OK Computer, twenty years on: Radiohead’s musical, cultural, and political legacies
Symposium, Université Rennes 2 (France), May 18th, 2017.
OK Computer, Radiohead’s third album, has captivated many rock music fans worldwide and contributed to enhance the band’s prestigious status within the British rock scene. Upon release in May 1997, the album reached the top spot in the UK album charts, and remained ranked in the Top 40 for two years, with sales in excess of three million units. The album was met with critical acclaim from the New Musical Express, which awarded it a perfect 10/10 rating, and continues to this day to feature in the music press’s lists of the best rock albums of all times.
A complex, at times experimental, album, OK Computer provides a sharp contrast with the dominating trends in mid-to-late 1990s British rock, especially Britpop. Furthermore, a careful look at many of its arcane lyrics highlights Radiohead’s taste for social commentary and outlines the band’s political thought. While very different in tone and arrangement, songs like “Electioneering”, “Paranoid Android” and “Fitter Happier” contribute to building a coherent vision of British society whose members are described as apathetic, manipulated and driven by consumerism. This pessimistic view of society appears strikingly at odds with the Cool Britannia phenomenon on which New Labour had partly relied to win the General Election only a few days before the album’s release.
As a band who has garnered critical and commercial success without forsaking their taste for musical experimentation and subversive, yet poetic, lyrics, Radiohead offer multiple facets to their listeners and to popular music scholars alike. Nevertheless, only a handful of academic studies have, to this day, been devoted their work, including The Music and Art of Radiohead (Tate, 2005). Following the multidisciplinary approach in fashion in popular music studies (Frith, 1983; Middleton, 1990); Radiohead’s work can be considered through a variety of methodological filters: musicology, sociology, art history, political science, literature, cultural studies or even economics.
This symposium seeks to bring together contributions from scholars who wish to confront Radiohead’s work with their own disciplinary methodologies, including (but not limited to) an assessment of OK Computer’s impact twenty years after its release. Potential topics may include:
What impact has OK Computer had on the evolution of British rock music as a genre?
What is Radiohead’s place in late-1990s British popular music and culture?
Can Radiohead’s lyrics be considered to hold specific literary, sociological or even political values?
To what extent do visual elements (video clips, album sleeves, etc.) illustrate and broaden the band’s message?
To what extent is Radiohead’s music the reflection of its particular socio-political context?
Following OK Computer’s release, how did the band both adapt to and help overhaul several mechanisms within the music industry, including music production, broadcasting, promotion and consumption?
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