Why Thom Yorke's dancing is a brave move
It was seeing Thom Yorke dance that did it. Anyone who has attended or will be attending the string of sold out Radiohead shows currently happening across the country will be able to witness first hand some of the most enduringly weird dance moves ever offered up to popular culture. Made famous in the video for recent single ‘Lotus Flower’, Yorke, arguably a person you’d never imagine busting moves at all, loosens his limbs and flamboyantly windmills himself across the stage with absolutely no self-consciousness about it at all. And if he does feel weird, you certainly wouldn’t know it.
Would I ever do such a thing? Not in a million years. For most men who find dancing in a nightclub under the watchful eye of absolutely nobody threatening, how a phenomenal introvert who famously hates making a public figure of himself gets into that headspace on stage in front of thousands night after night is something I find very interesting. How does a guy who doesn’t even like interviews convince himself to dance, and spasmodically at that? How does he quieten all the pragmatic, self-doubting voices in his head that say ‘Not a good idea’ or ‘You’re going to make a fool of yourself’ and just do it?
Cutting loose and taking risks with something as public as our image has a lot to do with how secure we feel as men. And while the fairer sex certainly cops the lion’s share of direct marketing that make them feel terrible in order to facilitate the buying of things, we are by no means immune. Open up a copy of GQ and take a look at the ads for aftershave, or see whom they’re using to flog shirts for the big fashion houses and you’ll get an idea of how increasingly difficult it is for the average bloke to feel comfortable in their own skin. Then add the twenty pages of fashion spreads that seem to have come out of nowhere in the last decade and there’s the double whammy of what you’re cladding yourself in, too.
Now, Thom Yorke’s ability not to give a shit about any of these things – how he looks, what he’s wearing, how others perceive him – may come from years of internal dialogue on the value of ignoring the opinions of people outside his inner circle, including the media. It may be that he’s so caught up in how much he doesn’t like himself that he has no time to consider what the rest of us think. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something we can learn from a skinny, white forty-something with a lazy eye and leftist leanings that is probably the most popular British person in Australia this month outside of Chris Martin, who grew up wanting to be Thom Yorke anyway.
He’s not the first person to jolt me out of that liquid grey area of arbitrary wallowing, but watching Yorke throw shapes had a significant effect on my levels of self-belief the other night. If skittering across the stage is cathartic for him, it’s equally useful for the rest of us men. Seeing someone who is a mortal, not a model (particularly one who regularly admits to his own flaws in lyrical form) spontaneously combusting into a flurry of limbs proves to us that our fears and doubts about what we are capable of, or permitted to do, largely exist inside our craniums. It’s that often forgotten lightbulb moment when we realise that we can all do fantastic things without having the biggest muscles, the fattest paycheck or the most relevant printed short-sleeved shirt and stovepipe jeans combination. Anyone, really, can do anything. Assuming we stop analysing it.
Somewhere on the path between composition and video clip, before it even hit the millions of audience members around the world, Yorke decided that he would stop second-guessing himself and do what made him feel good. Watching him dance, you feel like he’s been waiting for this moment his entire life, a moment when he could crystallise his work and express it through his body. It’s possible that what held him back before this moment is what holds us all back; from wearing bright colours, stopping that woman in the street and asking for her number, going to a party where we don’t know anyone, painting, riding a motorbike, talking to our brothers, singing or hell, even dancing.
The kind of cool Yorke espouses is both real and intangible. You cannot use it to sell shoes or sunglasses, because it is a fundamental thing, not an arbitrary, custom-defined concept. Too often I find myself running on the hamster wheel and imagining everything revolves around the latter. Thankfully, there’s always figures like that embittered yet resiliently popular Oxfordian, plagued perhaps by the most insistent self-doubt of us all, but willing to man up and move past it.