[pre-gifs] “…So, she [Paris Hilton] was a very wealthy woman, [initially] not that well known and then she gets to mega-stardom. How? The sex tape. Which was made by her boyfriend at the time, who was married, and thirteen years her senior. She sued to try and stop it [the tape’s circulation] and she couldn’t and it became the best selling sex tape for two years on the porn market.”
Nine Inch Nails - Closer
Saying that “Closer” is a song about sex is like calling David Bowie a guitar player. While the aspect is certainly there, it’s the least crucial part to its genius. There’s no mistaking that the song’s provocative surface has driven its popularity (when else do you have the excuse to say “I wanna fuck you like an animal” in public?), and it was certainly the first Nine Inch Nails song I sought out to listen to in its entirety. But on the topic of how he’d like to be remembered, Trent Reznor only half-jokingly told CBC Radio that he’d rather not go down as “the lucky guy that had a silly single with a bad word in it 20 years ago.”
Following the industrial metal EP Broken (1992), Reznor sought out to create an album that expanded NIN’s musical pallet beyond its aggressive synth and electric guitar-driven catalogue at the time. Reznor envisioned the project that became The Downward Spiral (1994) as a concept album about one man’s decent from sanity to suicide. Over the course of 14 songs, the protagonist becomes addicted to drugs, loses his lover, his faith, and then himself to excess and depression.
In this continuity, “Closer” is really about the protagonist’s failed attempt to run away from his isolation with sex. Anonymous, sadomasochistic sex. While the opening drumbeat sampled from Iggy Pop’s "Nightclubbing" sets the boudoir mood, the growing layers of guitars and synthesizers throughout the song build not to a point of pleasure, but of pain as the protagonist is consumed by his insecurities. Yes, he wants to fuck you like an animal, but only because the bedroom is the last place where he can feel in control of his life: “Help me tear down my reason / Help me it’s your sex I can smell / Help me you make me perfect / Help me become somebody else.”
The music video, a compelling work of art on its own, furthers the song’s connection to The Downward Spiral's overarching themes. Director Mark Romanek, who went on to direct the video for Johnny Cash's cover of “Hurt,” includes images of a monkey on a cross (the protagonist has no respect for religion), a decaying pig's head (spinning literally while the protagonist's spins figuratively), and a nude, anonymous woman (much like the protagonist's conquests) among other unnerving shots. Romanek purposely had “Closer” shot with hand-cranked cameras and burned certain portions of the film in post-production to give it an older look that also strengthens the imagery of decay, be it of the body in death or of the mind in mental collapse.
Just when the ending of “Closer” seems to be going out of control with endless electronic loops, the madness is cut off by a delicate piano outro. The motif appears throughout The Downward Spiral in various instruments and keys. My best guess of its meaning is that the interlude represents the protagonist’s sense of hope. Earlier in the album, songs like “Piggy” and “Closer” feature the motif prominently as a vibrant piano part. Hope is briefly regained. By the chorus of “Heresy,” the motif becomes buried in distortion. Hope is lost. By its final appearance, the motif can barely be heard until all hope is eclipsed by screams.
"John William Keedy explores themes of anxiety and varied neuroses in his photography."
I didn’t like this until I understood it.
And every kid that came up to me
And said I was the music they listened to when they first got clean
Now look at me, a couple days sober
I’m fighting demons
Back of that meeting on the east side
Shaking tweakin’, hope that they don’t see it
Hope that no one is looking
That no one recognizes that failure under that hoodie
Was posted in the back with my hands crossed shooken
If they call on me I’m passing, if they talk to me I’m booking out that door
But before I can make it somebody stops me and says, “Are you Macklemore?
Maybe this isn’t the place or time.
I just wanted to say that if it wasn’t for Otherside I wouldn’t have made it.”
I just look down at the ground and say, “Thank you.”
She tells me she has 9 months and that she’s so grateful
Tears in her eyes, looking like she’s gonna cry, fuck!
I barely got 48 hours, treated like I’m some wise monk
I wanna tell her I relapsed but I can’t
I just shake her hand and tell her congrats..
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Starting Over