This morning’s announcement of the Coachella 2017 lineup was, per usual, met with a wide variety of reactions.
While I was not wildly impressed by the lineup (which you can see below), the online reviews have been largely positive. Esquire even went so far as to call the slate of performers—featuring headliners Radiohead, Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar—“the festival’s best lineup in years.”
And … Hans Zimmer? The legendary film composer? He’s performing. Wow.
However, one band has received a lot of criticism—Radiohead. And that, frankly, is just not right.
When this band from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England released its first album, Pablo Honey, in 1993, success in England came quickly, followed by popularity in the rest of the world, including America. The song “Creep” became an international hit, while “Stop Whispering” made the charts in the United States. Radiohead’s modest, “alternative” sound came at the perfect time in terms of rock-music evolution, and by the time new millennium started, Radiohead was one of the biggest bands in the world.
Now more than a decade and a half into the 2000s, Radiohead is still wildly popular—yet some have started to question the validity of their music, even labeling it as “boring.”
These criticisms are off-base. Radiohead, after all, has sold 30 million records while consistently selling out arenas. Yes, Radiohead still matters—and here are five reasons why.
1. Radiohead has a vital role in Coachella’s history.
Radiohead first performed at Coachella in 2004. At the time, the band was reveling in the release of top-selling albums OK Computer (1997; considered by some to be one of the best albums of all time), Kid A (2000), Amnesiac (2001) and Hail to the Thief (2003). In other words, in 2004, Radiohead was huge—while Coachella was still struggling. Radiohead, along with a reunited Pixies, and The Cure, helped Coachella sell out of passes for the first time. Coachella was considered an indie festival at the time, and Radiohead was a game-changer. Radiohead returned to Coachella in 2012 and was very well-received by attendees and the music press.
2. Radiohead’s lyrics are fascinating.
All of Radiohead’s albums include a lot of fascinating lyrical content. “Creep” is a ballad about a girl who frontman Thom Yorke was fascinated with; she actually showed up at one of the band’s gigs. The first song I ever heard by Radiohead was “Fake Plastic Trees” (1995). Amusing title aside, it was written by Yorke, while under stress from Capitol Records, as a follow-up single to “Creep,” and was inspired by a drunken night in Canary Wharf, a business district in East London that has a lot of … fake plastic trees. Believe it or not, plastic trees are a controversial subject, going back to an early 1970s essay written by Martin H. Krieger titled “What’s Wrong With Plastic Trees?” Meanwhile, Hail to the Thief was memorable because of the political climate at the time—the record title was a nod to George W. Bush’s presidency. Yorke penned the track “2 + 2 = 5” as a reference to George Orwell’s 1984.
3. Radiohead does a lot musically.
Radiohead’s first three albums have a rock sound—although other elements are included. Then came Kid A in 2000—showing off a Radiohead sound that had evolved to include more specific elements of classical music and electronic music. Thom Yorke told Chuck Klosterman during an interview in 2003, “Do people really think I like straight-ahead rock? There's an irony in that, because I’ve always been more interested in making sounds, which is why I gravitate towards Kid A material.” The way in which Radiohead layers its music is, simply put, fascinating.
4. Radiohead’s live performances are awesome.
Beyond the great music, Radiohead’s visuals and lighting during live performances is dazzling. At Coachella in 2012, Radiohead had different-sized video screens hanging above the stage, an LED screen behind the band, and a large video panel at the top of the stage that showed all five members at once. And the band’s still got it: Reviews of Radiohead’s performance at Lollapalooza in Chicago last summer were positive across the board.
5. Radiohead’s new album was one of the best of 2016.
To reiterate: Radiohead’s still got it.
A Moon Shaped Pool, released May 8 of last year, is Radiohead’s ninth album, and it shows the band is creatively pushing the bar higher and higher. The release has received near-universal acclaim while nabbing two Grammy nominations—for Best Alternative Music Album and Best Rock Song (“Burn the Witch”).
If you have never seen Radiohead before, make sure you don’t miss them at Coachella—no matter the preconceived notions you may have about the band. A lot of Coachella 2017 attendees were not even born yet when Pablo Honey hit record stories back in 1993—and how many other bands from that era are still going as strongly today?