‘OK Computer’ Is How We Felt About the Internet Before It Devoured Us

2022 marks the 25th anniversary of the year that everything happened — 1997. It was an ear-biting, Pierce Brosnan-loving, comet-obsessed world, and we’re here to relive every minute of it. Twice a week over the next 12 months, we will take you back to the winter of sheep cloning and the summer of Con Air. Come for the Chumbawamba, and stay for the return of the Mack. See all of the stories here.

Man, the 1990s were so great, there was nothing you had to worry about back then. The economy was in good shape. The Soviet Union had collapsed. There weren’t even any wars. (I mean, there were, but we Americans didn’t pay attention.) Yep, everything was pretty chill. 

Well, we did have one thing that kept us up at night: technology. Everybody had started getting computers, and the internet was becoming a thing, and we weren’t sure what all of that meant. Were we losing part of our humanity in the process? Were we turning into machines? And what might happen at the end of the century? Was Y2K going to destroy civilization as we knew it? Sure, the decade had mostly been a breeze, but maybe we were just setting ourselves up for a global catastrophe.

Radiohead’s third album wasn’t specifically about Y2K. But OK Computer, which came out in May 1997, connected to a vague, paranoid feeling that something bad was coming, a suspicion that the growing computerization of everything spelt certain doom — and that we were doing nothing to prevent it. OK Computer cemented Radiohead as one of the great rock bands — a reputation they’ve only fortified with subsequent releases — but it’s also a time capsule of a bygone era before we started living online. The album is about a lot of things, but one of its big themes was the notion that technology was coming to destroy us. It’s the sound of a rock band fretting about the future.

In the mid-1990s, Radiohead weren’t even the most popular band in the U.K. The Britpop revival, spearheaded by Oasis and Blur, was huge in their homeland, although Radiohead’s second album, 1995’s The Bends, had proved that they weren’t just “Creep” one-hit wonders. But Radiohead weren’t interested in competing with their contemporaries. “The whole Britpop thing made me fucking angry,” frontman Thom Yorke later said. “I hated it. It was backwards-looking, and I didn’t want any part of it.” As a result, in a story that’s been repeated millions of times, the group decamped to St. Catherine’s Court, a mansion out in the middle of nowhere in Somerset that was owned by Jane Seymour, to record what would become OK Computer.

The lyrics drew from some very 1990s alt-rock themes — alienation and the fear of being a fraud because of your commercial success — which ended up dovetailing nicely with another anguish of the era, technology encroaching into every aspect of our

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