For a band that’s so critical of marketing, Radiohead sure are good at it.

"For a band that’s so critical of marketing, Radiohead sure are good at it."

That was my first thought when Moon Shaped Pool was announced and the music video for “Burn The Witch” was released. Prior to the release of the video, Radiohead had deleted their entire web presence. I had assumed this was part of an insufferable rejection of capitalism, but it turned out to actually be calculated participation - a stunt to promote their new album. 

The members of Radiohead are smart enough that if they’re being ironic it’s not accidental. This is a band that met in art school and has been pushing boundaries in the medium and the industry since their second album. They’re fluent in the language of counter-culture and on the surface reflect those values.  

The use of anti-consumerist imagery has always served a sense of foreboding in their work. Radiohead has a not-so-subtle marxist undercurrent. For the past 22 years, it’s felt like Radiohead are trying to warn us about something. Maybe the dark side of the society we’ve built. Even when that meant pointing a finger back at themselves they never shied away. This is a band that named their music video compilation 7 Television Commercials and offered a full album on a “pay what you will” when “mp3” was still a dirty word.

But looking back on it, have Radiohead ever indicated that they were actually anti-consumerism or pro-marxism? Or did they just offer up the imagery and allow us to project those values? Listening to Moon Shaped Pool as well as revisiting earlier Radiohead albums, something has gelled for me: Radiohead are the villains in their mythology. They’re not trying to warn us about anything, they’re gloating. They took anti-consumerism and reprogrammed it in order to feed us a consumer product. 

That’s not to say I think Thom Yorke is a bad guy. For a group of musicians, Radiohead have done more than their fair share to raise awareness about some of the more disconcerting aspects of Western culture. But Radiohead the project has had a continuous narrative building through all their albums since The Bends, and it’s pretty dark. 

So, even though Radiohead is critical of marketing, they actively engage in it. They subvert anti-consumerist imagery and language to shill their products. The paranoid undertones aren’t an alarm for impending doom, they’re a victory celebration. You bought the album! You’re listening to it! Loser! If Radiohead has a narrative, they aren’t the brave knights coming to slay the dragon, they’re the dragon bragging about how many knights they’ve eaten.

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