Thom Yorke + The Problem With Nazi Analogies

by Joshua B. Hoe The Bends, Radiohead

I often talk with friends about "three album arcs" as a decent measure of how good a band is, by that standard Radiohead started off about as strong as any band ever, witness:

  • Pablo Honey
  • The Bends (one of my all time personal favorites)
  • OK Computer (on many best of all-time lists)

I find Radiohead singer Thom Yorke, in addition to being a very good singer, to be a literate, interesting, and often challenging (not always in a pleasant way) person (he can be challenging and aloof, but also really interesting).

I am also a pretty big fan. But, sometimes you have to disagree even with the people you like.

Which brings us to Nazis.

Recently, in a conversation with an Italian magazine, Yorke said the following about Google and YouTube:

"I only know that they’re making money with the work of loads of artists who don’t get any benefit from it. People continue to say that this is an era where music is free, cinema is free. It’s not true. The creators of services make money – Google, YouTube. A huge amount of money, by trawling, like in the sea – they take everything there is. ‘Oh, sorry, was that yours? Now it’s ours. No, no, we’re joking – it’s still yours’. They’ve seized control of it – it’s like what the Nazis did during the second world war. Actually, it’s like what everyone was doing during the war, even the English – stealing the art of other countries. What difference is there?"

What Difference Is There? Part One

In a sense, he could theoretically be totally right.

Someone or (or many someones) makes tons of money off of what YouTube does (essentially they stream every piece of music every produced to users at no cost to them and no cost to users all while making it hand over fist in advertising).

It is possible that Radiohead makes no money from YouTube or Google, but that seems a bit of a stretch.

According to Rolling Stone Magazine, YouTube compensation rates are higher than many other video music services (especially for bands with large followings):

YouTube is fast becoming a place -- certainly more so than MTV (which rarely paid artists a cent ) -- where fans can boost the budgets of singers and songwriters. "Once you have an audience, you can make money," says Courtney Holt, a former Myspace Music executive and head of Maker, founded by top YouTube filmmakers. "Generating an audience is really hard." Psy proved this last year when "Gangnam Style" reached more than 1 billion hits and he made an estimated $800,000 to $2 million in revenue, depending on what source you believe. It's not fund-a-British-vacation-castle cash, but it beats piracy.

Radiohead has one of the larger followings on the planet (Earth).

I get that his larger  point is that artists should make the lion share of profits from the music that they create, but, not sure the analogy was wise.

I am pretty sure I have never heard of the Nazi's compensating the families (often Jewish) that they stole art from.

And at the end of the day, these services serve as advertisement for tours, which is where most bands make the big money these days.

So probably not exactly like the Nazi's Thom.

What Difference Is There? Part Two

So here is the other problem with Nazi analogies.

Yes, some things are similar or even remarkable similar to things the Nazis did.

But, the reason the Nazis were so awful was the combination of everything that they did. Most notably deciding it would be a good idea to try to commit genocide on Jews.

The main reason you don't want to make too many Nazi anaolgies is because it makes you sound like you are claiming equivalence, like what happened to you is like what happened to people under the Nazis, and that is pretty much never a good look.

At the end of the day, Thom Yorke is a multimillionaire with fans all over the world at no risk of being tortured or killed by the Nazis, Google, or YouTube for his goods.

When Trump was calling for the rebirth of Operation Wetback a few weeks back, he was kind of talking about rounding up an ethnic minority, that was probably closer. But, because he was not talking about executing them all, probably still not equivalent.

In no way is this meant as an indictment of Thom Yorke's accumulation of wealth for the creation of amazing music. Just a contextual criticism of his use of the Nazi analogy.

Probably a decent idea NOT to even pretend to equivalence, which is what Thom is doing in this case.


Full disclosure, I have adopted relatives who were profoundly affected by the Holocaust, so I take these discussions pretty seriously.

Out of respect for the importance of the issues in this discussion, I am not going to be snarky and include YouTube clips like usual.

I will, however, continue to attach links to albums through Apple, because I know they pay artists (maybe not as much as they deserve, but they pay them).

I also know that by linking artists in this manner, I potentially bring more people to their music. I believe this should be the point of the whole exercise.

Radiohead, in particular has, over the years provided my ears with much listening joy. So I hope more people will be converted by these links.

Also, I am not calling for censorship of Thom Yorke, I am saying I disagree with what he said (very different).

OK Computer, Radiohead

What do you think of Thom Yorke's use of the Nazi Analogy? What do you think of Radiohead? Let me know, leave a comment!

OpinionJoshua B. HoeComment