Radiohead, Karma Police: behind the meaning of the lyrics

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If we wanted to do an in-depth analysis on Karma we would need hours, so let’s summarize the topic in just two words: cause-effect. A consequence that comes from a completed action, positive or negative.

In the philosophical dimension of Radiohead, police deals with the consequences of this mechanism. Karma Police. You reap what you sow. Probably what you deserve. Probably everything is already written. Or maybe not.

Karma police
Arrest this man
He talks in maths
He buzzes like a fridge
He’s like a detuned radio

For Thom Yorke this question, this situation we cannot escape, is somehow amusing. Something able to balance things and, in some way, to fight the power. Do you cause harm? It will come back to you. This kind of existentialism is not new in Radiohead’s career (just think of Fake Plastic Trees). It’s a bit like Orwell’s psychopolitics in 1984: if you have bad thoughts, I arrest you; if you have bad karma, I arrest you.

This is what you’ll get
When you mess with us

The video was born in 1997 as a single of Ok Computer, and shows perfectly a “karmic” situation. A car chasing a man on the run. A man who runs, who stumbles, who gets up again, who stumbles again. And every time a member of the band does something wrong, the karma police come to settle the matter. “Wrong” is the result of a convention, of the idea hidden in the mind of those who wear an uniform. Again, a parallel with George Orwell’s Big Brother.

In the end of the video the car stops over and the man, without hesitation, gets his revenge: he lights a match sets it on fire. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

Is the man escaping from his own destiny?

Karma police
I’ve given all I can
It’s not enough
I’ve given all I can
But we’re still on the payroll

Is he running away from the car that will follow him everywhere, in a path already defined? And what about the match? Is the man defeating his own destiny? Can we really decide or “the car” already knew about the oil leak and the possibility that the revenge takes place?

Yes, looking at it from a certain point of view, it’s actually amusing, and Thom Yorke really enjoys singing it too. Like in Chile, with his acoustic guitar and his hysterical-disturbing laugh:

Did he lose his mind? Perhaps for just a minute?

For a minute there
I lost myself

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