Over the past few months, I’ve been staving off quarantine insanity by watching all of Nine Inch Nails videos and it’s been an interesting journey. Some videos I completely forgot about and others still managed to get under my skin despite having seen them hundreds of times. For the most part, the Nine Inch Nails videography is solid, but now we get to the lackluster videos.
Over the years, Trent Reznor has grown increasingly dissatisfied with videos (just look at the lengthy list of scrapped videos). In the past he’s talked about not really liking them and how most of them don’t match what he sees in his head. During this period, Reznor released fewer and fewer videos. And the ones we did get aren’t as high concept or visually striking as past efforts. Sadly, most of them aren’t memorable at all. So, before the series comes to an end, let’s look at and rank videos from the With Teeth era to Bad Witch. If you’re new here or want a recap of the series, check out parts one and two.
Year Zero is one of Reznor’s most ambitious projects. The concept album sees him at his most outspoken as he criticizes the United States government by presenting a dystopian version of 2022. Reznor even released an ARG game that dug deeper into the album’s concept. “Survivalism” directed by Alex Lieu, Rob Sheridan, and Reznor gives us a peek of this bleak future.
Giving off a Big Brother vibe, a wall of surveillance monitors watches the activities of various people in an apartment building. Some are enjoying dinner, others are getting intimate, and one group is planning a revolution as they spray paint the “Art is Resistance” logo on the walls. Meanwhile, Nine Inch Nails performs the track in another riin. Soon, armed soldiers show up and break into the apartment. Suddenly, the band is gone. The video ends with Reznor’s bloodied body being dragged away. The censored version features “Censored For Your Protection” cards due to mild nudity.
Though this is not even close to my favorite Nine Inch Nails video, it’s the best from this time period. It accurately represents the message of the song and shows Reznor as an outspoken force. He’s never been afraid to speak his mind, whether it’s about music or politics. With Year Zero he took it to the next level to create this dystopian world which is eerily similar to what’s been goin g on recently. With the album’s intricate story, it’s a shame we didn’t get more videos from the era.
“Less Than” (2017)
Based on the famous Polybius urban legend, the Brook Linder directed video shows a girl playing the cursed game as the song’s lyrics are displayed on the screen. Over the course of the song, she slowly gets sucked into the game. By the video’s end, a hand comes out of the screen to capture her. The bright colors, fast moving ship, and hypnotizing graphics make it feel as if you’re being consumed by Polybius as well. The game featured is actually a custom-built version made for the video. The simple concept captures the crux of the Polybius myth well, but the video overall is just fine. It feels more like a lyric video you’d watch maybe twice and then move on. It’s definitely the strongest clip from the trilogy era, but it doesn’t stack up against the band’s early videos.
Though I already liked Nine Inch Nails at this point, this video officially made me a fan. Directed by frequent collaborator David Fincher, this effects heavy video features Reznor performing as a 3D impression on a Pin Art desk toy. The more intense the song gets, the more the vibrations upset the surrounding office.
This video played non-stop on MTV2. And when I first saw it, I thought it was impressive with the CGI graphics and weird concept. Now, the video doesn’t wow me as much. It’s still pretty good and the graphics have aged quite well. But I can’t help but think why when watching it. Whose concept was this? Why is Reznor encased in the nail bed? It is really one big reference? And aside from Reznor embedded in Pin Art, not much happens. It’s one of the stranger videos in the Nine Inch Nails catalog, but it’s still good for the occasional rewatch.
“The Hand That Feeds” (2005)
2005 was a big year for Reznor. After a four-year absence, Reznor, who recently turned 40, returned to Nine Inch Nails with a new album and newly sober. So how was the world introduced to the next chapter of Nine Inch Nails? With this bland video. Filmed in their rehearsal space, it’s just the band performing with some visual distortion added over the footage. It looks very similar to the rehearsal videos the band released on Beside You In Time. It’s not terrible, just utterly forgettable.
Like many Nine Inch Nails videos, there was a concept in the works for this one. There were plans to create an animated video with GNN, who did Eminem’s “Mosh.” But the video was scrapped during pre-production because Reznor and Rob Sheridan weren’t happy with the concept. With Reznor taking a firm political stance with this song, you’d think the video would be visually striking or gripping. Instead, it’s a boring performance video.
“This Isn’t The Place” (2017)
Around this time, Reznor started releasing more low concept music videos – no stories, not many effects, and limited visuals. This is the route he went for this Alex Lieu-directed video. For nearly five minutes we watch a slow zoom out of the machine featured on the Add Violence cover. That’s it. While it matches the hushed atmosphere of the track, it’s dull.
Savvy fans quickly noticed several references to the Year Zero ARG, such as the Sotirivol package. In addition, Lieu and producer Susan Bonds are members of 42 Entertainment, who worked on the Year Zero ARG. Because of this, fans presumed a new ARG was in development. So far, it hasn’t happened. Considering how detailed and vast the story and ARG was for Year Zero, it would’ve been great to dive deeper into Add Violence’s story and see how it relates to that universe. Fingers crossed that it’s still in the works.
“Came Back Haunted” (2013)
Out of all the disturbing and explicit Nine Inch Nails videos, this one is the hardest to watch. And it has nothing to do with the content, but rather the annoying visual effects. Directed by David Lynch, the clip is a collage of vaguely creepy images with lots of flashing. Too much flashing. Among the weird images are a herky-jerky Reznor wearing thick pancake makeup, zoomed in images of mouths sitting on dancing bodies, and a disembodied, humanoid face.
The whole thing makes me ill. My eyes and stomach hurt trying to sit through this. And since I’m not a Lynch fan, the video comes off as weird for weird sakes. If it wasn’t for the flashing, it would at least be interesting to get a better look at the bizarre images. But as it stands, this video is too annoying and painful to sit through.
“God Break Down the Door” (2018) and “Burning Bright (Field On Fire)” (2016)
I’m honestly not sure where to place these. I personally don’t consider these music videos, but they are listed as such on NIN Wiki, a Reznor-approved source. If that’s the case, then these videos are lame. “God Break Down The Door” is just the solar flare image from the Bad Witch cover growing bigger over the course of the song.
“Burning Bright (Field On Fire)” is just black and white static playing over the song. That’s it. Nothing else happens. They’re more like visualizers instead of videos. Reznor isn’t a big fan of music videos, but it’s like he didn’t even try here. Hell a performance clip would’ve been better than this. I’m all for Reznor doing more low concept videos like “This Isn’t The Place,” but they’ve got to be more compelling than this.
And with that, Rank the Videos: Nine Inch Nails comes to a close…for now. Though the band’s recent videos are disappointing, I still look forward to more videos from Reznor. Because of his high standards, Nine Inch Nails’ videos are usually powerful, disturbing, or just visually stimulating. Not all of them are good, but at least they’re diverse. Some are beautiful high concepts that tell a story. Others have innovative technology to create breathtaking visuals. And some are just boring, but hey, they all can’t be perfect. With Reznor recently stating there’s more Nine Inch Nails to come, hopefully we’ll see more videos soon.