Home / Culture / Flashback Friday: NIN’s “Closer” and Self-Loathing Love Songs

Flashback Friday: NIN’s “Closer” and Self-Loathing Love Songs


This week I’m taking us back to another “sexy” song that has endured since the early 90’s. This time from every teenage boy’s favorite rock band before circa 2003: Nine Inch Nails.

I actually hated “Closer” as a teen. Something about the way all the boys at school sang it made my skin crawl. The video, full of gory and creepy details didn’t help. Is this what boys liked? Dirty, grimy, self obsessed “fucking”? All those animal parts hanging up? Did they want to put me in on a meat hook like in horror movies? That abstinence ring looked like a good idea at the time.

In college I heard a mashup of the song with Garbage’s “#1 Crush” and I saw it in a different light. “#1 Crush” is a sexy song, but its also a tragic song about a teenage girl’s obsession that she’s so ready to debase herself for the object of her affection. Mixed with “Closer”, I could imagine Trent Reznor penning it a cautionary tale. The Wikipedia entry for the song has a citation that says as much: Reznor was not writing a happy sex anthem but a story of self-hatred.

Apologies to whoever made the mash up first, I have no idea who they are. I vastly prefer this interpretation to the angry teenage boys who probably sang this to their inflatable furniture.

Postmodern Juke Box ft. Kenton Chen

My absolutely favorite cover of this song I will defend to the death. Kenton Chen belts out a 70’s funk version while wearing a FANTASTIC jacket. I’ve seen PMJ live and they put on quite a show. This entry in their catalogue looks like it’d be especially lively.


Let’s get back to some of the original spookiness of the song. Plus they’re British!

In This Moment

I am not a metalcore fan by any means, but I wanted to include this one because its a female vocal with a burlesque stage show. And maybe kind of queer? The showmanship I feel is appropriate to the song.


What are your favorite NIN covers?

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  • altofront

    Might as well start with the most obvious choice: Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” is extraordinary.

    • Probably should have asked favorite cover that ISN”T Johnny Cash’s Hurt because duh, that is the winner

    • and the Sad Kermit version of it is sublime,.


    • Drew

      Meh. I think the music video (plus knowing a little about Cash) is what makes it. I could take or leave the actual cover.

      • Gwai Lo, MD

        Few people can convey world-weariness like Cash. The guy is a parable of salvation. You can’t fake that kind of experience. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the video.

  • Never consciously heard a Nine-Inch-Nails song, certainly not one about “dirty, grimy, self obsessed ‘fucking’”, but I do like me some Debby McClatchy (backed by the Red Clay Ramblers on fire).

    • rm

      That is AWESOME.

      I was afraid it was a NIN cover, and had not heard of Debby McClatchy, so you got me googling. So, for the benefit of anyone else who wants to know, a Red Clay Ramblers original written by Bill Hicks in 1974, recorded with McClatchy in 1976.

  • rm

    NIN were after my time, and I loathe this song, but I do have a memory that jibes with your description of its primary audience. Early ’90s, grad school in a humanities field, the most self-loathing self-destructive postmodern-theory-not-quite-understanding passive-aggressive working-out-gender-ID-in-public guy in the program really loved the song, and would talk endlessly at parties about how he related it to literary theories.

  • Geo X

    “Closer” was included in Weird Al’s polka medley of the time. I’ve always liked it for how exactly it reflects what was popular at my high school at the time, and the relentlessly jaunty takes on these Very, Very Serious Alternative Rock Songs still crack me up.

  • Thomas J. Girsch

    Two important things to understand:

    1. I have a twisted sense of humor.
    2. Someone beat me to Sad Kermit.

    Hence, my submission:



    Devo did a very Devo-like cover of “Head Like a Hole.”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4411PgkkPQ

    If we are talking about Nine Inch Nails covers of songs by other artists, their best is their cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDHqywS6un0

    • BigHank53

      How much more Devo could that be? The answer, of course, is none: none more Devo.

  • tsam100
  • Domino

    Hmmm, I’m actually not too familiar with NIN covers. I love Bowie performing “Hurt” with him from all those years ago.

    I seem to remember from a time long ago that AFI did a cover of “Head like a Hole” that teenage me thought was decent.

    Glancing at youtube everyone wants to cover “Hurt” and “Closer”. Which is a shame – Trent actually has a really diverse catalogue to choose from.

    Speaking of which, I just listened to his most recent EP – I find it decent. “The Background World” is the most experimental I’ve ever heard from him, and I don’t mind it.

    Actually, now that I’m OT, and with the sad news of Chester’s suicide last week, has any band tried as many different things as Linkin Park has over their career? I had the brief time where they were my favorite, I then dropped them, but was stunned years ago to find out they were still massively popular, and that actually their sound hadn’t stayed stagnant over nearly 20 years.

  • hey so
  • AstroBio

    Well, now, my favorite NIN cover is the PMJ version of “Closer”. Thanks for that. I will be giving them an in depth listen this evening.

  • Harkov311

    As someone who was really into Nine Inch Nails as a teenage guy (and who is still into them in my mid-30s, I’ll admit), I think the appeal was partly the transgressive nature of it, since that appealed to my horror nerd side anyway, and partly that it demanded to be heard. It wasn’t something you could put on and ignore in the background.

    Honestly, not sure about the best cover. I’ll say this much, the Weird Al style parody “Germs” is very well done, and borrows a lot of elements from “Terrible Lie” and “Closer”

  • bs
  • Cool Bev

    I’d never even heard the original when I heard the Asylum Street Spankers bluegrass version.


    Spoiler: When they get to “I want to f— you like an animal”, the band breaks into a chorus of moo, baah, oink, and other barnyard noises.

  • Drew

    Also, NIN has a new single out. Don’t have a link handy but you should check it out.

  • cpinva

    slightly OT, but June Foray died yesterday. for those who don’t recognize the name, she was the voice of Rocky & Natasha in the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. She voiced so many characters, it would be a crime to try and list them all, because i’m sure i’d miss some. She was also instrumental in getting animated movies as a category in the Oscars. She was 90. all my childhood icons are passing.

  • Thlayli

    I vaguely remember Maxwell doing Closer on MTV Unplugged.

    I was a regular on Usenet alt.music.nin back then. The “Closer poser” accusation would get thrown around; the usual “real fan” gatekeeping stuff.

  • pseudalicious

    At the time, I also sort of hated NIN due to the middle school dudes who wore the NIN shirts — not that they were the same dudes that gave me shit, but they sort of all seemed bro-y to me. But then I had a good friend who was way into them and the video… I mean, it really sort of objectifies him. Like, he’s the submissive. So I think that’s really interesting.

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