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The secret rhythm in Radiohead’s “Videotape”

There’s more to this somber song than meets the ear.

Radiohead is a band that can release an album and within minutes, fans around the world converge on the internet and theorize about every aspect of it: the significance of the date it was released, the imagery in the album cover, what the track titles really mean, where coded messages in the lyrics are — the list goes on and on.

Radiohead never really engages with these conspiracy theories. They don’t confirm or deny them. In an interview with the New Yorker, Phil Selway, the band’s drummer, said:

We’re dead set on the music. That’s the thread running through this whole thing. We met at school playing music together, and we still get together over music now. We like solving musical puzzles.

I'm entertained by fan theories, there's no doubt about that, but they rarely leave me satisfied. Those musical puzzles, though, are a whole other story. I always want to figure them out. And lucky for me, a slightly smaller but still fierce group of fans do too. (Hint: They’re mostly on Reddit.)

In my first episode of Vox Pop's new music series Earworm, I spoke with Warren Lain. He's a Radiohead enthusiast who also happens to be an incredibly talented musician and music teacher. In December 2016, he uploaded a 38-minute video to YouTube about a Radiohead song that I deeply love called "Videotape." He had been thinking specifically about the hidden patterns in this seemingly simple song for the better part of a decade. The reason? He realized, with the help of a few fan forums, that the album version of “Videotape,” a somber, monotonous song, has a highly complex and challenging hidden rhythm. The piano in the song, it turns out, is syncopated.

In the video above Warren and I, joined by Erin Barra, a professor at Berklee College of Music, discuss why this simple little slow song is one of Radiohead’s greatest achievements.

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