Meaning of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails & The Story Behind

The track Hurt closes the album The Downward Spiral (1994), which became one of the most successful records of the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails. The history of the song is interesting because the composition became popular not only in the original, but also in the cover version of the legendary Johnny Cash, who, in his declining years, performed it in his characteristic manner and presented an excellent video.

The story of creation and the meaning of the song Hurt by NIN

Hurt’s lyrics have caused much controversy among NIN fans. Some believe that it represents the dying message of the protagonist of the album “The Downward Spiral”. Others believe that the composition talks about drug addiction, although Trent Reznor encountered this problem a little later. Still others think that it is about finding a way out of depression.

Here are some excerpts from the songwriter’s interview to get closer to understanding Hurt’s main idea:

I wrote some words and music in my bedroom to keep my sanity, about the gloomy and desperate state I was in then, completely isolated and alone.

Alternative Press, 2004

It is very curious that when I wrote the song, I had no idea what fate had in store for me. I was writing an album about someone who went his own way and was my continuation. But it was in my head. In fact, this has never happened in my life. But later it happened. I didn’t realize the recording was a premonition. I used the drug metaphor before what happened next. But I wasn’t a jerk. Later I became one, but then I didn’t know yet that there was a drug addict in me who just hadn’t grown out of the dirt yet.

Uncut, 2005

Trent later stated more than once that Hurt is one of his most personal and favorite songs.

Release and achievements

In April 1995, the song was released as a promotional single, but this release was not included in the official Nine Inch Nails discography.

The composition was nominated for a Grammy in 1996, but the award for Best Rock Song went to Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know.

Video of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails

Let’s watch the video for the song Hurt.

Hurt Johnny Cash song meaning

Many musicians have recorded Hurt covers, but the most effective version was presented in 2002 by the famous country singer Johnny Cash. Music lovers and critics were not left indifferent by the soulful vocals and the touching video, which was shot by Mark Romanek.

Trent Reznor later admitted that he was angry when he learned that Cash sang the song that meant so much to him:

I’ve been friends with Rick Rubin for a few years now. He called me and asked how I would feel if Johnny Cash did a Hurt cover. I said that I would be flattered, but I was not told that he would actually record it. Two weeks have passed. Then I received the disc in the mail. I listened and it was unusual. An outsider has taken over my most personal song. I knew where I was when I wrote it. I know what I was thinking then. I know how I felt. Listening to her was like someone kissing your girlfriend.

The Sun, 2008

But then Trent watched a video clip that changed his mind about Cash’s version:

Everything really fell into place and I thought it was an incredible work of art. I’ve never met Johnny, but I’m glad I contributed in this way. It was like a heartfelt hug. To everyone who Haven’t watched it, I highly recommend checking it out. I now have goosebumps as soon as I think about it.

The Sun, 2008

The clip was named the best music video of the year by the Grammy Awards and the CMA Awards, and was named the greatest video of all time by NME magazine.

Cash’s cover was released as a single from American IV: The Man Comes Around. On the back of the disc was his version of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”.

Interesting Facts

  • Nine Inch Nails usually ends shows with Hurt.
  • Cash changed the phrase “crown of shit” to “crown of thorns”.

Hurt Lyrics by Nine Inch Nails

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become
my sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of shit
Upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

Lyrics of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails Alternate

Today I hurt myself
To see if I can still feel
I focus on the pain
‘Cause she’s the only one who’s real
The needle pierces the skin
A long-familiar sting
I’m trying to put an end to everything
But I don’t forget anything

What have I become
My best friend
Everyone I know is leaving
You could have it all
My empire of dirt
I’ll let you down
I will hurt you

I wear this crown of shit
Sitting on the throne of a liar
Full of broken thoughts
that can no longer be recovered
Under the stains of time
Feelings disappear
You are already different
And I’m still here

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would take care
I would find a way

Song Quotes

This is a strange song. What I mean is that the first line says, “Today I hurt myself,” and then the next line, “To see if I can still feel.” Thus, we are talking about self-inflicted suffering. It’s a strange decision to start a song with that thought.

Rick Rubin, Vanity Fair, 2004

The best anti-medication song I’ve ever heard.

Johnny Cash

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