Rank the Videos: Nine Inch Nails 1995 – 2001

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When lockdown hit last year, I went on a serious Nine Inch Nails binge. As I dug deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, I realized how Trent Reznor doesn’t compromise his art. He doesn’t cater to music trends, radio airplay, or record labels. He makes music because he loves it and he puts so much passion and care into his music to ensure it’s the best it can be. This also applies to his music videos.

Going through these videos, it surprised me how solid they are. Sure, there are ones I like more than others, but very few NIN videos are outright terrible. As I reached The Fragile era, it got harder to rank them from best to worst, but I still had to pick favorites. So, let’s look at how those videos hold up. And be sure to check out part one of the series if you haven’t yet.

“Starfuckers, Inc.”

This Robert Hales-directed clip is the odd one out in Nine Inch Nails’ videography. Reznor and his ladyfriend are strung out in the back of a limo as they traverse the desert. They eventually stumble upon a run-down carnival and play several games, like tossing CDs, including Mechanical Animals and The Downward Spiral, in a toilet, destroying busts of Marilyn Manson, Billy Corgan, and Reznor himself, and the dunk tank featuring an obese man who looks suspiciously like Courtney Love clutching what looks like an Oscar. What’s funny is Reznor wins the Oscar, which he would do 11 years later for The Social Network score. During the video’s climax, the ladyfriend reveals herself to be Marilyn Manson, which was a shock considering the two fell out years prior.

This video stands out for a couple of different reasons. There’s a dark humor to it lacking in most NIN videos. Reznor pokes fun at the ridiculousness of celebrity culture by not only attacking his rivals but also himself. Even he’s not above falling prey to the trappings of fame. His being able to admit he’s part of the problem prevents the video from being too petty. It’s also not as timeless as their other videos. It’s not dated per se, but the references to Limp Bizkit and Smashing Pumpkins roots it in a particular era. And something about the concept and how it’s shot reminds me of other videos released that year. Still, it’s an oddly fun, unapologetic video that doesn’t sugarcoat who Reznor is talking about. It’s brutally honest, which you don’t really see in current videos.

“We’re In This Together” (1999)

At surface level, “We’re In This Together” seems like a sentimental song. It’s often misconstrued as a romantic decree for those in love and ready to face anything together. But that’s not really what it’s about, and the Mark Pellington-directed video shows that. Shot in black and white, it features a mass of people fleeing what looks like a prison. It’s everyone for themselves and Reznor gets caught in the frenzy. People are shoved, trampled, and left behind as they search for freedom. The video ends with an ominous shot of Reznor alone in an empty field. The extended version edited by Pellington tries to give us more of the story with additional shots of the crowd and Reznor along with subliminal flashes of random numbers.

What I’ve always liked about the video is how the story is presented. We’re given just enough information to get an idea of what’s happening. But since nothing is spelled out for us, it leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Did Reznor actually escape at the end? Or was he the one left behind? What was everyone running from?

Though it’s a solid video, Reznor wasn’t happy with the final result. He revealed how at the end “what I saw in my head wasn’t on the screen… when I got to the end I realized his vision wasn’t mine and we tried to reach a common ground and heads butted, and it amounted to me editing the video by myself.” Considering his track record for abandoning videos he’s unhappy with, we’re lucky we saw this one at all.

“The Perfect Drug” (1997)

Reznor and Mark Romanek team up for this gorgeous, Gothic-inspired video. Reznor portrays a father who appears to be mourning the loss of his son. He uses absinthe to numb the pain and only spirals further into his depression. The more distraught the protagonist is, the trippier the imagery gets as if running through a drug-induced nightmare. It ends with an uneasy sense of calm. The absinthe has worn off leaving the protagonist with the bitter truth: his son is gone.

The video’s dark aesthetic stands out the most. Inspired by the drawings of Edward Gory, the video nails the macabre atmosphere. The surreal sets, beautiful costumes, and Gothic architecture add to the eerie mood. The look adds this sense of dread to the video. As soon as it starts, you know there’s no happy ending to be found.

Though I’ve always loved its look, the video still feels off to me. Reznor’s acting feels forced and it’s distracting. He even admits he was uncomfortable being in character and isn’t a huge fan of the video for that reason. You can sense his discomfort and it’s never sat well with me. It’s a well done, beautiful video, but not the best in the Nine Inch Nails catalog.

“Hurt” and “Eraser” (1995)

I find most performance videos boring. It’s usually a montage of the band on stage and maybe them goofing off backstage. But because Nine Inch Nails put so much thought into their stage shows, their performance clips stand out from run-of-the-mill live videos. During the 1994 Self Destruct tour, Reznor used giant scrim screens to project images during “Hurt” and “Eraser.” And it’s this setup that really makes these videos. The band is barely visible behind the screen while images of death, destruction, and decay project over them. For “Hurt” the images are especially disturbing. You’re forced to look at this ugliness – you can’t ignore it. The image of the decaying fox is still tough to sit through.

There was a planned video for “Hurt” that was partially filmed but later scrapped. It’s similar to the live setup: Reznor mimes the song in front of a screen. The live video is better because he’s actually singing. He’s more emotive than he would be lip-synching. And “Eraser” is just a damn good performance. The way the images are projected and how the band appears at certain moments make for striking performances. I appreciate them both for the stage setup. It’s pretty simple; just the band playing in front of a screen, but the images shown are what make them memorable.

“Wish” (1995)

Nine Inch Nails’ Self Destruct tour is legendary. It was sheer chaos, violence, rage, blood, and lots of broken keyboards. With all the insane things that went down on that tour, this performance is tame in comparison. Shot by Simon Maxwell, “Wish” was filmed for a planned concert film that was shelved because Reznor wasn’t happy with the final result. And it’s a shame the project never happened because this performance is killer. Reznor and crew play with so much fury and anger as if they’re ready to explode. It’s intense and brutal as hell. As soon as Reznor strikes the opening riff, it hits you right in the gut and won’t stop pummeling until the song is over. It’s a great snapshot of the band’s Self Destruct era.

“The Day the World Went Away” (2001)

Like many Nine Inch Nails videos, this one was scrapped but some of the footage was complied with live footage on And All That Could Have Been. We see black and white shots of Reznor in a forest, a snake shedding its skin, flowers and feathers falling through the air, and an image of a man hovering in the air in a red room. The second half of the video is live footage of the band. According to a post made to dirty.org there was additional footage showing Reznor attending a funeral. Since the song is rumored to be about the death of his grandmother Clara, it’s possible the video was scrapped for getting too personal.

Though a lot doesn’t happen in this video, it’s still very heavy. It conveys this sinking feeling, this unshakeable sadness. The video is beautiful. The black and white shots of Reznor are gorgeous, while the images of the snake slithering in the sand and the floating feather are hypnotizing. Though it’s not the complete video, it still represents the theme and mood of the song very well. It’s a shame we never got the full clip.

“Into the Void” (2000)

This video gets close and personal with Reznor. A little too close. Directors Walter Stern and Jeff Richter use macrophotography to get extreme close-ups of Reznor, including his eyes, hair follicles, and skin. Eventually, we zoom out to see the band performing in a red room where they trash their instruments – just a typical day for Nine Inch Nails. The alternate version is mostly the same but features the band playing in a white room and adds a random woman for no reason at all.

Both versions are extremely uncomfortable. The shots are so close it’s hard to determine what you’re looking at. Is that a hand? Are we traveling through his scalp? The second version is worse since it includes shots of Reznor’s throat as he’s singing. The sliminess of his throat and the way it bobs when he sings makes me shudder. I didn’t really need to see that. The inclusion of the woman also bothers me. Why is she there? She’s so out of place that it’s just awkward. Still, it’s an interesting concept. The macrophotography gives us a completely different side of Reznor and gives us a look at the human body we don’t often get. I appreciate the video for the technology it uses, but it’s one I’d rather not see again.

“Deep” (2001)

Directed by Enda McCallion, “Deep” is like a short action movie. It shows us a robbery in reverse, with the end of the story starting the video. Reznor and his girlfriend steal two armored safes carrying a small fortune. But when they try to break inside the safes, they’re covered in toxic dyes that will burn off their skin. Knowing they’re about to die, they try to go out on their own terms with each of them getting into a car and driving into each other head on. The international version is the same, but with more boobs and violent car crashes.

“Deep” is a forgettable song and video. There’s nothing bad about either one. They’re just fine. I don’t have strong feelings about this one. I don’t mind watching it, but it’s not something I turn to when I want to watch Nine Inch Nails videos. If it pops up randomly, okay, but otherwise it’s very underwhelming. And it’s not surprising that Reznor wasn’t happy with the video either. The cringy making of footage makes the video more awkward.

Next time, we’ll wrap up Rank the Videos: Nine Inch Nails by looking at videos from With Teeth, Year Zero, Hesitation Marks, and the trilogy. In the meantime, check out part one if you missed it or need a recap. And let me know what you think about these videos in the comments.

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