The Inspiration Behind Radiohead's Creep (And How It Became A Hit)

Radiohead's 1992 hit "Creep" is an iconic '90s song that features frontman Thom Yorke's melancholy voice and some incredibly angsty lyrics. Though it's clear that the song is about a very intense crush, the mystery lies behind who it is actually about. Unfortunately, the subject is still anonymous. Speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times (via Citizen Insane) in 1993, Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood revealed that the subject of the song was a woman who Yorke followed "for a couple of days or a week or whatever about two or three years ago." 

Written in 1987, the song was first released in September 1992 and did not make any waves at all. Per ABC News, DJs actually refused to play "Creep" because of its melancholy vibe. However, in June 1993, the song reached No. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed on the chart for 20 weeks. When re-released in the U.K in September 1993, it fared much better. Though this may have seemed like a good thing, for Radiohead themselves the success of "Creep" was a double-edged sword.

The song's success was detrimental to the band

As Thom Yorke told The Denver Post (via Citizen Insane) in 1995, the song almost broke up the band. "... It was frustrating, being judged on just that song when we felt we needed to move on," he said. "We were forced on tour to support it, and it gagged us, really. We were on the verge of breaking up. It was a lesson. The way that modern music culture works is that bands get set in a period of time, and then they repeat that small moment of their lives forever more — that's what everybody wants. And that's just what we weren't going to do."

By the 2000s, the band still had a major dislike for "Creep," or rather what it represented. In a 2001 interview with Uncut, Jonny Greenwood explained, "It was everything that went along with it rather than just the song. Thom (Yorke) just doesn't like playing it — it's his words, he can do what he wants with it. It's like, he's not in that emotional space anymore so he doesn't like playing it." This was a nicer way of putting it than Yorke's own way, which consisted of him using expletives, saying he had become "unbearable," due to feeling like their success was based on one song, and reiterating that the song's success had put him in a bad headspace where he believed he had to suffer to make good music.

The band seem to dislike the context associated with the song

According to data compiled by the crowd-sourced website, after playing "Creep" at Reading Festival in 2009, the band didn't play it again until 2016. Prior to performing it at Reading, Radiohead had taken large and sporadic breaks often lasting years between performing the song at concerts. Nevertheless, a few years later, Radiohead seemed to have forgotten their hatred for "Creep" — or at least put it aside. While performing the song at Glastonbury 2017, Yorke looked visibly moved when he heard and saw the crowd singing along. 

The song has not been performed by Radiohead since 2018, though Yorke did release a new, extremely stripped-back version of "Creep" in 2021 simply titled "Creep (Very 2021 Rmx)." Whether Radiohead likes it or not, the fact audiences know and scream along to the very specifically sad lyrics of "Creep" is a testament to the enduring popularity of a song that was deemed too downbeat to play on the radio.