"True Love Waits" is a Radiohead B-side from the 1997 album OK Computer. Although never officially released as a studio version, the live version of "True Love Waits" was first introduced in 1995 and was finally released in 2001 on the I Might be Wrong: Live Recordings album. What is the meaning of the song lyrics to "True Love Waits" by Radiohead?
In order to really understand the true meaning of "True Love Waits," we first have to identify the main speaker of the song. In most cases, you can assume that the person who wrote the lyrics is reflecting their own personal point of view, but that might not be the case with Radiohead's "True Love Waits," especially since Thom Yorke has a history of experimenting with different voices and viewpoints in his songs. For example, on OK Computer's "Fitter Happier," Thom Yorke uses a text-to-speak computer program rather than his own voice to deliver the lyrics of the song and to separate himself and his own persona from the meaning of the song.
Are there any clues in "True Love Waits" that indicate that Thom Yorke is not speaking from his own point of view in the first stanza of the song? Lyrics like "I'll dress like your niece" and "have your babies" are our first indication that the intended speaker of the first verse of "True Love Waits" is female, not male, since men obviously cannot bear children and nieces are, by definition, female relatives. In addition to these pretty obvious references to the female gender, the first speaker of the song will also willingly "wash" the "feet" of the man she speaks to, bringing to mind the biblical figure of Mary Magdalene famously washing the feet of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. While the reference to Mary Magdalene here is ambiguous at best, Radiohead also mentions "Mother Mary" in the lyrics of another B-side track, Com Lag's "I am a Wicked Child."
There are other, more subtle indicators of gender in the first verse of "True Love Waits." Anti-feminist quotes like, "I'll drown my beliefs to have your babies," suggest that the speaker is not just female, but not very confident or independent woman, either. These song lyrics paint the picture of a codependent woman willing to basically sacrifice her entire identity just so some guy won't abandon her. This insecure woman is more concerned with dressing young and sexy, maybe the way a "niece" would, than standing up for her own beliefs and values. "Just don't leave," Thom sings for her rather pathetically.
But there is more to the meaning of "True Love Waits" outside of Radiohead song lyrics. "True Love Waits" is also the name of a Christian abstinence movement that encourages young girls to remain abstinent from sex until marriage. While a conservative Christian church group handing out chastity rings doesn't exactly seem like a cause Radiohead is likely to champion in one of their songs, it seems unlikely that Thom Yorke didn't know about the existence of the "True Love Waits" movement before writing the song, especially since the group was created in 1993 and the song has been around since 1995. What do promise rings have to do with the young woman described in the first verse of "True Love Waits"?
"True Love Waits" is a unique Radiohead song. Although the song lyrics are cryptic and not easily understood, behind them lies a statement on the meaning of "true love" in general. When asked about the meaning of the first verse of the song, Thom Yorke replied, "The difference between young and old [is] when people start to dress sensible and act their age. This person [in "True Love Waits"] is offering not to do that to keep the other." In other words, the woman in "True Love Waits" is young and not very sensible, with the underlying message being that, at this point in her life and this point in the song, she doesn't know what true love even is yet.
The speaker in the first verse of "True Love Waits" does not have a healthy grasp on the meaning of true love yet. When we're young, true love is like junk food, or "lollipops and crisps." It's not until later in life that we start understanding what true love really is, thus the song title "True Love Waits." The song composition follows the same pattern: the first verse is all about misunderstanding, and we have to wait until the final verse and be patient before true understanding and wisdom comes to be: "True love waits in haunted outtakes." This quote can be interpreted in a few different ways, with some people believing that Thom Yorke is actually saying "haunted attics" here instead of "haunted outtakes." Whatever the word, the meaning of both phrases is still very similar: true love isn't easy to pinpoint and we usually can only see it in retrospect, looking back in the "attics" and "outtakes" of the things we've filed and stored away in our memory. Sometimes we have to wait a little while for someone to grow on us. While we might not be sure about our feelings for someone at the time, when we look back we might realize we've grown to love them, unable to say the exact moment it happened. These things don't usually hit us over the head or occur right out in the spotlight, but gradually happen behind the scenes, in the "outtakes." True love is not something that everybody can see.
So what is the meaning of the Radiohead song lyrics to "True Love Waits"? When we're young, we don't know what love really is. Like the young woman in the first verse of the song, we sometimes make bad and unhealthy choices because we have low self-esteem and are afraid to be alone. Likewise, when we are young and naive we think that true love is "love at first sight" and should amount to some extravagant display of chivalry and affection. It is not until we are older that we see that true love is a grower, building naturally and gradually, and we must wait a little while before we can fully appreciate it.