The Man Is Not Keeping NIN Down

Originally published in unknown on September 1, 1999

Since Nine Inch Nails' 1999 double album "The Fragile" plummeted off the billboard album charts, many Nine Inch Nails fans and critics have been pointing fingers in all directions in a mad attempt to find a reason, or an excuse, for the album's lack of success in sales. After all, it was simply impossible that the album could fail. It just couldn't happen. No! Impossible! Yeah, NIN does have quite the cult following.

It was said by NIN frontman Trent Reznor and a large handful his loyal followers that it was the record companies' fault for the album selling so poorly. "The Man" was keeping the album down. Evil corporations that owned the record labels were quickly burying the album so that their evil cyborg teen-pop bands could take over and dominate the industry. It was "The Man" that was warping people's minds into calling the album a failure, and N'Syncs latest a masterpiece. We were all just fooled and brainwashed, but the NIN purists could see through that - for they were the special ones; the enlightened ones - Cult following? Nah, what was I thinking!

Mind you this, folks: The problem with "The Fragile" is not its lack of support. It isn't like no one knows that it is on sale. In fact, just about everyone with electricity and a slight interest in music had at least heard something about the then-upcoming record. How couldn't they?

MTV, the #1 scapegoat for NIN's lack of popularity in the past, went out of their way on more than one occasion to plug the album before its release date. Let's take you through what MTV did for the promotion of the album.

11 days prior to the release, on September 9th, NIN is set to play at the MTV Video Music Awards, a show that is beginning to compete with the Oscars (keyword: Beginning) for ratings. It's the who's-who of music right now, even though it is supposed to be based solely videos. If you're important, you've played a part in the VMA's at one time or another, is what they're beginning to say--and here came NIN.

For a channel that hated NIN so much, you really couldn't ask much more of them. But not only did they give NIN that chance, but also before the show, they were going obnoxiously out of their way to incorporate The Fragile into anything they were doing. It seemed like the pre-show's only goal was to make sure that everyone knew that NIN had returned. They even featured a well rounded, 10 minute exclusive about Trent Reznor and the whole process of making the new album. Reznor was called in for an interview and made to look like a hero.

There is more: After that exclusive, as all of the famous musicians made their way to the building at which the VMAs' would be held, famous performers such as David Bowie, Aaliyah, and members of Bush and yes even Limp Bizkit talked live about how much they were looking forward to seeing NIN perform that night, as well as to hearing the new album. And all of these comments were completely voluntary and spread throughout the pre-show. Here are some words on NIN that these famous artists had to offer:

Aaliyah - "Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails, I'm a huge fan so I'm looking forward to their performance."

David Bowie - "The album sounds great, I love his new album, his new album his fabulous."

Gavin Rossdale of Bush - "Looking forward to seeing Nine Inch Nails; see what Trent's up to."

Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit - "I can't wait to see Nine Inch Nails go."

And let's not forget about the MTV news crew bringing it up every other minute.

Let's face it, the world was watching, and the world was listening--the music world was well aware of a new NIN album about to come out. The Man was absolutely on NIN's side, and he did what he could for them.

Even after the VMAs, a day later during the post-show, once again MTV news made sure that those who missed the show were aware that NIN performed, and did a great job. Part 2 of the exclusive was aired that night.

MTV even aired a commercial for "The Fragile" twice during the VMAs.

So as we approached the album release date, it begins to get reviews--oh, I'm sorry-- RAVE reviews from 95% of its critics. Trent Reznor gets on the front cover of just about every major music magazine, and the industry is on their feet and waiting for Nine Inch Nails to come in and "save rock". The hype ended up selling over 280,000 copies of "The Fragile" during its first week of sale, crushing all of the other competing albums by a whooping margin and landing itself safely as the #1 album in the country. It was also the band's first #1 album.

The Fragile was number one. Top of the world. King of The Mountain.. The World knew. Reporters from around the globe were reporting the news. Everyone knew that this album was out, and that it was a success�?�.The Man got the album as far as it was capable of getting it, and now it was up to the album to sell itself.

Week 2: the record sales plummet to #16, as in 15 other albums--most out much longer and thus not having nearly as much hype to sell on--sold more copies. The Fragile's first video and radio single stir things up a tiny bit, but then vanish. The second and third singles follow the same pattern. A few months later, as far as the billboard album charts are concerned, the album is history, not even in the top 200.

What went wrong? It surely wasn't The Man. The Man embraced the album; The Man told his cronies that the album was a masterpiece, and to go buy it. We've already established that It wasn't MTV. Even during their hit show Total Request Live, during all 3 new NIN less-than-average video premieres, The Man (Carson Daily in this instance) still told everyone that it was good, and that it represented a great album well.

So whose fault is it? The album isn't bad! It just can't be! Guess what folks, The Man--and I apologize for bludgeoning the use of that title to death--was always in NIN's pocket this time around. There is no blame to place there, even though in all of the band's previous cases they had more than enough to complain about. 1989's "Pretty Hate Machine" was all but thrown out by the media, and suddenly a year later their hit "Head Like A Hole" found its way onto radio, and now the chorus "bow down before the one you serve, you're going to get what you deserve" is a classic. NIN's second album, "Broken" was all about The Man (I'm sorry!) keeping Trent Reznor down, and their third, "The Downward Spiral" received god-awful reviews at first until someone finally listened to the album enough times to realize that it was a work of genius. That album sold itself--over 5 million times, and it is now viewed as one of the best albums of the previous decade.

Maybe people are stupid. They aren't intelligent enough to like this music. Could that be it? No, try again. The people would have been stupid--and I'm sure some were--if they had gone out and bought the album solely based on the hype surrounding it. They didn't buy it. They saw the videos, heard the music, and they came off saying, "what the hell is this crap? I don't want to buy this album." End of story.

Don't get me wrong, "The Fragile" is one of my favorite albums. I keep losing the damn thing and I go right out and buy it again. I've bought it 4 times now! Ok so there goes my credibility.

I do not view it as crap, I view it as a masterpiece.

The album didn't fail either. It will sell over 1 million copies. It's only a failure if its artist was only interested in selling the most albums, and that wasn't the case at all. His goal in short was to make a piece of art, to achieve his objective: to make an album that took an effort to understand, and that was meant to be listened to over, and over, and over. He achieved that objective. That is not failure by any means. As a matter of fact, in those terms, the album was the most successful from NIN to-date, and I'm one to agree.

Now of course there is the fact that it was indeed a double album, which means it costs a lot more than Limp Bizkit or Korn, NIN's inevitable ripoff bands. And most of those 280,000 copies sold in the first week were to NIN fanatics like myself. But where are the other 5 million who bought NIN's 1994 smash hit "The Downward Spiral"? They didn't just grow up and forget about NIN like many skeptics of the band have said. They would have to be hermits to have not heard about "The Fragile" coming out. Ok so that doesn't strengthen my point any�?� Where have they all gone? Chances are they heard a song off "The Fragile" on the radio, and didn't find it as appealing as past hits such as "Closer" or "Head Like a Hole".

The average music listener is not an intellectual, not even a music lover. "The Fragile" is an album that takes an effort to understand. It takes a passion for music to get there and back. It takes a whole lot more than tuning your radio to the station that is most likely to play one of its songs. If everyone loved music enough to dedicate so much time to it, then The Backstreet Boys wouldn't be popular at all. We are a society based on first impressions, and The Fragile makes a horrible one. The first time I heard it, I absolutely hated it, but I listened to it again, and by disc 2 it had me shaking my ass in the air.

The album's success or failure had absolutely nothing to do with big-money corporations dictating what we hear. We've all heard NIN, we know who they are, and we know what they sound like. Like the Backstreet Boys, NIN was given a more-than-fair chance to prove their album worth buying, and to some it was proven, and to most it was not. To those who weren't sold, well, they simply didn't like it. It's part of the game. It's part of human nature. If we were all passionately dedicated to music in that way, the world would suck in a whole different way.

The average music listener wants to hear something good on their system while they drive to the gas station; something they can hum along to while tapping their steering wheel, and then oh-I'm-here-time-to-get-gas-and-on-with-my-life. That kind of thing.

The Fragile's situation is not limited to the music industry, either. How many people go to their nearest Six Flags as opposed to the museum? How many people read Stephen King over Mark Twain? It's all a part of the same equation. Entertainment and Art are not the same. The Fragile is an artistic album; the Backstreet Boys are strictly entertainment. "The Downward Spiral" managed to be both artistic and entertaining at the same time. Sure, it still might have taken a few listens, but through the first cycle, there was something there that pulled you back for more. "The Fragile" is too long to even get through if you can't handle it the first time. But for those who make it, there's a good chance you'll want to hear it again, and then you're there, on the road to discovering the album. You've got to love art and music to love Nine Inch Nails, and especially The Fragile. To like the instant-hit bands like Moby or, once again, The Backstreet Boys, you just have to be in the mood for the quick thrill, the neat little song that has you tapping your toe and then on with your life. It's that simple. Nobody is keeping The Fragile down. The Fragile is keeping itself down, if you can call it down. The Fragile is high art, and entertainment will always outsell art. If you're like me, you don't want to believe that, but more than half of you like it that way--just ask around.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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