Radiohead is a popular band, especially known for their hit song "Creep." However, sometimes a song that is played too often can become a disadvantage for the band.
Radiohead has possibly been featured on the satirical “news” website The Onion more than any other band or artist. There’s just something about the melancholy seriousness of Radiohead that’s funny. My personal favorite, which comes from The Onion’s sister site, Clickhole, is an oral history of the making of OK Computer, which claims that Radiohead was inspired to change their sound after failing to convince the pope to replace the word “amen” with “'Creep' is a bad song.” Radiohead’s antipathy for their seminal hit, which turns 30 this year, is so famous that the single joke sustained the whole article.
Radiohead really hated that song.
It’s no mystery why. Not only is it so different from the rest of their output that it's clearly not the type of music they want to make but it’s also so solipsistically miserable that it must be embarrassing to whoever wrote it. Despite that, to quote former president Bill Clinton (according to Clickhole), "Creep" is a good song.
"Creep" is anthemic. Yes, it’s a miserable song, but it doesn’t get enough credit for being an angry song, which negates the misery in my mind. The moment when Johnny Greenwood’s iconic KA-CHUNK guitar noise kicks in, and the song kicks up a notch or three, Thom Yorke sounds less self-pitying and angrier at the world that would drive him to self-pity, angry at the world that would make him feel unworthy, simply for the crime of being different, for being a creep and a weirdo. I think that’s the key to "Creep’s" enduring appeal; it’s relatable to everyone who feels different or who’s ever experienced imposter syndrome; no self-loathing required.
I relate to "Creep" for that reason. As a Radiohead fanatic, I’ll be the first to tell you that they’ve written better songs than "Creep," but let’s be honest, "Creep" is not an embarrassment to their legacy, just because the emotions it describes are a little sophomoric.
Any band should be proud to have written a song half as good as "Creep."
Johnny Greenwood described it as a happy song “about recognizing who you are.” But Greenwood didn’t write it; Thom Yorke did. Thom Yorke knows what "Creep" is really about, and if he’s embarrassed by it, then rosy reinterpretations like mine count for nothing.
To be fair, in all the documentation of Radiohead’s notorious hate for the song, embarrassment isn’t explicitly mentioned. Official explanations of why they hate it range from growing sick of it to not wanting it to define them. I’m reading between the lines here, but those explanations just don’t explain the extreme depth of their reported loathing for Creep; embarrassment does explain it. After all, the cringe factor heavily influences the fanbase’s dislike of "Creep."
I intended for this article to be a complete history of Radiohead’s feelings toward "Creep," but it’s hard to find dates for when their attitudes began to change. Thirty years is a very long time to maintain intense hate for a pop song. When you’re in your thirties, it's natural to be mortified by things you said and did in your twenties, but when you’re in your fifties, it would be more embarrassing to fixate on your awkward youth. It’s harder not to just let it go. When you’re in your fifties, being embarrassed by a cringey song you wrote in your twenties would be like holding a grudge against the mean girls at your high school.
Over the years, they’ve pulled out "Creep" at concerts here and there. In 2017, drummer Phil Selway remarked, "It's nice to play for the right reasons. People like it and want to hear it. We do err towards not playing it because you don't want it to feel like show business." After refusing to play it on their 1996 tour, they played it to an audibly ecstatic crowd at Earl’s Court in 2003, and opened their set at the Reading Festival with it in 2009. It was played a few times on their 2016 tour, and even Thom Yorke appears to be having fun with it. Radiohead doesn’t play Creep very often, but they sure do play the song that they supposedly hate more than you’d expect.
Now, please enjoy the strangest performance of "Creep," from MTV’s Beach House in 1993.
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