The most important Radiohead video is probably this clip, of the band playing “Creep” at the MTV Beach House in 1993. That’s the video that showed what the band could’ve easily been: A one-hit wonder playing for disinterested frat boys and beach bunnies, looking uncomfortable and humiliated while knocking out their one perfect diamond of a pop song in the worst possible location. Instead, Radiohead became a generation-defining band by challenging expectations at every turn, building an elliptical and challenging body of work along the way. Their videos were a big part of that. Radiohead were making music videos for the internet for years before YouTube was a thing, and while they aren’t all good — there are plenty of half-baked CGI experiments in their video oeuvre — they’re all interesting. We picked the 10 best, and we count them down below. (Note: “Rabbit In Your Headlights” isn’t a Radiohead video, so it isn’t on this list. It would be top three, easy, though.)
10. “Nude” (2008, Dir. Adam Buxton & Garth Jennings)
A thought experiment in all the ways you can make a group of people look creepy and alien through simple use of slow motion. The screwed-and-chopped version of Thom Yorke’s jitter-dance is a hypnotic thing.
9. “Pop Is Dead” (1993, Dir. Dwight Clarke)
“Creep” might be the iconic moment that introduced this band to an international audience, but its video is a straight Nirvana bite, as are the band’s other circa-Pablo Honey videos (except “Stop Whispering,” which looks like a Verve Pipe video). “Pop Is Dead” is the only one that holds up, mostly because of how much Yorke visibly enjoys playing a dandified vampire in a glass coffin. Bonus points for being the first Radiohead video that didn’t try to hide Phil Selways’ baldness.
8. “Go To Sleep” (2003, Dir. Alex Rutterford)
The disquieting all-CGI version of the “Just” video, with catastrophic destruction standing in for an unheard cosmic joke. A polygonal Yorke looks on as the workaday world crumbles and then builds itself back up.
7. “Paranoid Android” (1997, Dir. Magnus Carlsson)
The endless, nonsensical NSFW animated odyssey that more or less invented the deeply randomized Adult Swim aesthetic.
6. “No Surprises” (1997, Dir. Grant Gee)
Visually static and not entirely unboring, but the image of Yorke gasping for breath after letting water submerge his whole head in his space helmet is an iconic one. Also: Possibly the first lyric video ever made?
5. “There, There” (2003, Dir. Chris Hopewell)
Even before its nightmare ending, this is probably Radiohead’s most dreamlike video, with Yorke moving like a jittery wraith through a stop-motion wonderland that turns out to be more dangerous than he might’ve imagined.
4. “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” (1996, Dir. Jonathan Glazer)
Radiohead didn’t do too much work with iconic music-video directors, and when they did team up with Michel Gondry for “Knives Out,” it was an ass-ugly disaster. So their two clips with Glazer, who would go on to direct Sexy Beast and Under The Skin, are rare team-ups with a director who has the same sense of vision that they do. Nothing much happens in the “Street Spirit” video, but its uncanny slo-mo and sumptuous black-and-white make it a weirdly ravishing vision. It’s a crime that I can’t find a hi-res version online.
3. “Karma Police” (1997, Dir. Jonathan Glazer)
The band’s second Glazer collab is a ponderous but intense vision with its own dream-reality logic. Watching it on YouTube feels like a distant echo of the way so many of us experienced it for the first time, catching it while flipping through channels drunk or stoned, late at night. Fun fact: Glazer originally pitched the video to Marilyn Manson, and Manson shot him down.
2. “Lotus Flower” (2011, Dir. Garth Jennings)
Thom Yorke pushes his frantic onstage head-bobbles way, way past their logical conclusion and finds a new kind of internet immortality in the future. It was nearly as great when Yorke went full-on modern dance with it in Atoms For Peace’s “Ingenue” video, but the level of swagger it must’ve taken to pull this off on its own is a hell of a thing to consider.
1. “Just” (1995, Dir. Jamie Thraves)
The mysterious, elliptical story is beautifully told; it’s a rare case where a music video uses subtitles and it doesn’t feel like a lazy shortcut. The expressionistic cinematography is otherworldly and powerful. And the band themselves throw themselves into the act of pretending to play music with a level of commitment and confidence that they haven’t shown before or since.
Check out more from Radiohead Week on Stereogum here.