Radiohead‘s “Creep,” which was released September 21, 1992, turns 25 years old today. Their first big hit, it remains one of their more controversial songs. Some Radiohead diehards will claim that to love “Creep” means you’re an entry-level poser who probably doesn’t even know the first time they played “True Love Waits.” Worse than that, it doesn’t even have the hallmarks of a classic Radiohead song: It’s all post-grunge crunch and basic alt-rock verse-chorus-verse blandness, none of the ambient textures and challenging progressions that would characterize their best work. Others will say that, yes, while it’s one of the band’s most popular songs, it still remains one of their best, in the way that any signature song—”Stairway to Heaven,” “Gold Digger,” “Satisfaction”—remains good if you shed yourself of the baggage of other people.
Anyways, Radiohead fans can keep debating it until they retire. What’s not up for debate is the appearance of “Creep” on Beavis and Butthead, the classic MTV show about two teen dunderheads who spent all their days watching music videos and talking about girls. It’s not even two minutes long, but it’s a perfect piece of music criticism.
Allow me to recap. The clip opens with “Creep,” as Beavis and Butthead are shown swaying back and forth to the opening melody. (From the future, the ambient lighting seems incredibly dated, but rest assured this is just how things looked in the ’90s.) After a few seconds of the melody, Butthead—the more cerebral of the two—turns toward Beavis. “Uh,” he says. “What is this?”
“Don’t worry Butthead,” neurotic Beavis reassures him. “It gets cool in a minute.”
Who hasn’t started a song and wondered when the good part is going to begin? But Butthead’s patience wears thin. “It better start rocking or I’ll really give him something to cry about,” he says. Not even 30 seconds into “Creep” and he can already tell Thom Yorke is that type of soppy boy who heartier men absolutely despise. To quote Noel Gallagher: “Not for us. We’re party people.”
Then, a miracle: The riff! The riff that remains the heaviest thing Radiohead ever recorded. “Check it out, check it out,” Beavis titters. “Yes! Yes! Rock!” (He rambles unintelligibly for several seconds.) The boys throw up the horns, and start head-banging. Beavis, honestly, sounds like he’s achieving climax.
“This is pretty cool,” Butthead admits.
But then, the riff dies down back to the ghostly melody, much to their chagrin. Beavis is dismayed. “How come they don’t just, like, play that cool part through the whole song?” It’s a fair point, but here Butthead gives us a lesson in dynamics, and how our appreciation for a musical part is increased by its placement in the song.
“Well Beavis,” he knowingly says, “If they didn’t have a part of the song that sucked, then it’s like, the other part wouldn’t be as cool.”
“You’re pretty smart, Butthead,” Beavis concludes. And right as he’s absorbed the lesson, the riff comes back, prompting a new round of exultations. “I like that part,” he says, mimicking the riff and clenching his fists, his eyebrows rocketing up with excitement. “It’s kind of like—he’s down on himself.”
“Yeah,” Butthead says. “Repeat after me: I am somebody.”
“I am somebody,” Beavis laughs.
They laugh together. The clip fades out.
What more have you ever needed to know about “Creep”? It’s depressed, and parts of it kind of suck, but those sucky parts serve to set up the pleasure of the awesome parts. Now, you could express that in fancier terms, and be a smarter person for it, but B&B express in two minutes what some writers would need 1,000 words to do, without forgetting the visceral joys of fandom.
You should watch it for yourself to remind yourself of how simple the merits of a song can be expressed. I won’t link it here because Viacom is incredibly fastidious about copyright infringement, but spend a few seconds on Google and you’ll come across it.