When Trent Reznor And MTV Went To War Over The Band's Explicit Videos In The 90s
Like a lot of radio stations, MTV really didn't know what to do with Nine Inch Nails when the band's sonic wave hit in 1989 with the release of Pretty Hate Machine. Both mediums largely ignored the group. From their early days with their first record label TVT, vocalist Trent Reznor had explosive disputes with Steve Gottlieb, TVT's founder. At one point, when Reznor felt he had some solid songs for Gottlieb to listen to (intended for Pretty Hate Machine), he brought them to Gottlieb to listen to. Gottlieb's reaction to what he had heard was to liken it to an "abortion." He then concluded if this was the kind of music NIN was going to make, then the band had essentially "fucked up what could have been a good career."
Several years ago, Gottlieb went on the record calling Reznor's recollections of their working relationship a "fabrication." The final straw for Reznor and NIN was TVT's inadequate promotion efforts for Pretty Hate Machine, and he initiated a lawsuit against TVT requesting he and NIN be legally removed from the label. This legal fist fight between Reznor and Gottlieb/TVT would drag on for two years. In the September 1994 issue of Hit Parader, Reznor accused TVT of interfering in the making of their video for the single "Sin." Here's Reznor dragging TVT for not having the balls to support their vision for the video:
"Sin was a video that didn't get totally completed because of TVT's interference. We came up with the idea to make a video that was erotic in nature and probably wouldn't get played, not in a violent way, but in a nudity way. The idea was to make a video that was appropriate for the song. We're talking a relatively minuscule budget, and TVT started getting afraid. God forbid there would be a penis or anything. When I saw the video footage, it was about as risque as a Duran Duran video, and we realized that TVT had been interfering with the whole procedure. It put the director (Brett Turnbull) in an odd position because there was a triangle of information where I thought it was just me and him talking, and there was another force coming in, so I said, just scrap the whole thing and send me all the footage." [Hit Parader, September 1994]
When the video for "Sin" made its way to MTV, their breakthrough video for "Head Like a Hole" was already in heavy rotation. For "Head Like a Hole," Trent teamed up with H Gun Corp. (formerly H Gun Labs who also made NIN's video for "Down in It"), formed by a group of students studying film, art, and music at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Reznor was turned on to H Gun Corp. after seeing Ministry's video for "Stigmata," also in MTV's heavy rotation at the time. Reznor dug the video because it was the absolute antithesis of videos generally aired by the network. Here's Trent elaborating on his disdain for the video sanitation machine that was MTV:
"I hate MTV, I hated the videos that are on MTV. Someone said, 'Name your five favorite videos,' and I can't name two that are good. When you try to talk a record label into spending x amount of thousands of dollars, which is quite a bit, for a piece of art that the main outlet for that art won't show it, like MTV, if there's anything remotely different or unusual or maybe disturbing, it won't make it. It's gotta be mindless and dumb."
Directed by cinematographer and director Brett Turnbull, the black and white video for "Sin" is the equivalent of a BDSM dance party full of nudity, various anything-goes sexy situations, genital piercings, and Trent Reznor strapped into some sort of large contraption in which he spins for the entirety of the video. In 1997 clips from Sin would be included in NIN's first video album, Closure. The next video to get the ax from MTV was the band's 1992 single "Happiness is Slavery," a song noted to be a dig at Steve Gottlieb. Seeing it may have been a while since you thought about 1992 and music videos, the gist of this black and white video revolves around a man appearing to be in a state of both pleasure and pain in a bizarre-looking dentist's chair. As he bleeds, his blood is used to fertilize a garden growing under his feet. There's also a fair amount of nudity, and, as you might expect, there is no happy ending for the guy bound to the chair.
A remastered, uncut version of 'Sin.'
An unedited version of 'Happiness is Slavery.'
In 1994, NIN released their second full-length album, The Downward Spiral, as well as the Broken EP, both recorded at Reznor's home at the time, 10050 Cielo Drive, Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles. Also horrifyingly known as the location where followers of Charles Manson murdered actress Sharon Tate and four others. Video-wise, NIN churned out two videos for the singles "Closer," and "March of the Pigs." Lyrically, "Closer" was tricky due to part of its refrain and the line "I want to fuck you like an animal." The video further complicated things by again featuring stylized bondage scenarios and full frontal nudity–because if you really want to fuck someone like an animal, both situations will likely be involved. Directed by Mark Romanek, Reznor and Romanek agreed there would be "no compromise" when it came to the content of the video. This, according to Romanek, would include the real-life "torture" of Trent Reznor. Shot over three or four days, Romanek recalls spinning Reznor so long while the vocalist was bound and blindfolded hanging from the ceiling that he puked over and over again. From a real pigs head to anal balls and a dizzying array of S&M gear, the video went thousands over budget. But Trent and NIN didn't care. In fact, Reznor didn't even care if MTV didn't play the video and refused to do a "clean" version of the video. The version MTV did air replaced the many NSFL scenes with title cards that read "Scene Missing" cleverly presented to appear as technical issues with the video itself. Here's the unedited version:
The directors cut of 'Closer.'
While Reznor, NIN, and TVT were still duking it out in court, they would release a short film in support of the Broken EP, Broken. Included with the film were the videos for "Happiness is Slavery," "Gave Up," and "Wish." Shot to give the appearance of found footage, Broken was never intended to end up as a pitch to MTV. With the great Peter Christopherson (of Throbbing Gristle and the band Coil) on board to direct the film, he hoped it would "push the boundaries of good taste." When Reznor saw the final cut of Broken, even he thought they had gone too far, and he and Christopherson agreed not to circulate it. However, Reznor would give VHS copies of the film to friends, marking each one with a specific unique glitches, so if one of his pals starting sharing the video, he'd know exactly who did it. While it's unclear who started sharing the tape, it became widely bootlegged, and, in adding to its morbidly curious mystique, many of the actors/people who appeared in the film have never been identified. YIKES.
A ten-minute clip from the film 'Broken.'