Radiohead Karma Police Music video analysis

Radiohead Karma Police Music video analysis

This music video analysis of the song Karma Police by Radiohead is an abstract from our tutorial e-book 14 music videos.

Music video analysis
PDF, 133 pages

The video tells a strange story of man hunt.

Radiohead – Karma Police music video – Shot by shot analysis

 00:00 The luxurious interior of a car: seats covered in burgundy velvet, purple leather bodywork…

World: the video opens in this place, a car. It is very common (everybody knows the interior of a car) and at the same time very original, because this interior is very special, nearly baroque. Are we in an “usually extraordinary” world? Like the daily life of someone very rich?

Intertextuality: like in the video of Rabbit In Your Headlights and in other Radiohead videos, a car is at the center of the drama, which adds to a very particular fiction universe.

00:07 The camera slowly rotates on its axis inside the car and turns towards the dark road – it is night. This camera move revealed some grass on the right of the car; we are in the countryside it seems.

Point of view: we still ignore who we are supposed to be in this story as viewers: a passive character (and if yes, then who is it?) or a disembodied and omniscient narrator?

00:20 Sound of the car door opening and closing. A light turns on and off inside the car.

00:28 On a drum strike – which launches the beginning of the lyrics “Karma… Police…” – the headlights turn on, revealing a totally deserted countryside road. The car starts and drives slowly.

Characterization: the series of clues (car door sounds, light inside, headlights on) out of necessity suggest that at least one person took the place of the driver’s seat and yet this person – who will soon become an actantial character – is not shown to us at all, which generates an impression of mystery. It is an effect of information distribution asymmetry by refusing to inform the viewer: this character and the others (the man who will be the Antagonist and Thom Yorke who will more or less be the Hero), know who the driver is and what he looks like, while we will never know.

World: we thus attend the progressive revelation of the plot‘s world, element after element, firstly the car, then the side of the road, then the road. (By the way, the presence of such a stylish car in the middle of nowhere looks enigmatic).

00:45 A white point appears in the horizon and grows slowly.

00:57 We start to distinguish that it’s a man, running as if he wanted to escape the car, turning back to take glances at it. The man does not run very fast and does not look like an athlete. We can already guess that he will not run for very long.

Characterization: very progressive revelation of this character, who will become the Antagonist. His presence in the middle of the road, in the middle of nowhere, looks as mysterious as that of the car which is following him.

01: 07 As we get closer to the running man, the camera rotates back to its first position. It leads us again to the back seats of the luxury car, on which we can now see Thom Yorke, looking down, depressed, stoned… and who sings the lyrics in an apathetic way: “This is what you get, this is what you get, when you mess with us…”

Point of view and characterization: the camera move remains inexplicable: who can watch things this way and rotate in such a cold, mechanical manner? The driver? No, because the move does not seem to be human. It seems to be the vision of a robot, but a robot is not allowed to drive a car… Furthermore, what is the real role of Thom Yorke in this story? He is sitting in the back of the car, passively, as a simple viewer, though he is involved since he sings these lyrics which sound threatening and seem to be adressed to the running character (who starts taking the shape of an Antagonist). It is actually not possible to say more about the undefined character of Thome Yorke, which adds even more mystery and tension; we have to follow an action that we cannot understand.

Structure: even if nothing is clear, it seems we already have the elements of a drama, that is: a Hero, an Antagonist, and a conflict between them. Thom Yorke’s lyrics sound like a catalyst of a plot, even if it is hard to guess its dramatic question (which will get more precise later on). End of Act I.

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PDF, 133 pages
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