Seemingly overnight, Radiohead vanished from the internet, removing their website and social media accounts in a way that left fans and critics wondering what such a bold move might mean, but Radiohead is now back and with a new single. Radiohead returned with “Burn the Witch,” a song that may not be as fresh as the band might suggest and accompanied by a music video that seems to make a statement about the present political atmosphere.
Radiohead Releases “Burn The Witch” And Reveals The Song’s Long History
While this is the first official release of “Burn the Witch,” Radiohead has been teasing the song for years now, hinting at the mere existence of “Burn the Witch,” since the 2003 release of their Hail to the Thief album. That album’s artwork pays tribute to “Burn the Witch,” boldly spelling out the Radiohead song title in black letters against a bright red background. Even Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich admits that the band has been working on versions of “Burn the Witch” since Hail to the Thief and suggests that Radiohead had been toying around with versions of the song even earlier than that.
“Yeah, there’s been versions of that song were recorded…It exists,” says the Radiohead producer. “But where it goes, nobody knows. I haven’t heard it mentioned for awhile, let me put it that way. It’s a great song.”
It has been suggested that Radiohead has been holding onto “Burn the Witch,” waiting for the perfect political atmosphere to release the song. Now, after the events like Edward Snowden’s release of NSA documents and the court battle between the FBI and Apple over disabling security protocols on mobile phones, it seems there could be no better time for a song which consists of lyrics that would warn us to be wary of our own government.
“Stay in the shadows / Cheer the gallows…Abandon all reason / Avoid all eye contact / Do not react / Shoot the messenger.”
The Making Of The “Burn The Witch” Music Video Gives Insight Into Radiohead’s Message
Radiohead is known for their hidden messages and Easter eggs in their albums, songs, and videos, and the video for “Burn the Witch” is no different with its use of stop-motion animation and nods to shows such as Trumpton and Camberwick Green. Animator Virpi Kettu reveals that she was challenged by the task of creating the video for Radiohead, adhering to their specific ideas of what they wanted, and keeping it all secret until the very last minute.
“We had to rehearse [a lot] because there’s a specific walk the puppets have and a specific kind jerkiness of the thing,” Kettu said.
Virpi added that Radiohead wanted the video to have a brighter, happier feel to it, so that it would contrast the deeply dark sounds and artwork of the forthcoming album. Even “Burn the Witch,” the first single from the new album, has dark overtones, so it was their feeling, says Kettu, that the contrast would wake up people to the messages contained within the song and video.
What message, specifically? Radiohead has spelled that out in no uncertain terms, particularly with imagery that closely parallels the 1973 film, The Wicker Man. The political atmosphere in America is one of suspicion, blame, and fear with each group seeking to ostracize the members of other groups, whether those groups are based on political party, race, belief, or sexual orientation and gender identity. The presidential election campaigns have only sought to exploit those biases, reinforcing the “Burn the Witch” mentality left over from the 17th century prejudices that ultimately led to the New England witch trials.
It was a tall order, says the animator, but she adds that she’s been a longtime fan of Radiohead’s music, so it was a pleasure to work to their specifications and to create something with them. The timetable was daunting, forcing Kettu to go without sleep, but she says even that was worth it. How was she able to create the “Burn the Witch” masterpiece so quickly?
“The power of pizza,” replies Virpi. “[Also] I really love Radiohead and I really love animation, so you put those two together and I’d do anything. It was one of the most demanding things I’ve ever done in my life, physically and mentally. “
[Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images]