Revisit Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ on ‘Rolling Stone Music Now’ with critic Steven Hyden
On November 5, Radiohead re-issued Kid A and Amnesia with their release, Kid A Mnesia, filled with unreleased material and B-sides.
In 2020, Kid A celebrated its 20th anniversary and “Rolling Stone Music Now’s” host Brian Hiatt sat down with author Steven Hyden to discuss one of Radiohead’s landmark releases. Hyden wrote a book on the album, This Isn’t Happening: Radiohead’s “Kid A” and the Beginning of the 21st Century. Hyden is a music critic, author, and host of the podcasts “Indiecast,” “36 From the Vault,” and “Celebration Rock.”
In 1999, Radiohead went to studios in Europe without a set budget or timeframe to write new material after touring with their 1997 release, OK Computer, a peak point in their career. In this episode, Hyden tells the story when Thom Yorke was having a mental breakdown in 1997, left one of their arena tour dates after soundcheck, hopped on a train, and realized the entire car was filled with fans. He could not disappear into the crowd and realized this was a metaphor for his life and how he felt with the band’s sound. Trapped. And these themes would appear on Kid A, as described by Hyden and he supposes their writing process is like Homer’s Odyssey.
On their fourth album, Radiohead re-invented their sound, straying from their previous guitar-driven rock releases, and created a universe using electronic instruments and computer technology to complete Kid A. Hyden discusses artists who similarly transformed their careers such as Bob Dylan after Blonde on Blonde and David Bowie after Ziggy Stardust.
On the 20th anniversary, Hyden thought it was an appropriate time to write the book discussing the album’s themes and crazy last two decades we’ve experienced. Kid A‘s themes lined up with society’s disillusionment in the new millennium and historical events including September 11th, the Gore v. Bush election dispute, and the war.
In his book and on this podcast episode, Hyden explores the sociological implications and themes of Kid A, a moody, dystopic record filled with paranoia and alienation, themes capturing what it would feel like to live in the 21st century, hallmarked by Thom Yorke’s vague and chaotic lyrics. Hyden said the lyrics resemble status updates on social media, while Kid A is the band’s musical equivalent of a Stanley Kubrick film. Hyden and Hiatt also unpacked specific tracks such as “Everything in its Right Place,” “Idioteque,” “Treefingers,” how the “Lost at Sea” demo became “In Limbo,” and more.
Hyden stated that this record changed listeners’ consumption patterns and forayed into the rise of Internet culture after the happy-go-lucky times of the 1990s. It’s amazing to remember Kid A was released around the same time as Britney Spears’ album, Baby One More Time, and was a charting phenomenon.
Celebrate Radiohead’s release of Kid A Mnesia with this episode of “Rolling Stone Music Now.” If you’d like to hear more from “Rolling Stone Music Now,” new episodes are posted weekly, brought to you by Cumulus Podcast Network.