“Paranoid Android” is a song by English alternative rock band Radiohead, featured on their 1997 third studio album OK Computer. The lyrics of the bleak but intentionally humorous song were written primarily by singer Thom Yorke, following an unpleasant experience in a Los Angeles bar. Six minutes long, and in four distinct sections, the track is significantly influenced by The Beatles‘ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” and Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody“. “Paranoid Android” takes its name from Marvin the Paranoid Androidof Douglas Adams‘ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.
When released as the lead single from OK Computer, “Paranoid Android” charted at number three on the UK Singles Chart. It was well received by music critics and highlighted in many reviews of OK Computer. The track has appeared regularly on lists of the best songs of all time, including Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Its animated music video, directed by Magnus Carlsson, was placed on heavy rotation on MTV, although the network censored portions containing nudity. Since its release, the track has been covered by numerous artists working in a variety of musical genres.
Remarking on the band’s goals for the “Paranoid Android” music video, Yorke said that, “When it came time to make the video for that song, we had lots of people saying, ‘Yeah, great, we can have another video like “Street Spirit”, all moody and black and dark. Well, no. We had really good fun doing this song, so the video should make you laugh. I mean, it should be sick, too.” Magnus Carlsson, Swedish creator of the animated series Robin, (and also famous for The Three Friends and Jerry,) was commissioned by the band to make the video. Radiohead were fans of the show, and connected with the Robin character; Jonny Greenwood described him as “affectionate” and “vulnerable”, while Yorke admitted that he found Robin “quite the vulnerable character, but he’s also violently cynical and quite tough and would always get up again.” At first Carlsson sought to work on a video for “No Surprises” and was uncertain as to how to approach “Paranoid Android”. Eventually he devised a scenario to the band’s liking after he locked himself in his office for over 12 hours to stare out of the window, while listening to the song on repeat while jotting down visual ideas. As Carlsson did not have access to the lyrics at the time, the concept for the video was based entirely on the song’s sound. According to Yorke, the band “deliberately didn’t send Magnus the lyrics” because they “didn’t want [the video] to be too literal.”
Like Robin, the “Paranoid Android” video is drawn in a simplistic style that emphasises bold colours and clear, strong lines. It features Robin and his friend Benjamin venturing into the world, running into miserable EU representatives, bullying pub patrons, two kissing leathermen, a drug addict, deranged businessmen, mermaids and an angel who plays table tennis with Robin. The band appears in cameo at a bar, where they are shown drinking while watching a man with a head coming out of his belly dancing on their table. However, in this cameo only the versions of Yorke and Jonny Greenwood resemble themselves; O’Brien said “If you freeze-frame it on the video, the guy with the five strands of hair slicked back, that’s Colin. It looks nothing like him.” Colin Greenwood said “there was no way that we could appear in it to perform in it because that would be so Spinal Tap” and that having animations that did not resemble the band members allowed the video to be “twisted and colorful which is how the song is anyway”. Yorke was ultimately pleased with the video, saying that it “is really about the violence around [Robin], which is exactly like the song. Not the same specific violence as in the lyrics, but everything going on around him is deeply troubling and violent, but he’s just drinking himself into oblivion. He’s there, but he’s not there. That’s why it works. And that’s why it does my head in every time I see it.”