With their nineth studio album #BurnTheWitch, the British Art Rock band Radiohead has once more redefined, if not completely deconstructed social media marketing. The freely available album, which was released through Mixcloud last night, challenges our ideas of politics, beauty and SEO alike.
From the post-avantgarde artwork of their debut album Pablo Honey to embracing classical music on Viva La Vida and the newspapers handed out when their latest work The King Of Limbs was released in 2011, Radiohead have always been so forward-thinking, they sometimes overtook themselves. Their nineth studio album #BurnTheWitch is of course no exception and, without a doubt, their most challenging work as of yet. Its title alone is the purest expression our alienation from modern day politics and must be considered a radical call to arms – literally speaking. Both a cunning word play on Bernie Sanders’ ubiquituous appeal to his potential voters to »Feel The Bern« and a somewhat more sociopolitically close to home reference to Margaret Thatcher, it is not only achingly beautiful, but also a radical political statement in the sense that it opens up a new debate on whether or not we shall kill or at least severly mutilate women in possession of powers we don’t understand. Here, the subtext reads, are five white men thinking against the grain. Welcome to the new age of radicalism. Can you accept the challenge?
Speaking of radicalism, the album’s surprise release was preceded by a radical marketing strategy that only a daring troupe like Thom Yorke and his radioheads would pull off: After sending out a limited amount of postcards with the album title written on it to people who possibly never gave the band their addresses (as if you would need further proof how well this band knows their audience!), Radiohead applied the little known radical strategy of whitewalling to all their social media accounts. Do you even SEO, bro? Radiohead sure don’t. Here is a band, the subtext reads, that will boldly not give a damn about their Google page rank. Like all of Radiohead’s brilliantly radical marketing campaigns, it was a daring and achingly beautiful decision to make. Would the media even care about this experimental underground band’s social media presence? Would fans notice that the radical Art Rock band had vanished from the social networks they so mindlessly consume? Would there even be memes if there was literally no content to derive them from? Questions no other band than Radiohead would ignore so radically. Here is a band, the subtext reads, that is not about marketing itself, but instead is a band which makes real music for real people. Can you snap authenticity? ICan you instagram integrity? Tweet your essence? Radiohead might not care about the hive mind mentality of social media, but they nonetheless redefine, if not completely deconstruct what it means to use social media.
The daring and bold move also has two meanings if you look at it closely, which you always ought to do when it comes to Radiohead’s radical gesamtkunstwerk approach to marketing. Just like the real postcards that real PR agents of the real Radiohead were comissioned to send out to real fans, Radiohead still make music with real instruments. But they still do it totally different from anyone else on this earth. For they are not only redefining, if not completely deconstructing social media marketing, but also music as a whole – on both an aesthetical and a political level. #FeelTheWitch is so radical from a musical viewpoint, so daring in its aesthetics and underlaying concepts, it feels like Radiohead have turned elaborate challenging thinkpieces on the conditio humana in hypercapitalist times into music, which will then be turned into music videos in which Thom Yorke radically explores the awkwardness of the human body in motion. Just like how the album cover was left intentionally blank to remind us of both The Beatles’ game-changing masterpiece The White Album and the inherent existential emptiness and alienation we experience in latter-day capitalism, #BurnTheBitch is like a canvas, completely open to interpretation and incredibly challenging at the same time. Here’s a band, the subtext reads, that will not surrender to capitalism but will instead fold capitalism’s inhumane methods back upon itself in order to eradicate it. Here’s five white men finally emancipating themselves from the structural oppression that has stripped them off their rights as a touring band playing sold-out shows.
Obviously, #BurnTheBern is not an album one can understand without having taken at least a 101 in sociology, much like Thom Yorke’s lyrics – take, for example, the one about waking up whilst sucking lemon, a brilliant metaphor for life because just like lemons, it is very sour and covered in pesticides – have become both more radical and opaque at the same time. Much like the music has become more and more challenging, Yorke’s vocal performance has never been this radical. On #BurnTheWitch, the critically acclaimed DJ and part-time politician redefines, if not completely deconstructs what it means to sing. It’s as if Yorke’s achingly beautiful voice is mimicking his erratic, radical dance moves, themselves an abstract echo of the notion of the human body under the panoptical looking glass of the surveillance systems watching our every step. After hearing him wail and shake through the eleven new songs – all of which are modestly and brilliantly called »Thom« after the band’s frontman Thom Yorke – we as a culture face the challenge to reconsider our notion of beauty all together. Is the expressive frailty of the passionate hat wearer not what makes this record so paradoxically, radically powerful? Is this not to understood as an expression of sheer selflessness using the mortal coil Thom Yorke (62), beloved by many, as a ghostly medium rather than actively being expressed by himself? This is what the album feels like in its entirity, too: Like a political message expressing itself through the ethereal beauty of pure, deconstructed sound, radically redefined pop music and transcending both the personal and the political. It’s a séance, a hauntological experience open to everyone and no-one at the same time.
#FeedTheWitch will be to the coming generations what the first notes emerging from a flute carved out of a human bone was to humankind itself: A radical tabula rasa of both art and politics which are completely redefined, if not absolutely deconstructed by #KillTheSwitch. Here is a band, the subtext reads, which will leave the timelines of this world reduced to tears, bring people together and make them go to demonstrations even on weekends. Describing that with a word other than »radical« would be an understatement.