Why Thom Yorke had a problem with ‘Clueless’

It was an instantly iconic joke: in the 1995 Gen X comedy Clueless, Paul Rudd’s older brother/love interest character Josh Lucas is shown to be a sophisticated and thoroughly alternative college student because of one dead giveaway – he listens to Radiohead.

At the time, England’s favourite experimental rockers were only just starting to find their footing. After releasing their debut LP Pablo Honey in 1993, the band were still trying to navigate the world as a one hit wonder. Radiohead would eventually shake the ‘Creep’ shadow hanging over them, but it was still very much a concern when Alicia Silverstone’s Cher Horowitz snarkily proclaimed “Ugh, complaint” upon hearing them.

Radiohead at least seemed like they were in on the joke. They did provide an acoustic version of The Bends’ ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ to the film’s soundtrack. But the sink-or-swim period that Clueless decided to take a shot at the band stuck with frontman Thom Yorke. In a 2000 interview with the magazine Hot Press around the release of Kid A, Yorke was asked if it was alright that the movie took a gentle swipe at Radiohead.

No, I had a problem with that,” was Yorke’s response. When pushed on whether it was because Silverstone’s character “wouldn’t have a Miles David box set at home” by the interviewer, Yorke tentatively agreed. “Yeah, I know – it wasn’t anything to do with her. It was just the fact that it was put in the movie, it was just a bit wack.”

“I was not into it at the time, because the music means a lot to me, so when it gets reduced to the level of a joke like that… I think now I probably wouldn’t have a problem with it,” Yorke explained. “But it just did my head in at that particular moment. I guess I was vulnerable to that. I had a problem with it.”

When asked if the band had found fans through soundtracks, Yorke agreed, with a very specific caveat. “Yes, in Greece. We’d never been there before and ‘Exit Music’ was the last track, right at the end [of the soundtrack to Romeo + Juliet]. And the place went absolutely nuts, and we went – what? And they told us afterwards that ‘Exit Music’ was a huge thing because of the film.”

“We were asked to do loads of things for Fight Club, and then we just weren’t in the right head space to do it, and it was such a shame but it was just the way it was,” Yorke added. “And the Romeo & Juliet thing; the director just kept sending us tapes and wouldn’t go away, and I was really into the idea of writing to commission like that.”

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