Radiohead released "Creep" as their debut single in 1992, and it later appeared on their first album, Pablo Honey (1993). "Creep" is one of Radiohead's biggest hits, and has been used in various media as well as having been covered by a number of musical artists.
During its initial release, "Creep" was not a chart success. However, upon re-release in 1993, it became a worldwide hit. Attendees of Radiohead's early gigs often exhibited little interest in the band's other songs, causing the band to react against "Creep" and play it less often during the mid-to-late 1990s. In 1998, halfway through their OK Computer tour, the band dropped the song from set lists altogether. "Creep" was not played live again until 2001, but it has since reappeared several times on the band's live sets.
According to Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood, Thom Yorke wrote "Creep" while studying at Exeter University in the late 1980s. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood said the song was inspired by a girl that Yorke had followed around who showed up unexpectedly during a show by the band.
In 1992 during rehearsal sessions with producers Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie, Radiohead spontaneously performed "Creep". Yorke described "Creep" to the producers as "our Scott Walker song"; Slade and Kolderie mistook the singer's remark and believed the song was a cover. After tension arose due to unsatisfactory attempts at recording other songs, Slade and Kolderie tried to improve morale by requesting Radiohead to play "Creep" again. The band recorded the song in a single take; after the performance everyone in the room burst into applause. Once the band assured Kolderie that "Creep" was an original song, he called EMI to tell them to consider the song as Radiohead's next single. While the recording had minimal overdubs and the band did not intend to release it, the producers were impressed with the song. Due to similarities to "The Air That I Breathe", a song recorded by The Hollies in 1973, Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood are credited as co-writers of "Creep".
According to Yorke, "Creep" tells the tale of an inebriated man who tries to get the attention of a woman to whom he is attracted by following her around. In the end, he lacks the self-confidence to face her and feels he subconsciously is her. When asked about "Creep" in 1993, Yorke said, "I have a real problem being a man in the '90s... Any man with any sensitivity or conscience toward the opposite sex would have a problem. To actually assert yourself in a masculine way without looking like you're in a hard-rock band is a very difficult thing to do... It comes back to the music we write, which is not effeminate, but it's not brutal in its arrogance. It is one of the things I'm always trying: to assert a sexual persona and on the other hand trying desperately to negate it." Jonny Greenwood said the song was in fact a happy song about "recognizing what you are".
The version issued for US radio play replaced the line "So fucking special" with "So very special". The group was worried that issuing a censored version would be a "bit of a sellout" according to Jonny Greenwood, but they decided it was acceptable since their idols Sonic Youth had done the same thing. Nonetheless, Greenwood noted the British press "weren't impressed" by the action. During the recording session for the censored lyrics, Kolderie convinced Yorke to rewrite the first verse, telling him he thought the singer could do better.
Despite initial reluctance, staff at EMI ultimately grew enthusiastic about "Creep", and the label decided to issue it as a single. "Creep" met with little success in the UK when it was first released in September 1992. Radio 1 found the song "too depressing" and refrained from playing the song. "Creep" reached number 78 on the UK Singles Chart, selling only 6,000 copies. The band soon moved onto a second single, "Anyone Can Play Guitar", to promote the album Pablo Honey, and released a non-album single, "Pop Is Dead".
Towards the end of 1992, DJ Yoav Kutner played "Creep" incessantly on the Israeli radio. He had been introduced to the song by a local representative of EMI. The song soon became a national hit. Radiohead quickly set up tour dates in the country to capitalise on the success. "Creep" had similar success in New Zealand, Spain, and Scandinavian countries. Around the same time, the San Francisco, California radio station KITS added the song to its playlist; and soon other radio stations along the American west coast followed suit. A censored version of the song was made available to radio stations, and by the second half of 1993, the song had become a hit nationwide. By the time Radiohead came to the United States, they were surprised by the success of the song. Yorke told Melody Maker in 1993 that many journalists misunderstood the song, asking him if it was a "joke".
Radiohead initially did not want to reissue "Creep" in the United Kingdom, but eventually relented. Bassist Colin Greenwood said that "after doing so well in America, there was this tremendous pressure from radio people, the press, the record company, even our fans, to put it out". The 1993 reissue reached number seven on the UK Singles Chart. The release was bolstered by a September 1993 Top of the Pops performance, which drew criticism from the music press and fellow artists: Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher opined that Radiohead were willing to appear on the show and alter the lyrics to reflect the clean edit of the song "because it made them more money". In June 2008, "Creep" reentered the UK Singles Chart at number 37 after its inclusion on the compilation album Radiohead: The Best Of.
After mid 1998, Radiohead did not play the song live at all until the final encore of a 2001 hometown concert at South Park, Oxford, when they played it in a seemingly impromptu decision after an equipment failure on the organ just after the start of "Motion Picture Soundtrack". Thom Yorke commented that they would be playing a "slightly older song... I think." This is probably because "Creep" and "Motion Picture Soundtrack" were written on the same day, but "Creep" was released in 1992 while "Motion Picture Soundtrack" was finally released eight years later. To date, the last major performance of the song was at Reading Festival 2009, where it opened their set.
In April 2008, Prince covered "Creep" at Coachella. This version was captured on a video from a concert-goer's mobile phone, and uploaded to YouTube. However, it was quickly taken down at Prince's request. After finding out about the blocking, Thom Yorke was quoted as saying, "Well, tell him to unblock it. It's our song."
In July 2010, the trailer to the American drama/biography film The Social Network included a cover of "Creep" by Belgian choir group Scala & Kolacny Brothers.