ByJenika Enoch, writer at
I love movies, music, and art. I'm a certified graphic designer and love to be creative as much as humanly possible. @icemyeyes
Jenika Enoch

In the decades before the Millennial generation hit, music and film went hand in hand, in more ways than just working together on the big screen. Music videos were definitely in style and served as a main outlet for artists and groups to get their music heard on more mediums than just the radio. With the necessity and popularity of music videos to get music out into the open, there were few artists that did a lot more than just a quick 3-minute production to promote on MTV. Some artists created meaningful or shocking pieces of cinematic art (partnering up with some big-name directors) to either make a statement or exercise their interest and knowledge of how to visually represent the song. Although there are others, one of the artists who definitely take the art of the music video to another level is Nine Inch Nails.

NIN mastermind, Trent Reznor, has released close to 40 video accompaniments since the release of his debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, in 1989. Chalk it up to having an interest in film or simply knowing how to properly blend the mediums of film and music together, there's no denying that there have been some interesting and memorable music videos from Nine Inch Nails throughout the years. Reznor has worked with filmmakers and performers, such as Mark Romanek and David Lynch, to create videos that contain what often seems to be an alternate reality. Sometimes the colors are enhanced or completely removed, social taboos are tackled without fear, language and subject matter are not restrictions, and they somehow remain artistically and culturally relevant no matter how old they might be.

With this article, I thought it would be fun to focus on the 10 best NIN music videos as they are truly inventive and relevant pieces of cinematic art. As you might be able to tell, I am a big Nine Inch Nails fan and I am always in awe of what Trent Reznor brings to the table, but I also believe there is something to be appreciated even if you're not really a fan. Just be warned, they aren't all necessarily safe to watch at work, so be sure to follow the NSFW? guide before hitting the play button.

Disclaimer: This article does contain videos and images that might be disturbing or offensive to some. Please exercise caution before pressing the play button.

10. 'Starfuckers, Inc.'

Halo 14: The Fragile (1999)
NSFW? Use some caution (language, nudity, sexuality)

I think my love for this video, and song in general, is based on principle. Trent essentially released it to stiff it to the music industry and the video content just reiterates the point. Not to mention the video was co-directed by Marilyn Manson. The audio is unfortunately edited just about everywhere you find it, but all the more reason to maybe mute the audio and sync it with the unedited album version.

9. 'Wish'

Halo 5: Broken (1992)
NSFW? Use some caution (language, violence)

I remember seeing "Wish" for the first time when I was about 13 on the Closure VHS set (a.k.a. Halo 12). Looking back on it, this is probably the type of stuff that made my mom afraid. I personally prefer the live versions, but the video for the album version gives off that rawness and grittiness that was the NIN atmosphere early in Reznor's career. Long before he was taking home Oscar and Golden Globe statues, he was wearing leather outfits and singing in cages.

8. 'Head Like A Hole'

Halo 2: Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
NSFW? You're fine

What a way to launch your career, eh? This video featuring tribal dances and over-exposed stills is memorable to say the least. After all, it was the late '80s. "Head Like a Hole" is lyrically a powerful song and when you connect it with the images in this NIN debut, it's definitely not something you forget easily and I think that was sort of the point.

7. 'Into The Void'

Halo 14: The Fragile (1999)
NSFW? You're fine

If you've ever wanted to get up close and personal with Trent Reznor, this is your opportunity to do it without a restraining order. "Into the Void" exercises some beautiful macro shots with extreme closeups of the face, hair, and eyes of the NIN mastermind. It's not often that a music video is comprised of magnified shots of someone's face, so it's definitely a piece of art and is an interesting attempt. The song isn't a bad one, either.

6. 'The Perfect Drug'

Album: Lost Highway (Soundtrack, 1997)
NSFW? You're fine

This video is basically as close as you'll get to dreaming while still awake. Influenced by the supposedly hallucinogenic alcohol, Absinthe, "The Perfect Drug" takes us through the subconscious and it feels like you're inside of an Edgar Allan Poe poem. It conveys a beautiful representation of the song and almost feels like a complete short film rather than a music video. It's also one of the few popular NIN songs not featured on a Halo (a.k.a. album).

5. 'Survivalism'

Halo 24: Year Zero (2007)
NSFW? Use some caution (violence, sexuality, nudity)

Year Zero marked Reznor's not to subtle dive into the world of politics. While the album as a whole is more of a play on a sci-fi futuristic world filled with government intolerance and control, "Survivalism" remains to be one of the more relevant songs and videos to what is going on today. It's already almost 10 years old, too. I love the lyrics to the song and I think the video correlates perfectly with the theme of not only the song, but of the album itself.

4. 'Pinion'

Halo 5: Broken (1992)
NSFW? Absolutely (violence, sexuality, torture)

Remember when we said at the beginning that Trent Reznor wasn't afraid to push boundaries? Well, "Pinion" is a wonderful example of that. As we enter into the top four videos, they start getting wilder and more NSFW. This video was also part of the Closure VHS set released in 1997, so you might not understand it on its own but the end reveals something that's definitely unexpected and quite disturbing. The accompanying music just builds the tension as you get closer to that big reveal.

3. 'Help Me I Am In Hell'

Halo 5: Broken (1992)
NSFW? Use some caution (sexuality)

This is another bit from Closure that was almost in accompaniment of "Pinion," but it's good enough on its own to merit an individual slot on this list. One thing Trent Reznor has mastered almost as well as contributing great music videos is the art of instrumental music. The way the music layers on top of itself just begs for a visual accompaniment and "Help Me I Am in Hell" is a perfect example. The visuals alone are disturbing, but the way they convey the feeling of being alive but in hell is pretty outstanding. We might look great on the outside and someone might think we have everything, but on the inside we are in bondage eating flies.

2. 'Happiness In Slavery'

Halo 5: Broken (1992)
NSFW? Don't even think about it (graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, language)

This video is a close runner-up, but it still can't edge out my first choice. "Happiness in Slavery" is just an incredible bit of film and is easily the most graphic and disturbing music video that Nine Inch Nails has ever released. It's so disturbing that it is almost impossible to find on video platforms such as YouTube. It was even banned pretty much everywhere for the depiction of Bob Flanagan being sexually tortured by machinery. If you've never seen it and want to try, press the play button. Just make sure you're not in public because it's pretty intense.

1. 'Closer'

Halo 8: The Downward Spiral (1994)
NSFW? Don't even think about it (language, nudity, graphic imagery, sexuality)

"Closer" is not only a great music video, but it's a great piece of cinematic art. Trent Reznor stirred up a lot of controversy back in 1994 with the release of the video as people called it blasphemous, sexually perverse, and quite simply too dark for its depictions of levitation, nudity, sexually explicit imagery, and a crucified monkey. However you feel about it, the steps that Reznor and director Mark Romanek took to make this video what it was are incredible. They were able to please pop culture to an extend by releasing an edited version, complete with images and scenes completely cut out, but we all know the only true way to watch is to see the unedited version.


What was your favorite NIN video?


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