fake plastic trees

BY Shareef Elfiki

This song is a portrayal of the pretenses and restrictions of people in the modern world.  We are raised in this world and shown all sorts of precedents for life:  how to act, what to create, what to become.  And these molds that are set for us are not always the ones we would pick, yet we try to fill them anyway.

    The first half of the first verse is an image of a woman growing a plant; essentially, trying to create something.  Yet, it is not a sincere thing she creates, as noted by key words "fake" and "plastic".  This could be a metaphor for many things.  Perhaps she is trying to create an image of herself that she feels is the ideal, but in actuality it is a false representation of her true being.  The second half of the verse shows that all those who surround her are equally superficial, and are systematically destroying their true selves.

    The chorus: "It wears her out."  This suggests that the people's attempts at filling this mold is very stressful.  A common theme in Radiohead lyrics, especially those about society's obsession with changing oneself to others' standards, is that people in the modern world should be more efficient.  If someone is "worn out", they are not being very efficient.  The chorus almost dismisses her troubles as an inefficiency in her person.


    The second verse introduces another character, the man that the woman lives with.  He is a "broken" man.  Simple enough: broken spirit, broken will, whatever.  Polystyrene is a type of foam that was used at some point to make hamburger boxes at McDonald's.  Similar enough to plastic, at least for the song's purposes.  The man tried to fill the mold, but failed.  Hence, "cracked polystyrene" = "shattered mold".  In the second half, the lyrics show that "he used to do surgery for girls in the eighties".


    There can be no denying that the eighties were a very glam-oriented period of music.  Glamour = facade = fake.  But there is also a certain naivete to the period.  In a naive period, the man tried to "do surgery". Surgery may represent trying to change someone for the better, or simply trying to help them.  And since they are "girls", from a heterosexual standpoint, this was probably attempted through a romantic relationship.


    However, he is unsuccessful (he used to try to help people, back when he was naive), because fate undermines his efforts.  Hence, he is also inefficient.


    In the third verse the speaker uses the first person narrative.  However, that does not mean that he has not spoken of himself before.  If we are to assume that "she" is the same female throughout the song, then "she" is his fake plastic love.  At the same time, "she" also lives with a broken man.  It is not uncommon for partners in a romantic relationship to live together. One interpretation might be that the speaker is also the broken man.


    "She looks like the real thing, she tastes like the real thing, my fake plastic love."  The speaker says that she is proficient at filling this artificial mold.  However, he "can't help but feeling".  He realizes that it is just that: fake.  "I could blow through the ceiling, if I just turn and run."  He thinks, "I could break out of this mold, if I just totally spazz out like I'm not supposed to."


    But alas, he does not act on this impulse, and resigns himself to his restrictions.  He even apologizes for his falling out of line.  "If I could be who you wanted all the time...", while a fragment, suggests, "I wish I could fill this mold of yours all the time.  Sorry, I fucked up for a second there."

By John

Essentially a piss-take/ lament on the pitfalls of surrendering to the attractions of the superficial values of modern living. The first line sums the theme up beautifully: you've got a green plastic watering can, for a fake chinese rubber plant... Now why do you need the watering can??? Of course you don't. So that thing which for most plants bears the essence of life (ie water) is, in this case, superfluous - a purely cosmetic accessory. The watering can represents a 'false hope' in gaining sustenance, in quenching desire within the environment in which these 'fake plastic trees' exist - represented by the fake plastic earth. Again, an illusion - growth cannot take place in this environment.

The 'rubber plans' for the town 'to get rid of itself': The corrupt/ corruptable schemes of the consumerist perpurtraiters are inevitably self destructive in their nature.

'She lives with a broken man, a cracked polystyrene man, who just crumbles and burns' - quite self explanitory: he's decaying, he once was well moulded but his mould is cracking with the strain. 'Burns' is perhaps a reference to unquenched desire.

'....who used to do surgery for girls in the '80's, but gravity always wins'. He's talking about plastic surgery - gravity always wins - eventually the breast has to do some sagging - and gravity: bringing him back 'down to earth' .

That the song contains a lot of humour is a point that is often overlooked, perhaps because it sounds so full of pain and longing - it is this juxtaposition (or duopoly) of feeling that, for me, gives the song a true edge - he's 'taking the piss' as well as being underlyingly serious. 'She looks like the real thing, tastes like the real thing'...'- sounds remarkably like a soft drink ad - also from the '80's - a play on the fact that she's a walking, talking advertisement for herself. 'I could blow through the cieling if I just turned and run' - the cieling is perhaps the glass cieling so often refered to in feminist writing that keeps women within certain constraints. So if she ran from it all - put it all behind her, then she could achieve anything. 'It wears her out' is the way she feels in her quieter moments - all this pretending is a tiring business. 'If I could be who you wanted all the time' - expresses a longing to truly BECOME what she's pretending to be which would save her the great effort of pretending...

Ultimately I feel that the song representst is the songwriters attempt to find compassion in a place where he is perhaps more used to feeling contempt. It concerns values which he deplores but which seem almost beyond the control of the 'victims'. They are merely products of their environment, rather than actual perpurtrators

By Leah

I think this song is actually fairly simple but poignant: It is draining to nurture something that is not real, and conversely, it is draining to expect that same thing to nurture you. This fake thing, whether it be a relationship, a job, a lifestyle, or whatever, "wears him out". For some people, it is easier just to adapt to the safety of something fake than to try to change the situation.
By Juxthaze@aol.com

fake plastic trees represents what a stereotype some of us have become. the song begins in the story of a random person. the beautiful thing about this song is that there's a resolution. the line 'it wears me out' indicates that some of the stereotype do stop to think about their life and where it's going. the song definitely shows the enlightenment of radiohead. they have been lucky enough to see the world as it is. this song is a sliver of the life they see.

I can't listen to the song enough. the album has changed my life. everything by radiohead has changed my life.
By Kate Knochel

"Fake Plastic Trees" is to me about fake love.

A man and a woman have been in a relationship for some time now. She bought her "green plastic watering can" from "a rubber man in a town full of rubber plans." She is "watering" their fake plastic love, barely keeping the relationship together. The "rubber man" is the man she pretends to be in love with, and the "town full of rubber plans" is all the falsities the two have built up to create what on the surface appears to be a true love-based relationship. This wears her out, because it is hard to admit to yourself that you don't truly love the person you've been with for so long.

The man she lives with is "broken," a "craked polysterene man." "He used to do surgery for girls in the eighties, but gravity always wins." He is completely worn out, and he's getting tired of trying to keep their relationship together. Years ago, "in the eighties", he used to do plastic "surgery" on girls (i.e. his lover). He used to be able to mold and change his image of his lover in his mind until she looked like someone he could love, but he can't pretend that he does not love the real her any longer. Gravity wins. He can't pretend to be in love much longer, and knowing this "wears him out."

So, they have a "fake plastic love". Neither of them can be what the other person wants. They feel like they're going to explode and "blow through the ceiling." What would happen if they just turned and ran? This struggle wears them out.
By Todd McCall

Fake plastic trees is a portrait of the modern world, it's superficiality, and a fervent desire to escape it. The persons described in the song are caricatures from our disposable culture, all of whom are deconstructing or are awakening to their own humanities disintegration, both physical and spiritual, as a consequence of their lives investments in materialism and vanity.

Watering a "fake chinese rubber plant" is existential. It is an exercise in futility. Further, "to get rid of itself" is an nihilistic absurd statement. It indicates a sort of breakdown on the part of our narrator who "can't help the feeling" that he could "blow through the ceiling (not the literal ceiling but the ceiling of his stagnation) "if i (he) just turn and run".

Our narrator is worn out by his dilemma. He rejects the mold. A plastic love is just that.. plastic. He can't be who she wants all the time. He can't live in a fake plastic world.
By Andy "Coot" Coates

To me this excellent song (the best on the album) is about a woman the singer (Thom) fancies and has had a relationship with.

All the references to "fake" relate to the fact that this woman is living a fake life, pretending she is someone who she thinks she should be, living in a higher class circle of friends. She is married to the "broken man" who used to be a plastic surgeon ("used to do surgery in the 80's"). She is unhappy with the marriage now that he is "broken" and "it wears her out" pretending to be someone who she is not.

"She looks like the real thing, she tastes like the real thing" suggests Thom has had a relationship with her but she does not want to drop the pretence of being this false high living wife. Thom "can't help this feeling" and not being with he makes him frustrated "I could blow through the ceiling". However, he cannot be the person she wants him to be although he wishes he could "If I could be who you wanted"
By maceio_17@hotmail.com

I believe that the true meaning is when two people meet and they know nothing about each other and she is just hoping that everyone could be real for a while. The fake plastic is the outer shell that we all put on. " she looks like the real thing" but she's not "I can't help the feeling" he realizes that she isn't real and he is worn out by this. Tired of trying to put on a fake smile and personality. " If I could be who you wanted" he wants to be real and her to like him for his real self, but she doesn't even know the real him and she will never know.
By ZJPhillips@aol.com

thom's lyrical ideas are always best left alone b/c when you try to articulate them, they lose their beauty but...

to me, it's just a story - there are some references to modern day superficiality, sure, but i don't think that's the point.

we see a woman. plastic. fake.

we see a man she lives with - also invested in this fake, imaginary world. he loves her.

"she tastes like the real thing"... but she is not. the woman is a fantasy, literally, and the man must now wake up from his dreams and deal with real life. and "the man" is the singer himself.

"if i could be who you wanted all the time". in real life, the woman the singer fancies and fantasizes about, has no feelings for him, a fact he just can't accept.

i read thom broke down in tears after recording this song. i think it's about unrequited love.
By Kellyann*

quite the song for young girls today who want to look like those teenage pop stars but in the road of doing it stumble to there knees and break there faces, in other words JUST BE YOURSELF. I have really gotten into this song a lot because Clueless is a great movie. Cher the main character had it all and did it all. But yet she wasn't happy with herself she wanted to share what she had to offer with the world. Yes she eventually finds herself and a way to make her feel better but she was raised on this fake plastic earth. "she could not help the feeling, she could blow through the ceiling, and then she turned and ran" ~ to the mall.

I especially like the phrase " If i could be who you wanted all the time"- I take that a few ways.

one - like someone so much but you are not together and he is with someone else. you want to be what he wants- so you would be with him
two- many people have high expectations of others and sometimes it causes people to lug heavy pressure on their shoulders and breakdown at some point, it coud be ironic, it could be sarcastic

but overall its just a good song- can definately make you think of what people do to alter their looks and their personalities to suit others. "Change is good, but dont let go of your values"
By Apple

now i know what im going to say is going to sound a bit...speculative, but nonetheless...
thom yorke, being a libran, like all librans are, all about balance which also means demanding reciprocation and contempt for ingratitude
of course im not offering some thesis on his psyche or anything, just a viewpoint for fun
i thought this idea kinda sounds true in some of his songs and librans are generally living contradictions
outwardly quiet but inwardly expressive creative and fiercely energetic
but seemingly aloof or unbothered oh, for a moment, i thought 'surgery for girls in the eighties' was about jack the ripper (1888, is it?)
By Morgane

its about this woman who feels like she always has to be perfect for her man, but she cant fill his expectations, and shes sick of trying to be someone shes not. i think this is a reflection of how lots of people feel about the world, the song just a representation of how everyone is struggling to find themselves in a consumer driven world
By Robert Lewis Livingston

A lot of in depth interpretations of a simple song. A man has loved a woman for long time, since he was a boy and she a girl. The problem is that this well adjusted, and comprehensive man lowers himself trying to love and be with this superficial woman. The woman cares only for intangible, shallow, and unimportant materialistics issues. She ended up marrying a big shot asshole who now is an aging pretty boy. Although our protagonist is a successful, sagacious, and respectful individual he feels the only way he is truly complete and happy is when he is around this sketchy woman. The lady because of the man's pragmatic demeanor will and can never love him. He is left tired and unfulfilled but deep inside he is happy he is not her.
By Astrodweeb

in the song, i think the girl is the only "real" thing. and when thom says "my fake plastic love", he's talking about his own emotions. and it frightens him that this real feeling is breaking through the artificial world he's surrounded with.
By AlexL

The song starts, appropriately enough, with a single guitar and the lyric 'green plastic watering can'. Instantly, the impression given, rightly or wrongly, is one of utterly banality and, even more interestingly, one of impersonality. The 'green plastic watering can' sums us all up; we are all 'made', 'plastic', and 'fake'; the fact that the 'broken man' did 'surgery in the 8Os' makes him an accessory to the dehumanizing process of the 'fake ' life.

Yet the song is also optimistic. The strings on 'I can't help that feeling' indicate man's essential goodness, and the reference to 'sea of love' means, whether you like it or not, there is a future beyond fake plastic. It's a song about redemption and hope.
By Edd

This song for me is about a guy who loves some girl but is to ugly to even have a chance (like Creep!) so tries to get plastic surgery. For me he fails, because the last line writes: "if I could be who you wanted". I still don't understand the link to Canary Wharf?
By Lucy

ever imagined everything was really
kind of shitty dream we're all in
i like this song because of the music
and the desperate tone in Thom's voice
i don't think it can be explained
the only sense is
hey shit, we're all just pretending.
to be strong and brave
funny and witty
nice and romantic.
it'd be so nice to just be for once
so totally free to be
ourselves and yet fit to anyone else
it is a song written by a man,
i'm afraid, by a man who already
knows he'll never be "all she wanted
all the time".
we never are, although i'm a woman.
By Karmakaze

One of Thom's best..by far, which pretty much sums up our modern society in its regard to "beauty" and how everything has become silicone, the "plastic" in the song. Thom sings from many points of view here, the woman, the man, his own, but he really is pressing the same issue and using different perspectives to do it so therefore it's a little jumbled, but of course if he wrote the path in bright fire then how would anyone be able to take there own meaning from the piece? Anyway, the main point of the song is, in society today, if you haven't been doctored up by some type of surgeon, you won't feel whole, so you think. But, unfortunately, "gravity always wins", i.e. the breasts will sag, the face will wrinkle, you will be dissapointed, not feeling whole, but weighed down by all the plastic additions you have made to yourself. That's my take on it.