Radiohead’s Unofficial Lhakar Pledge…and Maybe Bjork’s

Radiohead front man Thom York displays a Tibetan National Flag in front of 20,000 fans during their two sold out shows kicking off their world tour at London’s O2 Arena

Earlier this week I landed in London and my on very first night out I got to see one of my favorite bands of all time… Radiohead!! I was super excited. The last time I’d seen them was my last week of high school, during my first internship with Student’s For A Free Tibet when we tabled at Giant’s Stadium’s Field Day Festival. While I helped gather signatures for petitions, sell t-shirts and try my best all day to convince strangers to care about Tibet I ran to the stage when Blur, the Beastie Boys and Elliot Smith came on. But it was when Radiohead finally hit the stage a moment of  pure bliss sounded through my bones, rocking out to my fav band, making new friends and thinking it was so cool these guys were down with our cause. So to see them almost ten years later at London’s massive O2 Arena, was pretty darn sweet and to top it off they even had an Tibetan flag with them!

I remembered a few years ago when my friends had seen Radiohead in the States they told me the band had Tibetan flags onstage with them but until I saw it with my own eyes I wasn’t sure if I could really believe it. It’s such a specific feeling seeing one’s own flag in such a public place as a stage and for such a mainstream band as Radiohead, I thought it was cool they continued their support for Tibet in such a public way.

My friend and I were dead tired two hours into the show and even Thom York’s awesome dance moves and the arena’s stunning screen displays were not enough to keep me awake much longer. Then suddenly the band made their way back on stage for a second encore when we noticed the keyboard being rolled out had a HUGE Tibetan flag draped in front. Lead singer Thom York stood behind the flag as he played and then sang a brilliant cover of REM’s greatest hits, “The One I Love” before fading into “Everything In It’s Right Place.”

It was a great moment. I ran up to take some photos and then made a mad dash to the tube to try and outrun the 20,000 + crowd leaving the O2.

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Radiohead, a long time Tibet supporter, joins the likes of Bjork, The Beastie Boys and a few other artists who have openly stated their support for a free and Independent Tibet onstage during a performance on tour. While all three have headlined Tibetan Freedom Concerts at one time or another, I think it’s different to make a statement like this on your own tour. Radiohead have also taken it a step further by joining other influential signatories in signing on to the online campaign pushing international governments for multilateral action by taking the pledge to Stand Up for Tibet.

Bjork Performs “Declare Independence” in Shanghai 2008

In 2008, Bjork took a stand for Tibet while the Icelandic popstar performed in Shanghai crying out “Tibet! Tibet!” during a song called “Declare Independence. One year later the Icelandic singer upped the ante by arming her audience with dozens of small Tibetan flags in another amazing video of Declare Independence where you can see them waving wildly in the air as Bjork damns colonists and tells the crowd to “Raise Your Flag!” Even better was when I found out Tibetans have translated the song too!

At the time of Bjork’s performance in Shanghai a statement from China’s Culture Ministry said she “broke Chinese law and hurt Chinese people’s feelings.” Bjork’s statement did raise some eyebrows but it was a critical time for Tibet when we needed folks the most to pay attention. China did ban Bjork from ever visiting there again, saying they would become more strict with foreign performers in the future, but honestly, it’s their loss. Add her to the pile of celebs who are currently banned from China. I think the site BuzzFeed has put it best, “China: Why You Gotta Be Like That?”

As an artist I think one of the most meaningful and powerful things you can do onstage in a sort of subtle, yet intentional way of putting a nation’s flag (recognized or not, occupied or independent) right there where you and 20,000 other people can see it. It’s a huge statement and even though these artists are not Tibetan, they reminded me of the meaning of Lhakar nonetheless. Rock on.

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