I’ve gone on record as stating that I don’t really like Radiohead, and I still stand by that statement. With the exception of a few songs here and there, I find the band to be pretentious and boring. I’m sure that I’m going to get flamed by Radiohead fans for suggesting this. However, for as much disdain I have for the band, it’s hard to rule out their significance in the past decade.
Kid A is regarded as a classic now, so it’s kind of hard to look back in retrospect and see how wild and what a risk it was. True, OK Computer was a left-turn from the guitar rock of The Bends and Pablo Honey. But it was nothing compared to the cold electronic atmosphere that permeated the surface of Kid A. Somehow an album without a single track that closely resembled any real songs, managed to not only become a critical favorite, but also a hit. Radiohead managed to do the unthinkable: make avant-garde and experimental music popular. Bowie, Lou Reed, and Kraftwerk had been put out similar sounding albums throughout their career, but none of those albums managed to sink in through the public consciousness. From Kid A on, it became clear that Radiohead were blowing out the normal rules out what a popular rock band could do and sound like. So it’s no surprise that their fans are some of the most militant in existence – take a shot at Radiohead and you clearly don’t understand music.
Of course, Radiohead’s biggest influence over the past decade might not even be musical. By deciding to release their 2007 album, In Rainbows over the internet letting fans decide how much an album was worth, the band sent a ripple effect through the industry whose waves are still being felt almost four years later. Many bands have written songs about how terrible their contracts are, and some artists have even sued their record companies. But Radiohead’s move was the ultimate “fuck you”. They basically told the companies that they are no longer in charge, and that they have no say in how much music is worth, and how it should be distributed.
Since then, many big artists have tried similar moves – Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins in particular. While those albums haven’t quite had the same impact as In Rainbows, it’s clear that artists have been inspired by Radiohead’s bold move. The old model is gone, and Radiohead are the ones leading the charge. It still doesn’t mean I have to like them, though.