Music / Nine Inch Nails

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Cheer up, Trent Reznor, you're famous!

"Something's gonna get BROKEN!"
Trent Reznor

Nine Inch Nails is an Alternative / Industrial Rock act that's been rolling around the musical scene since 1988, releasing music videos which have ranged from politically subversive to the sort of video which answers the question: "What if Hostel had been a set for music videos?"

They're somewhat unusual in that it's essentially one man, Trent Reznor, who's done all of it. Most members have come and gone, occasionally contributing to albums but mostly staying for the live shows. (One such member, Richard Patrick, has struck out on his own and formed a little band you might've heard of, called Filter.)

The music is surprisingly varied, from ear destroying screaming guitar death on Broken to beautiful, mellow piano pieces on Still and all kinds of twisted sounds in between; but most of it falls squarely under True Art Is Angsty.

In contrast to his highly brutal industrial rock output, Reznor in person is more of a Mean Character, Nice Actor, being very active in his community and generally a pretty nice guy. Also in the same vein, he was friends with Tori Amos — he even sang backing vocals on one of her songs (the past tense is Courtney Love's fault).

In the past few years, though, Reznor has instead focused on a project with his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, called How To Destroy Angels, as well as on film soundtracks. Along with Atticus Ross, Reznor has composed the score for The Social Network, for which the duo won an Oscar for Best Original Music Score; 2011's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; and 2014's Gone Girl. Reznor also provided the soundtrack to Quake and recorded tracks for Doom 3 that didn't make it into the final game, although they can still be found in the game files.

Luckily for fans, though, Trent can't stay away, and he revealed in interviews that he would spend much of 2012 writing material for Nine Inch Nails, and in early 2013 it was announced that the group would begin touring again in the summer. Later in the year, it was announced that Reznor had been writing and recording music for a new NIN album, and on June 5, 2013 the first single of the Hesitation Marks album, "Came Back Haunted," was released. September 3rd of that year saw Hesitation Marks finally getting released followed by the successful Tension tour.

Funny story: Originally, the sessions for Hesitation Marks was, ostensibly, to provide extra material for a Greatest Hits Album. This is still in the works with Interscope Records, albeit it's in a little bit of Development Hell thus far.

Discography:

  • Purest Feeling (1988; bootleg of demo version of Pretty Hate Machine)
  • Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
  • Broken (1992; EP)
    • Fixed (1992): Remix album of Broken.
  • The Downward Spiral (1994): Yes, the one with the "fuck you like an animal" song on it.
    • Further Down the Spiral (1995): Remix album of The Downward Spiral.
  • The Fragile (1999)
    • Things Falling Apart (2000): Remix album of The Fragile.
  • And All That Could Have Been (2002): Live album recorded during the Fragility 2.0 tour.
    • Still (2002)
  • With Teeth (2005)
  • Year Zero (2007): A futuristic dystopia type Concept Album; accompanied by an extensive ARG.
    • Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D (Year Zero Remixed) (2007): Remix album of Year Zero.
  • Ghosts I-IV (2008)
  • The Slip (2008): Initially released for free on the website as a "thank you" to fans.
  • Hesitation Marks (2013)

DVDs:

  • Broken Movie (1993): Essentially one long extended music video for the Broken EP, made to look (very convincingly) like a Snuff Film. Never officially released. VHS tapes of the film exist, torrents of the film were made by Trent in 2006, and the film was put up by download, also by Trent, in 2013. Directed by the late Peter Christopherson.
  • Closure (1997): Two-disc VHS/DVD set, one tape / disc chronicles the chaotic Self Destruct tour of '95-'96, the other is a collection of music videos that had been released thus far. (The DVD version got caught in red tape, so Trent got fed up and released torrents of that as well.)
  • And All That Could Have Been (2002): Included with the "deluxe" album of the same name, it's the live concert DVD of the 2000 Fragility 2.0 tour, and is littered with Easter Eggs.
  • Beside You in Time (2007): Live concert DVD of the 2005-2006 Live: With Teeth tour.
  • Another Version of the Truth (2009): An entirely free fan created live concert film assembled from over 400 GB of clips Reznor released on the Internet. In response to the finished product, Reznor responded: "Nine Inch Nails fans kick ass. Blown away."

Pretty Trope Machine:

  • Addiction Displacement: After finally getting clean of drugs and alcohol, Reznor became a weight lifting enthusiast.
  • Album Title Drop: Done twice on Broken.
    "Happiness in Slavery:" Just some flesh caught in this big broken machine
    "Gave Up:" Still cannot fix this broken machine.
  • all lowercase letters: Most, if not all, of their liner notes.
  • Alone in a Crowd: "All the Love in the World."
  • Arc Words: "Nothing can stop me now."
  • Audience Participation Song: Quite a bit, especially from The Downward Spiral:
    • The "and I control you" line in "Mr. Self Destruct."
    • At any given performance of "March of the Pigs," the audience is often at least as loud as the band.
    • The choruses of "Ruiner" and "Piggy."
    • "Don't you tell me how I feel" in "I Do Not Want This."
    • "Eraser."
    • "I wanna fuck you like an animal!" from "Closer."
  • Author Vocabulary Calendar: The fact that this page exists.
  • Awesome McCool Name:
    • Just say it. Trent Reznor.
    • His children Lazarus Echo Reznor and Balthazar Reznor.
  • The Backwards R: The Cyrillic И, often used to make the initials symmetrical.
  • Badass Beard: Has been known to sport one on occasion and had a nice one at the Oscars.
  • "Blackmail" is Such an Ugly Word: From "Starfuckers, Inc.:"
    I sold my soul but don't you dare call me a whore.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The ending of the bridge of "Starfuckers, Inc." has Trent directly addressing the listener:
    All our pain
    How did you think we'd get by without you?
    You're so vain
    I bet you think this song is about you
  • Broken Record: They have more than a few lyrics that fall under this, usually used as a Madness Mantra (See below).
  • Call Back:
    • "Nothing can stop me now," used primarily to illustrate the protagonist's delusion in various The Downward Spiral songs, re-appears on The Fragile ("La Mer" and "We're in This Together") in a much more optimistic context, and again on one song on With Teeth, "Sunspots."
    • "Down in It" had the lyric: "Just then a tiny little dot caught my eye, it was just about too small to see," which was referenced in "Only" with the line "The tiniest little dot caught my eye, and it turned out to be a scab."
    • A line in With Teeth calls back to the end of "Now I'm Nothing:"
    Wave goodbye / to what you were / The rules have changed / the lines begin to blur — "With Teeth"
    All that I can do / is break myself in two / I fucked it all away / Now I'm nothing / Wave goodbye — "Now I'm Nothing"
    • The title of "The Line Begins to Blur" on the same album calls back to the very same line from "With Teeth."
    • The concept of the presence from Year Zero, being a call back to "The Wretched:"
    "...The clouds will part and the sky cracks open and God himself will reach his fucking hand through, just to push you down, to hold you down..."
    • "The Wretched" from the album The Fragile contains the line: "Back at the beginning / Sinking, spinning..." which may be a reference to the title of the previous album The Downward Spiral.
    • "In This Twilight" calls back to "Survivalism:"
    "...The world we set on fire..."
    • "The Big Come Down" contains a brief excerpt of off-key guitars and buzzing nearly identical to "The Downward Spiral." Fitting, given the former song's subject matter.
  • Came Back Wrong: Unsurprisingly, the song "Came Back Haunted" has shades of this, whether metaphorically or literally.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Any release without a Halo number. Most of these were forced by the record company. Reznor is very open about how he feels about that.
  • Careful with That Axe + Metal Scream: One must admit Trent's got a great voice for Industrial Metal.
    • For example, live performances of "March of the Pigs" end with Trent letting loose an impressive scream.
    • "Eraser" also ends with a particularly terrifying example.
    • The background of "The Downward Spiral" contains many of these as well (perhaps not surprising since the song depicts a suicide attempt).
    • At the end of "Down in It," after some time of progressively screaming the lyrics more intensely, Trent just lets out a feral scream.
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
  • Concept Album:
    • The Downward Spiral, which follows a man solipsistically shedding every aspect of his world from him until he attempts suicide.
    • The Fragile, which is loosely about depression and trying to re-assemble one's life, only to end up "where it starts — [with] the same emotion"
    • Year Zero, which presents a dystopian version of 2022 in which nuclear war and bio terrorism has started to erupt and (at the very least) American civil liberties are eliminated.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • "Only" nods to "Down in It:" The latter is halo 1 while the former is halo 20, the vocal delivery is very similar, and "Only" refers to a lyric from "Down in It:"
    Just then a tiny little dot / Caught my eye it was just about too small to see / But I watched it way too long / It was pulling me down — "Down in It"
    Well, the tiniest little dot caught my eye / And it turned out to be a scab / And I had this funny feeling / Like I just knew it's something bad — "Only"
    • "Adrift and at Peace" is the conclusion to "La Mer," according to Reznor.
    • "Nothing can stop me now," Arc Words in The Downward Spiral, re-appear in the songs "La Mer," "Sunspots," and "We're in This Together," which are from two other albums.
  • Control Freak:
    • Trent himself admits to being this, and it shows up in many songs.
    • The character in The Downward Spiral appeared to be this.
  • Cover Version: Quite a few — and (almost) all English musicians, to boot.
    • "Physical" (Adam Ant).
    • "Suck" (Pigface). note 
    • "Get Down Make Love" (Queen).
    • "Dead Souls" (Joy Division).
    • "Supernaut" (Black Sabbath [with 1000 Homo DJs]).
    • "Memorabilia" (Soft Cell).
    • "Metal" (Gary Numan).
    • "Zoo Station" (U2).
    • Two from his Dragon Tattoo soundtrack, albeit with female singers: Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" (with Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), and Brian Ferry's "Is Your Love Strong Enough" (with Mariqueen from How To Destroy Angels).
    • He sometimes plays How To Destroy Angels songs live.
    • From that same album: "The Beauty of the Drug."
  • Cross-Referenced Titles: Broken and its companion remix EP, Fixed.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: "The Becoming," symbolically.
  • Darker and Edgier: Broken is definitely darker (and angrier) than Pretty Hate Machine, and The Downward Spiral is even darker — what else can you say about a Concept Album about a descent into madness that may or may not end with suicide? The Fragile zigzags this — it has more Lighter and Softer moments than The Downward Spiral, but with its cyclical nature and Downer Ending, it ultimately winds up being arguably just as dark overall as its predecessor. With Teeth is definitely Lighter and Softer though, at least comparatively.
    • Year Zero is also this compared to With Teeth.
  • Dark Wave: Pretty Hate Machine is a bit more synth heavy than later releases and sounds very much like twisted Synth Pop.
  • Declaration of Protection: "The Fragile."
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Lots of publicity photos.
  • Digital Piracy Is Okay: Encouraged by Reznor himself, out of spite for the record industry. Trent actually encouraged fans to steal his own music due to his loathing of how badly his record company was screwing his fans (he specifically used the word "steal" repeatedly, too.) No doubt that because of Trent's preference for free downloading of his albums, the albums The Slip and Ghosts I-IV were released under a Creative Commons license that allows unlimited non commercial note  sharing and modification as long as credit is given. These can be downloaded legally at no charge from archive.org, though physical copies are also available for a fee.
  • Distinct Double Album: The Fragile, which has a "left" and "right" disc, both being around 50 minutes long.
  • Downer Ending:
    • The Downward Spiral ends with a suicide attempt, and whether or not it went through is still left to open interpretation.
    • The Fragile is loosely about depression and trying to re-assemble one's life, only to end up "where it starts — [with] the same emotion."
    • Year Zero ends with The End of the World as We Know It.
  • Epic Rocking: "Closer" (6:13), "Reptile" (6:52), "Hurt" (6:14), "We're in This Together" (7:15), "Ripe (With Decay)" (6:34), "Zero-Sum" (6:14), "Corona Radiata" (7:33), and "All Time Low" (6:18).
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Pretty Hate Machine is at its heart a Synth Pop album, contrasted with the rawer sound of Broken and The Downward Spiral.
    • The bootleg Purest Feeling is made up of Pretty Hate Machine demos, and they sound even more poppy. "Maybe Just Once" sounds like a lost Depeche Mode track.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Trent's sobriety and newly founded family have seemingly made him a much happier individual compared to The Downward Spiral era. The angst factor has significantly dropped because of it. This however divides the fans of the group even to this day, with one side preferring the "old Trent" and the other preferring the "new Trent."
  • The End of the World as We Know It: How Year Zero ends.
  • Everything Is an Instrument:
    • Trent has been exploring and exploiting the ways computers and samples can be used to make music from the beginning. The melody at the end of "Terrible Lie" was created by sampling a woodblock and then processing it with filters and distortion.
    • Used especially in the Ghosts series, which included, for instance, a cookie sheet with a chain laid across it being struck percussively.
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French: "La Mer" is in Creole French, which may be because the album was recorded in New Orleans.
  • Excited Show Title!: "HYPERPOWER!"
  • Fading into the Next Song / Siamese Twin Songs: Nearly all albums use both of these tropes extensively.
  • Fanvid: For a while, "Closer" was the cliched choice for any Foe Yay Shipping vid.
  • Funk Rock: Pops up on occasion in the NIN ouvre — due, no doubt, to his admiration for Prince. Includes "Closer," "All Time Low," and "Satellite" among others.
  • God Is Dead: Invoked by name in "Heresy."
  • Happiness in Slavery: The song is the Trope Namer!
  • Hates Everyone Equally: From "Wish:"
    "Don't think you're having all the fun
    You know me, I hate everyone"
  • Here We Go Again: The "Happiness in Slavery" video features a man going through a ritual before sitting in a machine that rips him apart, kills him, and engulfs him, and it ends with Trent entering the room and beginning the same ritual.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners:
    • Trent had this kind of relationship with Chris Vrenna until 1997. They became friends as teenagers, owing to the fact that they grew up within fifty miles (90 km) of one another (Vrenna is originally from Erie, Pennsylvania; Reznor is from a town called Mercer, about forty minutes south).
    • Trent with Atticus Ross from the 2000s on.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Presence from the Year Zero universe, a massive four fingered arm descending from the sky that strikes intense feelings of terror into anyone who sees it. It is eventually responsible for The End of the World as We Know It.
  • "I Am" Song: "Mr. Self Destruct" and its remixes, "Big Man with a Gun," and "Sanctified."
  • "I Am Becoming" Song: "The Becoming," natch. Invoked in the lyrics.
  • Icarus Allusion: In "Somewhat Damaged:"
    Flew too high and burnt the wing
  • Important Haircut: Trent cut his trademark long, messy hair sometime after getting over his addiction problems and recording With Teeth. He's had a buzz cut ever since, with a shorter cut seen in the photo at the top of the page.
  • Incredibly Long Note: At the end of "Hurt." Also counts as a Last Note Nightmare.
  • Industrial: Songs like "Heresy" and "The Becoming" off of The Downward Spiral show that Trent still (back then, at least) could make genuine Industrial music.
  • Industrial Metal: The Trope Codifier.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: Despite various apocryphal origin stories, Trent's basic story on how he came to "Nine Inch Nails" as the band name is simple: It sounded cool and abbreviated easily.
  • Intercourse with You: So many of their songs:
    • ''Closer,'' to nobody's surprise, although Reznor in interviews denied its inclusion of sexual lyrics and instead suggested it to be an Anti-Love Song.
    • "Reptile" and "Sin" are more about the destructive impact of a relationship than actual sex.
    • Often Lampshaded when "The Only Time" is performed live; Trent often introduces it with "This song... Is about... FUCKING."
    • Even more lampshading occurred during the Self-Destruct Tour. About to perform a cover of Queen's "Get Down Make Love" right after "Suck" and "The Only Time," both about sex, Trent commented: "It's all about the fucking."
  • Jump Scare: A lot of instances where songs get quiet and then suddenly burst right back into the noisiness come off as this. Examples include "March of the Pigs," "The Day the World Went Away," "With Teeth," and especially the climax of "Hurt."
  • Large Ham:
    I AM A BIG MAN, YES I AM, AND I'VE GOT A BIG GUN.
    • Another stupendously notable one:
    I am the GREAT DESTROYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEER.
  • Last Note Nightmare: "Hurt" is a relatively calm song, albeit still filthily fuzzy and distorted, but as Trent sings the final line, a loud series of distorted guitar notes burst in out of nowhere, with the last note holding and dissolving into the offsetting "ambience."
  • Lighter and Softer:
    • His post The Fragile work is this to his older work, with the obvious exception of Year Zero, of course. Hesitation Marks is the lightest album he's ever released.
    • "Everything" off "Hesitation Marks" could be the most un-''NIN' song yet. It's an '80s style rock song, with Power Pop and New Wave influences thrown in — and even with Lyrical Dissonance, the narrator's finally accepted the other "thing" inside him from the previous songs.
  • Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: Ghosts I-IV got this treatment by its release in five different packages: A digital download of the full album in FLAC with digital extras; a 2CD format; a 4 LP format; a Deluxe Edition featuring the CDs, a 24/48 blu-ray and a DVD-ROM with multitrack stems for the full album; and an Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition, which paired the Deluxe Edition with the vinyl copy, a coffee table book of the artwork and two exclusive Giclée prints. A free torrent of the first 9 songs (Ghosts I) also existed.
  • Literary Allusion Title: A quote from Al Jourgensen from a 1987 Ministry concert saying that "listening to Ministry is like having a nine inch nail hammered into your head like a hole" inspired not only the band name but also the name of "Head Like a Hole."
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Many of them. "La Mer," "The Frail," the list goes on.
  • Loudness War: ZigZagged. Most Nine Inch Nails albums have sections with significant amounts of dynamics, but Reznor also likes to boost the levels on the loudest parts to the extent that they clip (and, like many artists who do this, this has gotten progressively more pronounced on later releases — just compare the mastering on The Fragile to that on The Downward Spiral, or the latter to that on Broken). This is usually the case even on the vinyl editions. Hesitation Marks was released in an "audiophile edition" which turned out not to be much more dynamic than the CD, though the vinyl turned out to have decent range in comparison.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Everyday is Exactly the Same" is one of NIN's softer and, quite frankly, more "mainstream" songs. It's also one of the most depressing.
    • "Everything" continues the dark lyrical theme of the previous "Hesitation Marks" song — it, at first, seems like the narrator is happy, but only because he's accepting whatever has been eating at him away inside and will wither away to die.
  • Madness Mantra:
    • From "The Becoming:" "It won't give up, it wants me dead, and goddamn this noise inside my head."
    • The Arc Words of The Downward Spiral, "nothing can stop me now," are often utilized this way, with some variation ("nothing can stop me now 'cause I don't care" in "Piggy," "you didn't hurt me, nothing can hurt me, nothing can hurt me, nothing can stop me now" in "Ruiner," etc.)
    • The ending of "I Do Not Want This:" "I wanna know everything, I wanna be everywhere, I wanna fuck everyone in the world, I wanna do something that MATTERS..."
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: Broken, The Downward Spiral, With Teeth... Ah hell, most every one of their albums has this.
  • Miniscule Rocking:
    • "Pinion," "Big Man with a Gun," "The Frail," "HYPERPOWER!," and "999,999," plus one or two songs from Ghosts I-IV.
    • Technically speaking, the shortest NIN track isn't even a song at all; the final track on the Head Like a Hole single is only four seconds long and consists of a sound clip taken from their performance on Dance Party USA of host Heather Day saying: "Let's hear it for Nine Inch Nails! Woo! They're good!"
  • Misogyny Song:
    • Satirized in "Big Man with a Gun" according to Word of God, inspired by its prevalence in Gangsta Rap. Unfortunately, it was misinterpreted as an example itself.
    • "Closer" is another example of a song that was misinterpreted as being a serious example of this trope (mostly because the general public generally failed to pay attention to anything but the song's most famous line); if anything, the intended meaning puts it closer to being a Misandry Song, as it implies that the only way the protagonist finds self-worth is through sex.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: All over the freaking place, from a 1 or 2 ("Hurt" minus the Last Note Nightmare, "The Great Below," "Right Where It Belongs," "A Warm Place") to an 8 ("Gave Up," "Starfuckers Inc.") or even an arguable 9 ("Big Man with a Gun," some of the stuff on Broken); "March of the Pigs" and "Big Man with a Gun" are a 9, with the former being a borderline 10. Most of the heavy stuff's around 6-7, though.
  • Mondegreen: In one interview Trent Reznor wanted to drive home the point that in "Head Like a Hole" he is saying: "God / Money" and not "Got money?" and in "Down in It," he is saying: "I was up above it" and not "Eyes of a puppet."
    • There's a photo out there of one of guitarist Aaron North's setlists on the With_Teeth tour, that reads: "Down in It AKA Eyes of a Puppet," along with a few other jokes.
  • Mood Dissonance: "The Becoming" contrasts ominous industrial sounds and lyrics about dehumanization with surprisingly low-key vocals.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • "March of the Pigs," and "With Teeth."
    • "I Do Not Want This," especially if you agree with the popular theory that it's two different sides of the character speaking.
    • Song to song transition example: On The Downward Spiral, the noisy and hyper aggressive "Big Man with a Gun" is followed by the calm ambient soundscapes of "A Warm Place," which is then followed by the slow burning aggression of "Eraser." Which is then followed by the pulsing, ripping sound of "Reptile."
  • Mr. Fanservice: Trent Pre-With Teeth: Somewhat waifish, long flowing black hair, and at times bordering on outright bishonen. Post-With Teeth: Kicked his drug addictions and took up weight lifting to compensate. The end results were... impressive, to say the least.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Quite a few of Trent's songs are about regret; includes "Gave Up" (After everything I've done / I hate myself for what I've become) and "Zero Sum" (Shame on us / After all we've done).
  • New Sound Album: All of them, technically.
    • Pretty Hate Machine had an evil Synth Pop sound to it, with some obvious overtones and clear influences from Skinny Puppy.
    • Then while the Broken / The Downward Spiral era came around, they switched to a more aggressive, industrial metal sound.
    • The Fragile featured more industrial elements and it was a little less heavy.
    • Then years later, With Teeth was released, and it had a more straight forward rock sound with only hints here and there of what he'd done in years past.
    • Year Zero was very electronically influenced, with much of it composed on Reznor's laptop.
    • Ghosts I-IV is instrumental dark ambient music.
    • The Slip reverted back to the sound of With Teeth.
    • Hesitation Marks was a somber, calm, and soft departure from previous albums.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: The character in The Downward Spiral, to the point of actually quoting him. Trent himself had moments like these in earlier interviews. The album's lyrics themselves seem to indicate that Trent may have actually read Nietzsche, so it's really just the character in question and not Trent himself.
  • Obligatory Bondage Song: Trent has many songs that seem like this unless you're following the continuity of the album they're in. "Meet Your Master" is a good example of this. Alternatively, you might not realize that songs like "Happiness in Slavery" or "Head Like a Hole" are actually about record labels unless you actually know about Trent's history with them. There's also "Sin," which sounds like a song about D/s, which isn't helped by the ridiculously fetishistic Music Video... Which is a lot like most of their videos. It's more like Obligatory Bondage Music Video...
  • Obsession Song: A few songs have themes of this, in particular "Closer to God," a remix of "Closer," and "Kinda I Want To."
  • Ominous Message from the Future: The entirety of the Year Zero ARG is this, with the earliest quantum computers suddenly receiving a bunch of websites from their future selves, depicting a dystopic future and the end of the world in 2025. Unfortunately, the messages sent back were partially corrupted by the future computers being damaged during the upload, either by government agents or The Presence. Nonetheless, the implication remains that having received the messages has changed the timeline and averted the events of Year Zero.
  • The Plan: The entire game leading up to the release (and beyond) of Year Zero. It's complicated.
  • Please Don't Leave Me: Directly lampshaded in "Please."
  • Product Placement:
    • Could easily be a coincidence, but in a film that Reznor worked on the soundtrack for a character is seen wearing a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt.
    • Trent Reznor and then NIN engineer Sean Beaven created the soundtrack for the game Quake. The NIN logo was used in-game on all of the ammo boxes for the nailgun.
  • Pun: This gem from "The Only Time:"
    "My moral standing is lying down."
  • Rap Rock: "Capital G.," "Down in It," "Where is Everybody?" (The latter is also pretty much a Piss-Take Rap).
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: note 
  • Record Producer: Trent's personally produced every single NIN album, with help from various others at some points, like Adrian Sherwood and John Fryer (Pretty Hate Machine), Flood (Broken, The Downward Spiral) and Alan Moulder (The Fragile, With Teeth). All the NIN albums since Year Zero have been credited to Reznor, Moulder, and Atticus Ross.
  • Recurring Riff:
    • There's a descending melodic line that appears in several songs on The Downward Spiral, albeit in different keys.
    • "La Mer" and "Into the Void" both share basslines, though on "La Mer," it's not the main riff.
  • Recycled Trailer Music: Quite a few action movies use NIN songs in their trailers nowadays.
  • Refrain from Assuming: The song "Fuck You Like an Animal" is actually called "Closer." Not helped by the single release (as well as a remixed version of "Closer") being titled "Closer to God."
  • Religion Rant Song: "Heresy" and "Ruiner" from The Downward Spiral, "Terrible Lie" from Pretty Hate Machine, and judging by Word of God, "Capital G" from Year Zero as well. "Find My Way" is a weird version, as the narrator begs the Lord to watch over him and take him back — even though he knows there's no Lord.
  • Rockers Smash Guitars: Live NIN shows in The '90s could give The Who a run for their money when it comes to on-stage destruction. Guitars, keyboards, and sound equipment alike have all gone faulty numerous times during NIN shows, and have been subsequently obliterated. Reznor was fond of using the heel of his boot to strip keys off of keyboards. During a Lollapalooza show, Trent had a particularly infamous outburst:
    Trent: Every single thing was fucking up; monitors weren't on, guitars were out of tune, the mic stand was nowhere to be seen. Every fuck up that could happen happened. Also the crowd were a little weird, and I just snapped... I just went totally violent, really scared a lot of people. I picked up my out-of-tune guitar, and smashed the fuckin' thing on the keyboard. Then I turned around and went about my business of the next song. [...] A couple of songs later our road manager ran by and said "It's OK, the medics are finally here." I just looked at him and said "Medics? What fuckin' medics? What for?" Then I turned around and saw James scowling at me, with all this blood trickling down his face. Seems a piece of guitar busted off and hit him in the head. Oh well, that's showbiz."
  • Sampling:
    • Not only from the obligatory old horror and sci-fi movies, but also occasionally from other artists. Pretty Hate Machine's liner notes thanked Prince, Public Enemy, Jane's Addiction, among others because Trent sampled them.
    • "Big Man with a Gun" from The Downward Spiral begins with a sample of what is apparently a porn star having an orgasm, heavily processed so as to be unrecognizable. The album booklet gives the sample the Non-Indicative Name of "Steakhouse."
    • The most prominent unprocessed sample is the "Goodnight, whoo!" and crowd noise featured in the single version of "Starfuckers, Inc."
    • An expansive list can be found here. The most unusual samples on the list include Saddam Hussein's trial verdict and a YouTube video of BioShock cosplay.
  • Sanity Slippage Song:
    • The Downward Spiral is 14 tracks of this, including "Piggy" (which sets the whole thing off, after the narrator gets dumped), "Ruiner" (which seemingly has the narrator convinced he's defeated God), and "Big Man with a Gun" (in which the narrator loses it completely and rapes someone).
    • "Echoplex," "Somewhat Damaged," and "Slipping Away."
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Virtually all of the background vocals on Trent's songs are... Well, Trent. The only songs with audibly non-Trent contributions from the band's entire career are "La Mer" (which is instrumental apart from Denise Milfrot's French mumbling) and "Pilgrimage" (which is instrumental with indistinct militaristic chanting in the background). "The Day the World Went Away" and "Starfuckers, Inc." also contain aversions of this.
  • Shout-Out: The NIN logo is based on the typography on the cover of the Talking Heads album Remain in Light.
  • Single Stanza Song: "The Day The World Went Away," "The Way Out is Through," "Big Man with a Gun," "The Downward Spiral," and "Eraser."
  • Snuff Film: The Broken movie was filmed (very convincingly) to look like one in its wraparound story.
  • Something Completely Different:
    • "Everything" from Hesitation Marks is a Power Pop / Post-Punk song.
    • Ghosts I-IV is an album rooted in dark ambient.
  • Spoken Word in Music: Used in "Closer," "The Downward Spiral," The Becoming," and "Zero-Sum."
  • Stop and Go: "God Given."
  • Subdued Section: Practically the king of this trope. Songs from The Downward Spiral were especially prone to this.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: "All the Love in the World:"
    "It looks as though the past is here to stay
    I've become a million miles a..."
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song:
    • "A Warm Place."
    • "Zero Sum," the last track on Year Zero.
    • "Lights in the Sky," from The Slip.
    • Most of his piano pieces fall under this.
  • Take That: Many.
    • The "eat your heart out, Steve" whisper at the start of "Physical" is directed at Steve Gottlieb, the head of TVT Records who tried to interfere with the recording of Broken and prevent Trent from moving to Interscope. Further insults are in the "Gave Up" video, where one shot of a Macintosh running Pro Tools has the sequence title "fuck you steve," and the Broken liner notes, which end with "no thanks: you know who you fucking are" and "the slave thinks he is released from bondage only to find a stronger set of chains."
    • "Starfuckers, Inc." to celebrities and fame in general, with Marilyn Manson in particular. Also see Take That in the video section.
    • "Ruiner" is an In-Universe Take That for God. note 
    • "Big Man with a Gun" is this for cock rock.
    • During his feud with Manson, Trent mocked his cover of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" in response to a fan letter, saying he'd love to record a cover that sounds exactly the same as the original.
    • Strobe Light is a piss-take at Chris Cornell's expense. Trent had previously mocked his badly received Scream on Twitter, writing: "You know that feeling you get when somebody embarrasses themselves so badly YOU feel uncomfortable? Heard Chris Cornell's record? Jesus."
  • Testosterone Poisoning: "Big Man with a Gun."
  • Textless Album Cover: The Fragile (only a portion of the NIN logo is visible), Year Zero, and The Slip.
    • Some versions of The Downward Spiral, too.
  • Title Only Chorus: "With Teeth," "Terrible Lie," "Starfuckers, Inc.," and "That's What I Get."
  • Title Track:
    • The Downward Spiral and With Teeth are straight examples.
    • Ghosts I-IV takes this trope to its Logical Extreme: Every single song on that album (yes, all 36 of them) are titled with their track number, the word "Ghost" and either I, II, III, or IV.
  • Uncommon Time:
    • The verses of "March of the Pigs" are three bars of 7/8 followed by one bar of 8/8.
    • Similarly, most of "The Becoming" takes the form of a bar of 7/4 followed by a bar of 6/4.
  • Understatement: The song "Somewhat Damaged" is about a guy who's a lot more damaged than "somewhat".note 
  • "World of Cardboard" Speech: "The Great Destroyer:"
    "I hope they cannot see the limitless potential
    Living inside of me to murder everything
    I hope they cannot see I am the GREAT DESTROYERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR..."
  • Vocal Evolution: Trent's voice and style has changed a lot from the beginning, particularly in how deep it's gotten. This is most evident in Year Zero.
  • Zeroes and Ones: The very last lyric on Year Zero.
    Shame on us / for all we have done / and all we ever were / just zeroes and ones

Tropes used in NIN videos:

  • Amusement Park of Doom: "Starfuckers, Inc." involves Trent and a girl (later revealed to be Marilyn Manson) going to a run-down carnival that has games that include throwing albums into a toilet, smashing porcelain figures of famous rock stars, and a dunk tank that replaces the water with toxic waste.
  • And I Must Scream: "Pinion" shows a person in a tight bondage suit that has a network of pipes end with an attachment to the mouth portion of the suit with water (or waste) gushing in.
  • Bad Vibrations: "Only."
  • Bound and Gagged:
    • Trent in "Closer."
    • Trent in "Sin," though only for the bound part.
    • The character in "Help Me I Am in Hell."
  • Bowdlerise: In the music video and radio edit versions, "Starfuckers, Inc." became "Starsuckers, Inc." In this new song, "bitch," "fucking," and "suck you" were censored as well as "taste" (due to its connection to the "suck you" line), and the bridge was for some reason changed entirely. For some reason, "whore" was left intact.
  • The Cameo: Marilyn Manson appears as the guitarist in the video for "Gave Up." And as the girl in the "Starfuckers, Inc." video.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: "Survivalism" and "We're in This Together."
  • Epileptic Flashing Lights: "Came Back Haunted." Even has a seizure warning at the beginning of the video.
  • Fan Disservice: The music videos for "Closer" and "Happiness in Slavery."
  • Gainax Ending: "Down in It" has an ending that's very unclear explicitly, only showing what happens before and after a significant event; all it shows is Trent climbing to the roof of a building and then his dead body on the ground, presumably having fallen from the building.
  • Gorn: The Broken movie. "Happiness in Slavery" takes it to extremes.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: Many music videos include someone wearing leather. Trent himself, appears in latex in the video for "Wish."
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: "Deep."
  • Last Note Nightmare: "Hurt."
  • Mind Screw: "The Perfect Drug" and "Help Me I Am in Hell."
  • The Oner: The music video for "March of the Pigs," said to be the only recorded take that "didn't suck."
  • Performance Video: "March of the Pigs," "Gave Up," "The Hand That Feeds," "Wish," and "Survivalism."
  • Rule of Symbolism: Both "Closer" and "The Perfect Drug," directed by Mark Romanek, hold symbolic imagery that mostly have to do with famous photos.
  • Snuff Film:
    • Broken is played as this. Not only are most of the music videos of the EP tracks playing this straight, but there's a whole short eponymous film based around the music videos that also contains an overarching plot that's a snuff film in itself.
    • Footage from "Down in It" was also investigated, by the American Law Enforcement, as one of the weather balloons a camera was attached to drifted off, was later found some 200 miles away, and got reported to them.
  • Spit-Trail Kiss: "Deep," though it's technically a spit trail lick.
  • Stop Motion: The video for "Only" features animation, via one of those push pin novelty toys, generally found in Spencer Gifts, or similar stores.
  • Take That: "Starfuckers, Inc." The video mocks Courtney Love, depicts Trent throwing copies of his own album and Mechanical Animals, in the trash at a carnival attraction, and smashing porcelain figures of Pamela Anderson, Fred Durst, Gene Simmons, Trent himself, among others. Marilyn Manson (the person) realized, the song was directed at him, and rather than getting pissed, like most people would, appeared in the video as the girl.
  • Three Minutes of Writhing: In the literal, death throes sort of way.
  • Tomato Surprise: The identity of the girl who follows Trent around in "Starfuckers, Inc." It's Marilyn Manson.
  • Twist Ending: "Starfuckers, Inc." See Tomato Surprise.
  • Unsettling Gender Reveal: See Tomato Surprise.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The "Help Me I Am in Hell" video shows a man casually eating steak and wine... in a room full of flies.

Alternative Title(s): Trent Reznor

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