Over twenty years ago, the British band Radiohead released their 4th studio album Kid A. The album became their first to top the charts in the USA. Furthermore, in the twenty years since then, Kid A has been certified platinum in multiple different countries. From these facts it is clear that Kid A was a very commercially successful, mainstream album and perhaps more importantly, that it has withstood the test of time. Thus, it is no surprise that over time, Kid A has developed a cult fan base that worships the album for how unique and experimental it is. But, was the album truly as groundbreaking as some think? And if so, how did it appeal to a mainstream audience?
The truth is there were a myriad of far more experimental albums, even far more experimental rock albums before Kid A. However, those offerings were not as commercially successful, the artists responsible for those projects were never able to break into the mainstream. Radiohead, on the other hand, was as mainstream as you could get, this was due to the fact that before Kid A, the band was basically another '90s alternative rock band. Even though their 3rd album, OK Computer, was loved by both fans and critics, it was still just an evolution of a very tried and true rock sound.
So, after OK Computer, the band had a massive mainstream audience however, it was also beginning to develop a slightly artsier fanbase. These developments allowed the band to experiment with a more ambitious rollout for Kid A. Radiohead told Capitol Records (their record label at the time) that they did not want to make any music videos for the album. However, the band was not about to leave their record label high and dry. They decided to create a series of animated clips, all shorter than a minute, to go with the album. Capitol sent these videos, as teaser material, to TV channels like MTV. This stunt made Radiohead look artsy, original and rebellious, especially to young people who, at the time, were their primary demographic. It also created anticipation for new music.
By the time the label released the first single from the album to radio stations, there was so much demand for it that the stations played it on repeat. Perhaps emboldened by this success, Radiohead refused to send advance copies of the album to any critics, opting instead, to play the record for select fans and critics in private settings. The band also refused to do photoshoots for magazines and instead chose to send the magazines in question altered images of the band members. All of these antics built up a great deal of intrigue and anticipation for the album. But, it could still have all gone very wrong, because, Kid A sounded nothing like its predecessor. All that anticipation could have quickly turned to hatred when the fans finally heard the album. Fortunately, because the rollout had crafted the artsy, left-field brand of the new Radiohead, fans did not have many pre-conceived notions of what the music would sound like.
Finally, the album came out. It was incredibly successful and, in its first week, got extremely positive reviews from critics as well as fans. And Radiohead, a band who had made their most popular album to date, then chosen to pivot to an entirely different and much more experimental sound, had made its mark on music history. The band had managed to maintain the mainstream appeal of their music while exploring a much more ambitious sound. And this was largely thanks to the album's rollout. It prepared audiences for the shift, and thus, when Kid A came out, they saw it for what it was and not what they wanted or expected it to be. Over time, Kid A has become one of those albums that people who have no interest in, or knowledge of experimental music stumble across, and, when they do, they find that it sounds nothing like anything they’ve heard before.
Kid A is a fantastic album. However, the most ground breaking aspect of it is the way it was rolled out. It’s monumental stature in music circles today is not only a testament to the quality of the music but also the uniqueness of the marketing that supported the album.
Hello, I am Kaihan Behramkamdin, a second year college student who enjoys consuming music, memes and mediocre cup noodles at 5am. I'm also very tall; hopefully that makes the articles more interesting.
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