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Why Radiohead hate their anthemic song ‘Creep’

Sometimes artists end up hating their own songs. Whether it’s because they represent a by-gone era for the band, perhaps now they’ve moved on musically from their first ‘hit’, or because the song is now attached to a sentiment the band can’t align with. The facts remain, some bands and artists hate their most well-known songs. While Kurt Cobain’s dislike of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was a known fact, perhaps the clearest vision of this contradictory disdain is Radiohead and their dislike of the anthemic ‘Creep.’

The song is largely regarded as their biggest hit and is played over and over at indie dancefloors and smoky house parties. And, when listening, it’s hard to find something to dislike. But, if there’s one man who is allowed to pick hole’s in the track then it is Thom Yorke.

Radiohead college dorm hero ‘Creep’, a song which is unquestionably the band’s biggest hit, remains a repeated source of anguish for the group. Given their plethora of masterpieces created over an astonishing 35-year career, the fact that this one song is often the focus of people’s attention is a repeated frustration for its creator Thom Yorke and the rest of the band too.

Written in 1987 while Yorke was studying at Exeter University, the premise is simple, the song is about being in love with someone and assuming you’re not good enough for them. In 1993, Yorke said of the song: “I have a real problem being a man in the ’90s… Any man with any sensitivity or conscience toward the opposite sex would have a problem. To actually assert yourself in a masculine way without looking like you’re in a hard-rock band is a very difficult thing to do… It comes back to the music we write, which is not effeminate, but it’s not brutal in its arrogance. It is one of the things I’m always trying: To assert a sexual persona and on the other hand trying desperately to negate it.”

Though the Oxford-based group had found moderate success and interest in Britain by this time, ‘Creep’ became an underground hit for the band in the United States. It spread like wildfire across college campuses and can even be traced back to one Californian college who added the song to a radio playlist in San Francisco. A censored version of the number was then released to radio stations and, gradually, it became an American alt-rock anthem—one that still persists to this day.

Over the next couple of years of touring, the band began to lose patience with the track and the sort of clientele it attracted to their concerts. “We seemed to be living out the same four and a half minutes of our lives over and over again. It was incredibly stultifying,” Johnny Greenwood said on those early tours, even recalling how audience members would scream for ‘Creep’ and then leave immediately after it was performed.

During those string of live dates for Radiohead’s third album OK Computer, Yorke became hostile when ‘Creep’ was mentioned in interviews and then, in the weeks after, began to refuse requests to play it live. One night in Montreal, things escalated when Yorke shouted at the audience, “Fuck off, we’re tired of it.” It was a daring move. To confront a fan-favourite with such a damning report, almost suggesting the held a lack of intelligence for holding it as one of their favourites.

In fact, Yorke even went one further. The lead singer even dismissed fans demanding to hear it as “anally retarded” and they have played it on less than half a dozen occasions since. Fo Radiohead, just as it had been for Kurt Cobain, this anthem became a stone around the neck of the band. Perpetually requested by their non-fans, having ‘Creep’ as your favourite Radiohead song has often been a good way to label yourself as not a true fan. While attitudes are changing there is still a fair dose of disdain whenever it is mentioned.

So, while we won’t judge you for kicking this track up to eleven, just don’t let Thom Yorke catch you.

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