
I arrive at The O2, spotting Stormzy fans spilling out of every bar and restaurant and sensing the anticipation in the air. After a quick dinner, I head into the main arena to get a good spot. As I walk in, I feel overwhelmed by its size. I’d never been to a venue of this capacity before and I couldn’t help but think how Stormzy must be feeling backstage, about to perform to a sold out stadium full of fans. You listen to your favourite artists all the time, but when you realise they’re going to be performing a few metres away from you in an hour’s time, it suddenly feels very surreal.
Whilst I’m grabbing a drink from the bar I hear a sudden cheering coming from the crowd and look back to see Remi Burgz and Rachael Anson walk on stage. Remi Burgz, if you don’t know, is a radio DJ, host & personality from South London. Remi’s energy is infectious, she lights up every room and as a result has earned herself the nickname of ‘Your Local Energy Provider’.
Rachael Anson is a rising star DJ, and it’s clear talent runs in the family as she’s also Stormzy’s sister (which many people don’t know). Remi and Rachael are the dream duo with Remi getting the crowd going and Rachael blending Hip Hop and R&B classics together effortlessly to get everyone warmed up. The crowd are loving it and I can’t think of a better support act.
I manage to get a spot at a barrier behind the camera crew so I can see straight down the middle and feel super smug. The O2 is filling up fast, fans are arriving through different entrances and the seats are almost all taken. Remi and Rachael finish their energising set and there’s a short break before the main event. The camera crew get ready and positioned behind their gigantic cameras and the lights go down… it’s showtime.
Stormzy appears on a high platform in front of us to ‘Big Michael’, the perfect show opener and also the first song on the ‘Heavy Is The Head’ album. “Big Michael’s back” Stormzy raps two years after he released his platinum-selling album. Stormzy maintains the energy performing ‘Audacity’ second, and ‘Know Me From’ third, a trio of his grime-focused high-energy tracks, starting strong.
I notice Stormzy is alone on stage for the first half hour of his set without any backing dancers or singers, just him. This solidifies his true talent and showmanship. He connects with the audience through his humble chat, lovable personality, and of course his famous grin. You can feel the love in the room, this is the second of his three nights in London and you can tell he’s ecstatic to be home and reunited with his London fans.
After a few more crowd-pleasers from the H.I.T.H album, Stormzy switches the mood up and moves into his slower R&B infused songs such as ‘Superheroes’, ‘One Second’ and ‘Cigarettes & Cush’. Stormzy is able to transcend genres throughout his songs but still maintain quality and integrity in every single one. He jumps between quick, slick raps into soft, smooth R&B then into gospel songs, who else can do that!? This demonstrates his versatility and reminds us that there are no other artists quite like him. The atmosphere feels electric whilst we’re all vibing together in this legendary venue.
The set design reminds me of something out of Mad Max with its steampunk style. There’s a car-sized crown hovered over the stage throughout his performance, sometimes lowering down to create a circle of lights around Stormzy. The projections include barbed wire wrapped around a human heart, Stormzy’s head on rotation and there’s a set of scales which elevate Stormzy above us during a couple of songs. Whilst the set design is super impressive, Stormzy could perform with a plain backdrop and still get this reaction due to his stage presence alone.
I was wondering who Stormzy might bring out as he has songs with Aitch, Burna Boy, Ed Sheeran, Headie One, H.E.R and Yebba on the H.I.T.H album. Then I hear the beginning beats of ‘Own It’ and I know it’s Ed Sheeran’s night tonight. The crowd go wild as Ed stays on stage for their chart topping track ‘Take Me Back to London’. As the song ends Stormzy tells us, “this guy is my best friend” and they pair hug. You can tell there’s a lot of love between them as we’ve watched their friendship grow over the years in interviews, music collaborations and YouTube videos.
Ed leaves the stage and Stormzy asks the crowd “Have we still got energy?”. He then performs a few of his classics including ‘Big For Your Boots’ and the freestyle that launched him into the spotlight back in 2015 with 122 million views on YouTube, the unforgettable ‘Shut Up’.
Often artists tease you with new material during a tour, but surprisingly Stormzy didn’t. I was glad he didn’t though as he performed the entire set as if it was 2020 when we would have seen him, with most songs from his second album H.I.T.H and a few from his debut album ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’, which went to number 1 in the UK Album Charts. This tour felt like closure on his previous two albums in order to make space for his third one which he confirms with the audience will be out later this year. A video is played on screen towards the end of the set showing some behind the scenes footage of his next album which only heightens the excitement further.
We think ‘Blinded By Your Grace Pt 2’ is the last track with confetti cannons, backing singers and vibrant visuals, although there’s one song that’s missing. It’s the song that became his first official UK number 1 single, ‘Vossi Bop’. Stormzy gives his all for his “energy crew”, boosting the tempo back up one last time.
I head out of The O2 and onto the tube with the rest of the crowd, reflecting on Stormzy’s fierce and flawless 90 minute set. I think back to Stormzy’s first album ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ in which he raps “Five thousand capacity, then spread that over the UK and then add it up and get back to me”. Tonight he’s just performed to a 20,000 capacity of loyal fans who have grown up with him, not only as their favourite rapper, but also as an icon of their generation and I can confirm it was most definitely worth the two year wait.