Daydreaming | Dream vs Reality

An analysis of the song “Daydreaming” by Radiohead, from their 2016 album “A Moon Shaped Pool”.

Daydreaming is the second track on A Moon Shaped Pool, the ninth studio album by British rock band Radiohead. Daydreaming was released on 6 May 2016 as the album’s second single, accompanied by a music video directed by acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson.

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Daydreaming is a mellow ballad, composed of a gentle piano motif played on top of an ambient soundscape of electronic elements and orchestral strings. Singer Thom Yorke whispers the lyrics he himself has written in a lamenting voice. The song creates a dreamlike trance enhanced by bakgroud vocals and high-pitched bells. The outro is composed of slowed down, reversed vocals, in which Yorke aguishly sings, “efil ym fo flaH—Half of my life”.

In the music video, Yorke walks aimlessly through different environments, entering doors that lead to different locations. These locations and rooms symbolize memories from his life. He seems disconnected from these locations, never interacting with people, never stopping his seemingly disoriented walk. It is as if he is searching for something, something he never reaches. The video ends with Yorke climbing a snowy hill and entering a cave, laying down to rest beside a fire while singing ”half of my life” in reverse.

The cave in the end of the music video is a reference to ancient Greek philosopher Plato’s allegory of the cave. The allegory describes a group of people who live inside a cave, spending all their time watching shadows projected by a fire onto the wall of the cave. The people view these shadows as reality, and are completely preoccupied with observing the shadows. One could say they are ”imprisoned” by this illusion. According to the allegory, the philosopher is a person who escapes the prison of the cave, who comes to understand that the shadows are not reality, who perceives the true reality that lies beyond the shadows of the cave.

In Daydreaming, the philosopher is represented by Thom Yorke. The locations he passes in the music video—a library, an empty parking garage, a family’s home—symbolize the shadows on the wall, the artificial reality, and also the reality of Yorke’s daily life. But Yorke searches for the true reality beyond the shadows on the wall of the cave, thus he never pays attention to these environments. He is in his own world, the world beyond reality. He is daydreaming.

”Dreamers, they never learn, beyond the point of no return.”

Yorke walks through 23 doors in the music video. 23 is the number of years he was married to his wife Rachel, before they divorced in 2015. 23 is also the number of years passed between the release of Radiohead’s debut album Pablo Honey (1993) and A Moon Shaped Pool (2016). 23 years is also half of Yorke’s life, being 47 when writing Daydreaming. So the last line of the song, ”half of my life”, refers to both the marriage with Rachel and Radiohead’s time as an active band. The line is played backwards to portray Yorke’s regret, his yearning to reverse time in order to relive that half of his life.

The divorce with Rachel heavily affected Yorke, and it influenced many songs on A Moon Shaped Pool, including Daydreaming. The music video shows Yorke walking through a family’s home, which may represent his home and his family, whom he neglected in search of something else. Yorke regrets not being there for Rachel, and not spending time with his family. He spent 23 years daydreaming, when he should have been present. And when he realizes that his family is the most important thing in life, then ”it’s too late, and the damage is done.”

The allegory can also be seen as an illustration of Radiohead and their career. In the phrase, ”we are just happy to serve you”, ”we” means Radiohead, and ”you” means the fans, making it an allusion of Radiohead’s career, implying that Radiohead are ”serving” the fans, simply giving them what they want. In the cave allegory, Radiohead could be seen as the ones creating the shadows on the wall, which the fans are observing obsessively. ”A white room by a window, where the sun comes through”, could symbolize the cave, where the window is the cave mouth and the sun is the projections cast by the fire on the wall. When seen in this perspective, Radiohead represents the philosopher that has been outside the cave and seen the ”real truth”.

Daydreaming is about Yorke’s divided life, as he is split between his family and his band. The ending phrase, ”half of my life”, refers to this division. He has spent half of his life, 23 years, in two different worlds, not being connected to any of them. One part of hims was with Radiohead, and another part of him was with his family. He has been living with one foot in a dream and the other in reality. He has been daydreaming; not truly asleep, but not truly awake.

This goes beyond you, beyond me”, Yorke sings in the second verse, which refers to his persistent search of something beyond the reality of daily life, drawing a parallel between him and the philosopher in the allegory of the cave. The line also conveys that the song is not only about Yorke and Rachel, but has a more universal message.

Essentially, Daydreaming is about the balance between pursuing enlightenment and surrendering to ignorance. We should not stare blindly at the shadows on the wall, because they are only illusions. Instead we should explore the cave that is our life in this world, to see what we can discover. But we should not stray to far away from reality, because we risk missing out on life. Life is worth living even though we haven’t found the truth to everything. We should appreciate the important aspects of life, not become stuck in a daydream.