Fake Plastic Trees

Album: The Bends (1995)
Charted: 20


  • According to Thom Yorke, this is a song about an area in east London called Canary Wharf, which was built on unused wasteland by the docks of the Thames. The area was supposed to be a major business district, but it was hurt by a market downturn in the '90s. Canary Wharf was landscaped with a lot of artificial plants, which is where the title came from. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Sajid - London, England
  • In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Yorke said that this was the song where he found his lyrical voice. He cut the vocal, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, in one take, then the band filled in its parts around him. Yorke said the song began as "A very nice melody which I had no idea what to do with, then you wake up and find your head singing some words to it."
  • An acoustic version was featured in the 1995 film Clueless and its accompanying soundtrack. In the movie, Cher (Alicia Silverstone) criticizes her stepbrother's taste in music when she overhears him listening to the tune, calling it "crybaby music."

    When asked by Vox if he minded the insult, Yorke replied: "I mean, I suppose it does piss me off, but I am a moaning crybaby from Hell, really. Besides, the characters in that film aren't the kind of people I'd want to like Radiohead. They're just average, two dimensional Beverly Hills kids, and the person who is actually listening to them to us in the film is the only three dimensional character. So the answer is: 'F--k you, we're for 3D people!'"

    Karyn Rachtman, the movie's music supervisor, admitted Cher was reflecting her own opinion of the band at the time. "I looked at them as 'the whiny band,' and I was very, 'Whatever' on them," she explained to Flavorwire. "I became a Radiohead fan later on, but I remember hearing at the time that they were assholes. I had to go to England to show them Clueless, and Thom Yorke was such a great guy. I may have really played up how shallow Cher was, like, 'Of course she's going to call you whiny, it's a compliment, get it?' They were fine with it."
  • The band were finding it difficult to nail this song and decided to take a break and catch a Jeff Buckley gig at Highbury. When they returned to the studio mesmerized by Buckley's set, Yorke sang the song twice before breaking down into tears.
  • According to Q magazine April 2008, Jonny Greenwood played on this an old Hammond organ, whose tone controls required resetting after every bar.

Comments: 29

  • Step Here from United States I think it’s about how people try to get rid of themselves through plastic surgery. Fixing low self esteem in that way never works and wears us out.
  • Anima Mundi from South AfricaMy favourite Radiohead song depicting the ever increasingly superficial society we live in. Mass production, mass consumption, materialism, capitalism and the ultimate conundrum of self destruction or submission. Has sinister despair ever sounded more beautiful, I think not.
  • Aaron from Los Angeles, CaThis song is about him hating it when people are always trying to impress other people with expensive stuff.
  • Alan from Doulting, United KingdomAs already mentioned by Dave in Cardiff Marillion covered this song on their album Unplugged At the Walls. A truly brilliant cover with Steve Hogarth's vocals capturing the moment perfectly. Well worth a listen. I'd be interested in what the Radiohead fans think of the Marillion version.
  • Jenifer from Tokyo, JapanNo matter how hard you try, it's impossible and it's never going to work. That's what this song is about.

    Ever tried to water a fake plant? Or fight gravity? Or rescue a styrofoam cup that fell into the campfire? Or tried to please a woman (and I am one, so I know that's impossible)?

    Ever been depressed? Then you'd know that how matter how hard you try, it's never going to work. Don't worry, I'm not depressed right now.

    So, of course I'm not sure what this song means, but that's what it reminds me of.
  • Kaisi from Shanghai, ChinaNobody could ever ever do this song even just slightly better than Radiohead do.
  • Daniel from Birmingham, Al"This song is about tigers and all the zoo animals that got loose from the San Diego Zoo in the 90's. It was hard time, walking out your door and seeing a tiger, and you didn't have much money so you had to try to feed it "plastic trees".. so it wouldn't eat you. This was a long time ago, but it feels like almost yesterday. Genius song. Genius lyrics, and you wouldn't even know what it's really about.
    - Ryan, Westerville, OH"

  • Jimmy from Atlanta, GaThe brilliance of this song is that at the singer is willing to be fake himself ("if I could be who you wanted") in order to please his love. It's self-perpetuating. Even those who recognize the "fakeness" in the world can be fake themselves as we all chase after love.
  • Stephanie from Racine, WiThis is the most beautiful song. So appropriate for the fake world we live it. Well, not everything is fake but it is the best way to describe the superficial people and world around us and it wears me out. I think we all know to well fake plastic people and I wonder why so many people thrive on it. Real is just so much better. This is just a wonderful song-LOVE!
  • Robert from Chico, CaThom wrote this after seeing Jeff Buckley play a set at Long Wongs, a now closed down small music venue in Tempe, AZ.
  • Joey from Westville, Nysimply about people being fake. Incredible song.
  • Luke Taylor from Manchester, United KingdomSaw this done live in Manchester on sunday. Real goosebumps moment. With everyone singing along, the unity of all the fans was magic.
  • Jordan from Toronto, OnI think this is about how artificial this world is and how this can wear everyone out to the point where they think that even real things such as love are fake.
  • Matt from Toronto, CanadaYeah, I dunno about the love deal, I dont think its that crucial to the song, it seems to simply focus on the fact that the plasticity and artificialness (just tried to think of the best alternatives for the word "fakeness" haha) of the world simply will wear you out in the end. He uses simple examples too, a plastic surgeon, fake plants and of course, fake love (ie. marrage based on money or looks etc.)Its depressing, but its very very true. Your job, your home and even your love can be based on something completely fake.
  • David from Austin, Txi think it's about the emotional toll that superficiality can take on a person, deep down, how it can "wear you out." if you feel bad and everyone else is happy... even if they are truly happy, it can seem like a superficial, fake happiness to you. perhaps the most confusing part of the song is where thom declares his love ("she looks like the real thing.. my fake plastic love"). his singing sounds very genuine about this love. my personal interpretation is that his love for this woman is real, but he's so surrounded by fakeness, that he even doubts his own love for her.
  • Eleanore from Miami, FlI think Bob hit the hammer on the head.
    The song is all about the superficiality in life...
    how it seems that everyone is trying to replace earth with plastic things.
    material possesions.
  • Megan from Nowhere, KyThis is one of my all-time favorite songs. It's beautiful.
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesMarillion covered this in 1997 - by coincidence Marillion's 1994 album Brave has often been labelled the blueprint for Radiohead's million-selling OK Computer album which came out in 1997
  • Adrian from Vancouver, CanadaI agree with Bob from Olympia. Our world has become quite superficial with some people only only "caring about their cell phone" type thing. Also it can be about a relationship where the guy is pained because he just realizes how the girl he likes is so "plastic". He thinks it must "wear her out".
  • Robb from London, EnglandPossibly the most beautiful song ever written and performed.

    Seeing it live is just mind shattering...
  • Ryan from Westerville, OhThis song is about tigers and all the zoo animals that got loose from the San Diego Zoo in the 90's. It was hard time, walking out your door and seeing a tiger, and you didn't have much money so you had to try to feed it "plastic trees".. so it wouldn't eat you. This was a long time ago, but it feels like almost yesterday. Genius song. Genius lyrics, and you wouldn't even know what it's really about.
  • Ashley from Moncton, CanadaFavourite Radiohead song.
  • Jean from Miami, FlI don't know, every time i listen to this song i get the feeling its about changing yourself, or people who try to change, not just physically but also mentally, mostly physically though, thorugh plastic surgery. "Her green plastic watering can, For her fake Chinese rubber plant, In fake plastic earth", From this i think York means she is constantly sorrounded by this "Fake" (don't know how to explain it better)and she can't get away from it, she doesn't know any better. "In a town full of rubber plans" Everyone else around her is okay with it, you know? Kind of like the whole Hollywood scene you know? giving this big message to dumb girls around the world to go under knife and change and become "beautiful"."She lives with a broken man, A cracked polystyrene man, Who just crumbles and burns", Pretty self-explained here.
    "He used to do surgery, For girls in the eighties" ?Not only is she in fake plastic earth sourrounded by plastic plants, the man she is with is actually who makes them."But gravity always wins" (Fake tits perky will one day be pulled by gravity)Even though people try to change their image and become beautiful, on day they will be ugly again only thay will realize their also empty. "She looks like the real thing, She tastes like the real thing, My fake plastic love" Yeah She looks beautiful, and feel beautiful, but its still not real. "If I could be who you wanted, If I could be who you wanted all the time" <---isn't this genious...I would give anything if i could write something like this...and water peoples eyes
  • Dennis from Chicagoland Burrows, IlI heard Alanis do a decent live cover
  • Michael from Innsbruck, AustriaWhat a song !!!
  • Dane from Honolulu, HiI could die to this song....
  • James from Yarmaccording to Thom's roadie this song was inspired after he and thom saw Jeff Buckley in America. Quite fitting as i love this song and Thom and Jeff are my two favourite singers
  • Bob from Olympia, WaI think this song is more about the depressing superficiality that Yorke sees in the world. He refers to everything with synthetic adjectives, such as "rubber", "plastic", and "polystyrene". This illustrates his disgust with how our society is run by fake things. This also relates to the general theme of Radiohead's smash hit album, OK Computer. The fact that this song is disguised by a happy tone and nice melody shows the false sence of comfort that these superficialities instill in the American public. Great song by Yorke, but i think it has a deeper meaning than the mushy love song that most people don't see through.
  • Rob from Birmingham, EnglandI think this song is about a few things but mainly about how seeing how other people so unhappy can rub off on someone else because you feel so sad for them. The song starts off that she is worn out, then he is worn out, then it wears me out. The girl is unhappy because she lives in a world surrounded by her husbands repression for loosing childrens lives while he worked as a surgeon- I think he can see exacltly what is wrong with the girl but can not save her as he would like to, she is his next door neighbour and see's this everyday. Imagine everything around you being Plastic, Fake all the time!!! That would be horrible, nothing would grow and nothing would die, it would just stay the same!!!
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