Tik Tok and a New Virtual Exhibition, What’s Next for Radiohead?

Radiohead’s music still holds up, even 30 years later. What hasn’t held up is the band’s resistance to the internet. One of their most famous albums, OK Computer, is named after a phrase they used to say when they didn’t know how to use any of their equipment. Throughout their time, Radiohead has been a leading force in certain aspects but not the internet. That album warned us of the effects it could have on us.

However, despite their continued hesitancy with the world-wide-web, it seems Radiohead is entering into a new phase. One that welcomes technology more than they ever have. Radiohead now has a Tik Tok, and they’re about to release a virtual exhibition with PlayStation. What’s going on, and what’s next for the band?

Thom Yorke performing in San Francisco.
Thom Yorke | Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Radiohead’s relationship with the internet

Years after Radiohead warned the effects of the internet on OK Computer, they released the album In Rainbows on their website and allowed fans to pick their own price for legal download. They saw some success, but many people didn’t actually pay for the album. This was in response to things like Napster. If the artist gave you a choice to have the music for free, then there would be no point in pirating anything.

Now there seems to be more success in streaming, which Thom Yorke has also warned against. In 2013, Yorke told the Mexican website, Sopitas (per Mashable), that Spotify is “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse.” Mashable writes, “Yorke sees the streaming service as a self-appointed gatekeeper of the music industry and believes artists are better off distributing their own catalogues.” Yorke has a similar distaste for YouTube.

In 2016, Radiohead scrubbed itself from the internet completely. Erasing everything and essentially deleting themselves from history and society’s collective unconscious.

“The thing that worries me about the computer age is the fact that people know so much about you. It’s an incredible invasion of privacy,” Thom Yorke told Unruly Hearts in 2012. “And no matter where you are in the world people can monitor you if you’re using your credit card.”

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“I’m not afraid of being taken over by computers though, because the thing is, computers cannot resist,” he told Unruly Hearts. “You can always smash ’em up, and they’re totally defenseless. All we need are more people with hammers.”

Mashable called the scrubbing a “baptism” because Radiohead started a strange new social media presence immediately after. “But when a new social media presence began to trickle into existence immediately, a slew of new questions came up. Was the erasure a baptism for a band finally striking a deal with the new world order? Or was it just a stunt — the sort of viral marketing they rail against?”

They teased their new album on Instagram and put their single on YouTube and Spotify, two of their “sworn enemies.”

Radiohead got Tik Tok

Given Radiohead’s past relationship with the internet, etc., it was strange when, all of a sudden, the band had its own Tik Tok in April 2021. What they posted was even stranger.

They posted bizarre videos featuring their mysterious Chieftain Mews character from their old webcasts. Once their views started decreasing, however, they made a video about it.

“We love what you’re doing, you obviously have been trying very hard, and we appreciate the effort, but we have been looking over the numbers,” Yorke tells Chieftain Mews in the clip. “Every time a new post goes up, you get 30% less people viewing it. So clearly, it’s not going in the right direction. Clearly, you needed to do something more like dogs dancing or whatever the f— it is.”

They’ve continued to post, but all the videos seem equally bizarre and come with no real explanation. Was it all just a stunt?

Their new virtual exhibition with PlayStation

To help commemorate the band’s forthcoming reissues of Kid A and Amnesiac, they’ve partnered with PlayStation to make a “virtual exhibition.” The trailer for the experience was released on Sept. 9 and “shows a collection of Radiohead logos etched on a virtual wall” to the backdrop of the band’s music.

Per NME, PlayStation describes it as “an upside-down digital/analogue universe created from original artwork and recordings to commemorate 21 years of Radiohead’s Kid A and Amnesiac. Coming in November 2021.” The project has been teased for about a year now.

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All these recent developments go against everything that we thought the band stood for. Unless this is another one of those things where the band is willing to give us something through the internet as long as it’s through them. The virtual exhibit seems odd because we didn’t think Radiohead would want to look back. They’re very forward-thinking.

But, who knows, with everything that the band’s doing now, we could very well see a side to Radiohead that we’ve never seen before. As for what’s next for the band? Hopefully, a tour and a new album. No more cryptic messages. They were supposed to tour this year, but the pandemic wiped that out. No news yet on whether they plan to do any shows in 2022.