"I like the idea of my face leering out, some guy drowning himself in the corner of one of these terrible disco bars where they have MTV playing": Thom Yorke on the making of Radiohead’s shocking No Surprises video

A screenshot of the No Surprises video, Thom Yorke's face in a fish bowl slowly filling up with water
(Image credit: YouTube/Radiohead)

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke was beginning to tire of the world’s gaze by the time the Oxford rockers released No Surprises in January 1998. A swaying, lullaby-ish ballad, it was the fourth and final single from their third album OK Computer and the band, and Yorke in particular, wanted to make a mark with its video, determined not to make anything that could be deemed predictable. 

A lot of the suggestions put forward from prospective directors at the time didn’t capture Yorke’s imagination, pitching clips along the lines of what he described as “man walks along the street, no expression on his face, things fly past, things blow up, carries on walking”, Yorke rejecting them on account of them not conveying the troubled nature of the song. It was director Grant Gee, on the road with the band filming the documentary that would become Meeting People Is Easy, who came up with the right concept. 

“I loved that idea that Grant had,” Yorke told MTV’s 120 Minutes, “just a face in the screen, one shot and the water. In Europe, there’s a lot of pubs where you always have MTV playing and I like the idea of my face leering out in the corner in a bar, some guy drowning himself in the corner of one of these terrible disco bars where they have MTV playing.” Then Yorke realised he was relaying all this to MTV. “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that.”

Yorke had less of a nice time actually making the clip, which required him to sing inside what looks like a goldfish bowl as it slowly fills up with water, eventually submerging him, the Radiohead singer holding his breath. It took a few takes, as the scene of him losing his shit in Meeting People Is Easy demonstrated (it also gives away the secret that they sped up the track, there was me thinking Thom Yorke could hold his breath for a whole minute. Cheat!): 

Watch the full 120 Minutes interview, and check out the No Surprises video below:

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer for The Guardian, Variety and Classic Rock, and co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former editors of Q magazine Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. Niall has written for NME, X-Ray Magazine and XFM Online and interviewed some of music’s biggest stars, including Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, St Vincent, The 1975, Depeche Mode, Radiohead and many more.