Allow me to clarify: I don’t think that Radiohead’s popularity is absurd because they are overrated, or not very good. Radiohead is my favorite band, and has been for a long time, and probably will be for a very long time. I am in love with Radiohead to the point where I don’t need to listen to them often; it’s a relationship of such security that I can explore other options freely without constantly reminding them that they are “the one.”
What is absurd about Radiohead’s popularity is that they are supposedly an alternative or experimental rock band. They are not supposed to be liked by everyone, but they are. On Monday morning at 10 am, Radiohead released tickets for two NY shows this week – one on Wednesday, one on Thursday – at the Roseland Ballroom. There was barely any notice about this (my guess is that they were in town for SNL, and decided to give a few of their legendary concerts while they were here), and yet, tickets sold out within seconds. I was sitting in class (I had brought a laptop for the occasion), and started my purchase at exactly 10 am, but no, I did not get tickets.
The tickets were $80 each (including fees), they were selling only two at a time, and they were will call only (to deter scalpers), but still – SOLD OUT WITHIN SECONDS.
I guess I’m not surprised. When I got back to my lab after class, I found out that 2 others had tried to purchase the tix, too. That’s 3 people in one small little lab in one small little department in one school in one enormous city…and my guess is that people would drive up from nearby cities to attend the concerts as well.
So, why the popularity? I will refer to Dave Matthews’s piece on Radiohead for Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time issue – they came in at #73 – to help me explain. Hit it, Dave:
“God, these guys have suffered, or they can fake it like nobody else.”
Some of Radiohead’s music is so emotionally rich and poignant that it’s downright depressing. I don’t know about the band members’ history with sadness or mental illness, but they – especially Thom Yorke, with his incredible vocals – have the unrivaled ability to convey loneliness.
“Listening to Radiohead makes me feel like I’m a Salieri to their Mozart. Yorke’s lyrics make me want to give up.”
Ah, jealousy. There are times when I’ve listened to the final few lines of “Fake Plastic Trees” and cried, but not because I was hit so hard by the song, but rather, because it made me feel like nothing I could achieve would ever measure up to the way that Thom sings “But I can’t help the feeling / I could blow through the ceiling.” So, here is yet another strong emotion inspired by Radiohead’s music, at least in Dave Matthews and myself: fury.
“Every time I buy a Radiohead album, I have a moment where I say to myself, ‘Maybe this is the one that will suck.’ But it never does.”
Are Radiohead consistent? I don’t know. I don’t think that every album is equal to every other, but they do experiment, and I think that their solid fan base gives them the freedom to. So, part of their appeal is their unpredictability. Maybe you will like their new album more than past ones, or maybe you won’t like it that much. But it will still probably be pretty good.
Finally, let me end with an excerpt from an interview that Radiohead gave at the Colbert Report yesterday (this was printed in the Guardian):
“Why do Americans like you?” demanded Colbert.
“We don’t know. Not a clue,” replied Yorke, looking slyly out towards the audience.
When Colbert suggested it was just a hangover from Beatlemania, Yorke countered that they were “still waiting for the greeting off the plane with all the crowds and shit”.
“Well, maybe if you were lovable moptops … but you guys have this totally indie ragged kind of quality.”
Yorke burst into laughter while Jonny Greenwood behind him could barely sit up for giggling.
Well, there you have it. Some people love them because they’re indie and cool, but they don’t think they’re cool at all! Despite their popularity, they retain their modesty, and go out of their way to make their fans happy – even if it means losing money. They’re just some awesome, creative, British dudes.