After a mystery-filled week of bizarre clues, Radiohead got down to real business on Tuesday morning (May 3) when they posted the full video for their new single, “Burn the Witch.” The stop-motion four-minute clip directed by “There There” director Chris Hopewell tells the story of a quaint village preparing to, well, burn a witch.
The cheery video is accompanied by a typically claustrophobic, eerie new song from the band, which chugs along on an urgent string arrangement that builds to a peak during a scene in which a man is nearly burned alive in a giant effigy similar to the one torched at the annual Burning Man festival and inspired by the 1973 British cult classic The Wicker Man. This site has already begun unwinding the background theory about the song’s history, dating back to when its title appeared in the artwork to the band’s 2003 album, Hail to the Thief, while chronicling the seemingly long, crooked road to the track’s release.
The spare lyrics to the song appear to have provided the narrative arc of the video. “Stay in the shadows/ Cheer the gallows/ This is a round up/ This is a low-flying panic attack,” singer Thom Yorke intones in his signature falsetto before wailing the song’s refrain about burning a witch in a village. “Red crosses on wooden doors/ If you float you burn/ Loose talk around tables/ Abandon all reason.”
Earlier in the day, the band posted two short Instagram clips that, as it turns out, were taken from the finished video. The alternative British band took the unusual step over the weekend of deleting all postings on its Twitter and Facebook accounts, and its website had gone completely white. Postings on frontman Thom Yorke’s Twitter account also went blank.
The plot thickened when some Radiohead fans in the U.K. received mysterious leaflets in the mail, heralding “Sing the song of sixpence that goes ‘Burn the witch.’ We know where you live.” The lines now appear to have been foreshadowing for the song’s lyrics. “Burn the Witch” will be available on all digital services on May 4.
Immediately after its release, the song shot to No. 1 on Billboard + Twitter’s Trending 140 chart, which measures acceleration of conversation and shares of given songs on Twitter.