The music of radiohead : creativity and optimism in a post-postmodern world
Saeful Hakim Aziz
Date of Issue2017
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Radiohead, a rock band hailing from Oxford in England which to date has released nine full length albums, have over the years been revered in the music industry for their approach to music making. The band has mastered a creative, eclectic approach in their praxis of music making, which has seen them transgress the conventions of rock music as a genre, even challenging notions of the “song” at some points, while at the same time maintaining a mainstream appeal. Radiohead’s ethos of creativity and experimentation have established the band as the pre-eminent innovators of their generation, primarily in the context of rock music. To date, Radiohead has amassed as much as 22 awards from 79 nominations, which include 3 Grammy awards for Best Alternative Music Album. This thesis is particularly intrigued by the band’s ability to navigate a balance between experimentation and mass appeal, constantly producing music which retains a mass mainstream appeal while bravely deviating from conventional tropes of popular music. In it, I attempt to understand the phenomenon of Radiohead, by framing the band’s ideas and approaches within the concept of post-postmodernism, a term coined by Jeffery Nealon. Post-postmodernism constitutes an intensification of postmodernism, which first came into prominence with the publication of Jean-Francois Lyotard’s "The Postmodern Condition." A comprehensive understanding will thus be made based of Lyotard’s manifesto, as well as Frederic Jameson’s reading of the concept, which he sets out in "Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism." Jeffery Nealon’s "Post-postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Just-In-Time Capitalism," whose title is a spinoff of Jameson’s, builds heavily on Jameson’s text. I synthesise ideas derived from these three theorists to formulate my own interpretation of post-postmodernism. Subsequently, I assert Radiohead’s status as quintessential post-postmodern musicians, primarily through their ability to redefine innovation in the music industry, continually breaking new grounds in an industry already laden with tropes of music, as well as their ability to resist the economic and cultural systems they are against by working within the very same systems. On top of delineating the pervasiveness of the postmodern in Radiohead’s processes, I conversely attempt to understand Nealon’s concept of post-postmodernism, of which there has been little scholarly work on, in greater depth through Radiohead's music. Ultimately, the essay's central argument is that the Radiohead approach towards innovation, in particular their idiosyncratic approach to both song and lyric writing, as well as their approach to the distribution of their music, can be regarded a “formula” to creativity and innovation in music within a post-postmodern world already saturated with existing works, given the mainstream successes they have enjoyed despite undertaking a largely experimental approach.
Final Year Project (FYP)
Nanyang Technological University