I wrote this paper today for my communications class. I was supposed to analyze a love song and use "relationship concepts" and theories to do so. I don't even know if my teacher will like it, but I felt good about it. I chose "Creep" by Radiohead as my song.
What Radiohead's Creep Teaches Us About Romantic Relationships
Every relationship starts with some sort of attraction. There are numerous theories and phenomena that social psychologists have managed to put into words that seemingly describe how this occurs, but it will always be relatively mysterious. A phenomenon known as the “beautiful-is-good” effect may be the most effective way to explain attraction. I will proceed to discuss this magical effect, and also the “Matching Hypothesis”, which states that we are attracted to those who match our good looks. Do these theories have some sort of influence in Radiohead’s 1992 single Creep? Some would contest that this song is more of an angry song than a “love song,” but I feel it is both, and it seems to demonstrate a very basic idea in romantic relationships, that we like beautiful people.
The “beautiful-is-good” effect is well known in society, as well as in biology. When we see beautiful people, we see intelligence and communication competence, as well as nice butts and child-bearing hips. When female peacocks see a male display his beautiful feathers, they see not only one good looking bird, but good genetics and potential viable offspring. As humans, we may use all sorts of terms to describe our attractions, but we’re just like any other animals. We want to mate, and we want to do so with the most beautiful partners.
Remembering those wise words, we examine Creep. The song was written in 1987 by Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke, who, as anybody can testify who has seen him perform live, is kind of weird. Listening to a lot of their songs and hearing Yorke’s melancholy (but lovely) voice makes you think that he’s had an inferiority problem in life. Which he probably has, since kids made fun of him growing up because of his “drooping eyelid,” a problem resulting from an eye paralyzed and fixed shut at birth. Yorke himself describes Creep as a tale about an inebriated man who tries to get the attention of a woman that he follows around and is attracted to, but in the end “lacks the self-confidence to face her.” Yorke describes the song as “being in love with someone, but not feeling good enough.” He describes this feeling as, “There’s the beautiful people, and then there’s the rest of us.”
The “Matching Hypothesis” states that we are attracted to those who we feel match our good looks, and that we don’t want to be paired with people who are “above” or “below” us in that regard. In my own personal opinion, this hypothesis is somewhat flawed, and this song shows how this is so. The singer in this song, obviously Yorke, since it mirrors his personal experience, is attracted to a woman. “Creepy,” you might say. “He just follows her around?” Exactly. That’s why it’s called Creep. In spite of this attraction, you can sense his inferiority, his feeling of worthlessness in her presence. The opening line states “When you were here before, I couldn’t look you in the eye.” Then praise. “You’re just like an angel. Your skin makes me cry.”
It seems the “Matching Hypothesis” doesn’t really work here. He obviously wants to be paired with her, despite the fact that she is most definitely “above him” in terms of physical beauty, but he knows that it will never work. His own sense of worthlessness is the great barrier.
The most important lines in the song: “I wish I was special. You’re so very special.” Now everyone should know that the word “very” in that line was originally a profanity, but was edited for release in the U.S. Yorke thought that the song “lost its anger as a result.” Knowing that, we realize, even more, how much Yorke perceives himself: as a member of a social class completely and utterly distinct and separate from beautiful people. And boy is he mad about it. In fact, the chords themselves even show it. Says Guy Capuzzo, a music theory professor from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the ostinato (or common chord progression used throughout the song) “portrays the song’s obsessive lyrics, which depict the self-lacerating rage of an unsuccessful crush.” I will not go into specific detail about how this occurs, but it is important to note again, the anger, the rage. Why? Because beautiful is good. And Thom Yorke is not beautiful (remember the goofy droopy eyelid). Therefore, Thom Yorke, in his own self-perceived way, is not good, and will never be good enough for the aforementioned crush. Hence: “I’m a creep. I’m a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here.” Doesn’t belong where? On the same level as his little heart’s desire.
Some may argue there is no relationship value to this song, that it’s just a “stalker” song on the same level as “One Way or Another,” or “Every Breath You Take.” It could be true. It seems there is no actual interpersonal communication in this song, only the singer’s crazed obsessions. But is a stalker necessarily a “bad” thing? In light of this song…yes. Apparently, Yorke received fan mail from murderers saying how much they related to the song. Now if that doesn’t throw a negative light on it, then I don’t know what does. Regardless, it is evident that the singer is attracted to a person much more beautiful than him, and it is driving him mad with rage.
In conclusion, it is the “beautiful-is-good effect” that drives Yorke to anger in this song. Furthermore, in my own opinion, the “Matching Hypothesis” is flawed, in that we really can be attracted to someone who is on a higher level of beauty than we are. And yet, perhaps the “Matching Hypothesis” has some validity, because I just looked at a picture of Yorke’s girlfriend of 23 years, Rachel Owen, and you know what I decided? He definitely doesn’t date a supermodel. In fact, she’s kind of goofy looking.