Radiohead No Surprises Music video analysis

Radiohead No Surprises Music video analysis

This music video analysis of the song No surprises by Radiohead is an abstract from our tutorial e-book 14 music videos.

Music video analysis
PDF, 133 pages

The video tells the story of the singer who is drowning himself in a jar and ressurecting.


Radiohead No Surprises music video analysis

00:00 Black screen. A few small orange or red lights appear and disappear on the very first notes of the song.

Exposition of the story’s world: we start in nothingness.

Media effect: the synchronization of the two mediavideo and music – instills an impression of harmony.

Structure: catalyst – first appearance of this abstract and metaphorical element: lights, whose shapes and colors will diversify.

00:08 A weak neon light lets us discern the features of a face.

This face is obviously the character who will become the Hero of the plot.

00:14 We are now able to recognize Radiohead’s singer, Thom Yorke. His face appears and disappears on the blinking rhythm of the colored lights and neon lights.

This blinking is part of the catalyst, divided into several steps: the existence of the Hero is threatened by the uncertainty of the issue of the symbolic fight between, on one side, nothingness, darkness, existence, disparition, and on the other side, being, lightness, presence, apparition.

00:23 Thom Yorke takes glances all around him. A white on black text, being written on mirror from the right to the left, starts scrolling from the bottom to the top: it is the lyrics of the song.

The glances of Thom Yorke play the role of identificatory signal: before, he was watching us, establishing close and privileged eye-contact, and now, since he is reading a text we cannot easily read, we are invited to privilege his point of view, which strengthens the identification process from the viewer to the Hero.

00:26 Thom Yorke starts singing in sync with the music. His face fills the screen.

Media effect: the synchronization between the three media – the video, the written text, and the music (itself a mix of the sung (written) lyrics and instrumental melodies) creates an impression of fascinating harmony.

00:33 For ten seconds, a range of new neons light up and place their reflection on the singer’s features. A bigger neon underlines his left eyebrow, illuminating his pale and gloomy face.

Those apparitions of light are a threat over the Hero; they can blind him as a desk lamp would a convict during a police questioning.

Intertextuality: this blinding pale light alludes to other elements in the very rich audiovisual universe of Radiohead’s music videos. For example in the title of the song Rabbit in Your Headlights or in the video of Karma Police, in which a persecuted man is captured in the headlights of a car.

The lyrics are still scrolling, line by line, in sync with the music, the singer’s lips singing and the diodes turning on and off.

Pattern repetition develops the video as a fight between nothingness and being, light and darkness, silence and music.

01:19 On a more intense music moment, a new, bigger neon light appears on the singer’s right cheek.

This event looks like an attack – clearer, franker than the previous one – of the light against the singer; thus this light takes the confirmed role of Antagonist.

01:21 A wall of pale blue neons light up at the extreme right of the screen. Just after, a level of water starts rising from the bottom of the screen.

Structure: new catalyst element which installs a second Antagonist more powerful than the first, leads us to partially rebuild the characters’ table. The level of rising water will be the main Antagonist and the lights will be the Antagonist’s Helpers. This material antagonism has no proper goal or even any will, but it has a very direct effect over the Hero: the lights blind him and stop him from seeing or looking, while the rising water level stops him from breathing and singing.

Dramatic question: Will the Hero get out alive? Will he be able to see, breathe and sing?

01:40 The water level reaches the singer’s mouth, in the middle of the “No alarms and no surprises” chorus. He adapts by lifting his chin up to finish singing the chorus, but not the last verse. He then closes his eyes, avoids the water by lifting his face up for as long as he can, breathes strongly in, then dives his head into the water which is invading his vital space.

The conflict situation between the singer and the water becomes obvious. (By the way, in case you’re interested in this kind of low-budget but still speactular and intense movies, you might like to read this article: Six tips to making a no-budget music video.)

Structure: this water rise puts an end to the catalyst (divided into several micro-steps), and implicitly repeats the dramatic question: “Will the Hero survive or be drown?” and thus logically ends Act I of this unique plot.

Did you enjoy reading the beginning of this music video analysis? Do you want to read more?

Do you want to learn to write a music video script?

Then read our e-book: 14 Music Videos.

PDF, 133 pages
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