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OK Computer, twenty years on: Radiohead’s musical, cultural, and political legacies

Posted: October 30th, 2016 | Filed under: Calls for Papers | No Comments »

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
  • 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?

Proposals of 400 words maximum, along with a short biography, should be
sent to Guillaume Clément ([email protected]) and David
Haigron ([email protected]) by 31 December 2016. Answers will
be given by the end of January 2017. Some papers from the symposium will be
selected for publication in a journal.

Indicative bibliography:

Dauncey, Hugh & Le Guern, Philippe (dir.). Stéréo: Sociologie comparée des
musiques populaires France / Grande-Bretagne. Puceul, Mélanie Séteun, 2008

Fonarow, Wendy. Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie
Music. Middletown, CT, Wesleyan University Press, 2006

Frith, Simon. Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure and the Politics of Rock’n’roll.
London, Constable, 1983

Griffiths, Dai. OK Computer (33 ⅓ series). London, Bloomsbury, 2004

Harris, John. The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock.
London, Fourth Estate, 2003

Middleton, Richard. Studying Popular Music. Buckingham, Open University
Press, 1990

Moore, Allan F. Rock: The Primary Text: Developing a Musicology of Rock.
Aldershot, Ashgate, 2001
Tate, Joseph (ed.). The Music and Art of Radiohead. Aldershot, Ashgate,

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