Every Other Israeli Loves Them, but Radiohead Give Me the Creeps

My friends can't contain their excitement at the thought of Thom Yorke and Co. playing in Tel Aviv this July. I can, and will.

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Radiohead singer Thom Yorke performing at Madison Square Garden in July 2016
Radiohead singer Thom Yorke. Lyrics taken from the pages of an overly sensitive teenager's diary.Credit: Charles Sykes/AP
Ruth Perl Baharir
Ruth Perl Baharir

I recently came across a video that had been shared thousands of times on Facebook. In it, a Hebrew-speaking Chinese journalist walks down a street in China and asks passersby what they think of Jews and Israelis. Theyre smart! was the standard response. Each in turn was also forced to say Ha-kha-mim (smart) in Hebrew. The online response was hysterical, and proved once again that Israelis are obsessed with foreigners who love them.

This axiom is apparently one of the reasons for the fervor sweeping the nation about Radiohead, and makes any criticism of the band taboo. Israelis love to boast that the bands first appearance outside of their native Britain was at the (long-defunct) Roxanne club in Tel Aviv, which in turn led to guitarist Jonny Greenwood marrying one of our own.

As far as many Israelis are concerned, Radiohead are an Israeli product. Even the bands Hebrew Wikipedia entry paints Radiohead as an Israeli success story. There are those who claim that the first country in the world in which the song [Creep] got radio airplay and audience affection was Israel, and to this day theres a warm place in the band members hearts for the Israeli audience – although this claim is actually a rumor, it states.

Now, following the announcement of the bands concert in Hayarkon Park this July, the bands fans are going to be drooling for a particularly long time, many of my friends among them.

When I tell them Radiohead are awful, they think Im just being contrary. But the truth is, there are many justifiable reasons to hate these pale Brits from Oxfordshire. For example, the fact that they never been innovators. The tunes are simplistic, to say the least, and the lyrics – especially when theyre read away from the music – are ridiculous. They are full of angst and protest about life in the digital age, which sounds like the diary of an overly sensitive teenager.

This mediocrity is wrapped in a somber self-importance masquerading as quality. But the problem is that many people fall for it, believing Radioheads lack of humor indicates depth (when all it actually indicates is a lack of humor). Throughout the history of rock and roll, many great artists were able to use humor and still deal with weighty issues, which only enriched their works. Not this band.

Radiohead have never had a real identity – perhaps because they never really had anything authentic to express. Instead, they superficially adopted fragments of trends and the identities of others. On their 1993 debut, Pablo Honey, for example, theres a clear influence of grunge, which was then on the wane. This direction, by the way, was not just expressed musically: Singer Thom Yorke also made a desperate attempt to look like Nirvanas Kurt Cobain, including the bleached hair and hairstyle. But compared to Nirvana, Radioheads first record was anemic and emasculated, including their breakout hit Creep (also known as The easiest song to play on guitar – not that virtuosity is necessarily important).

Their sophomore effort, The Bends (1995), adopted, for the first time, the righteous and preachy aura that would characterize the bands later endeavors. Songs like Fake Plastic Trees and Black Star were pretentious clichs that satisfied those fractionally outside the mainstream but not enough to know the Britpop movement that was then coming into its own.

The band had found a winning formula: not exactly indie, not exactly mainstream. Songs with three or four chords, some distortion and a patina of quality that stuck to them because they dealt with issues like the environment, technology and alienation.

Their third album, OK Computer (1997), refined this formula and elevated the band to godlike status among shy teenagers. They still do this successfully to this day, with the minor change here and there, filling stadiums and making albums that range from limp rock to geeky electronica.

The teens who loved them may have grown up, but they continue to swallow the bands shit – along with gimmicks that continue to impart an aura of quality on the band. A concert that you can only get to by public transportation? Great idea! An album whereby you choose how much to pay for it? Original and brave! This coming July, these same fans will gather for a music festival devoid of any sex appeal. There wont be a single moment of fun – not one. No humor, no sarcasm. There wont be any, because there never was any.

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