"Closer" (also known as Halo 9) is a song written by Trent Reznor and featured on the 1994 Nine Inch Nails album The Downward Spiral. In mid-1994, the song was released as the second single from the album. Most versions of the single are titled "Closer to God," a rare example in music of a single's title differing from the title of its A-Side. ("Closer to God" is also the title of an alternate version of "Closer" featured on the single.) This single is numbered as Halo Nine under Nine Inch Nails' system of Halo numbers. In spite of the blunt and profane sexual content contained in the song's lyrics, (the chorus infamously begins with the couplet "I wanna fuck you like an animal/ I wanna feel you from the inside") "Closer" became Nine Inch Nails' biggest hit up to that time, cemented Reznor's status as an alternative rock superstar, and remains arguably his best-known song. Heavily censored versions of the song and its equally explicit and controversial music video (directed by Mark Romanek) received substantial airplay on radio and MTV.
Radio edits of "Closer" were created by muting the vocal track for the duration of each deleted obscenity, an early prominent example of this now-common censorship technique. This technique is considered less distracting than the earlier common censorship method, overlaying an electronic tone or "bleep" over each instance of profanity. The song was one of the first to feature censored profanity this prominently and still become a hit.
In 2003, VH1 ranked the song at number 93 in its countdown of the "100 Greatest Songs Of The Past 25 Years." The song was ranked at the number 2 position on AOL's "69 Sexiest Songs of All Time," mostly due to the explicit frankness of its chorus.
In addition, the U.S. CD single contains five remixes of "Closer", a remix of its fellow The Downward Spiral track "Heresy", an instrumental track "March of the Fuckheads" (unrelated to March of the Pigs), and a cover version of Soft Cell's song "Memorabilia", from their 1982 album Non-stop Ecstatic Dancing. The UK single releases contain the same tracks split between two discs (each sold separately). A cassette single was issued in the U.S. and Australia, pairing "Closer" with a live-performance version of NIN's previous single, "March of the Pigs."
Other versions in other formats and countries have the same track listing as the U.S. CD release.
The music video was directed by Mark Romanek and first aired on May 12, 1994, and was filmed in April of that year. It was cut down from its original length to 4:36. The video was popular and helped bolster the success of the band. The video shows events in what appears to be a 19th century-style mad-scientist's laboratory that deal with religion, sexuality, animal cruelty, politics, and terror. It was somewhat controversial due to its imagery, which included a nude woman with a crucifix mask, a monkey tied to a cross, a pig's head spinning on some type of machine, a diagram of a vulva, and Reznor wearing an S/M mask while swinging in shackles. These images seem to be inspired by the art of Joel-Peter Witkin. For the television version, certain removed scenes were replaced with a title card that read "Scene Missing," and the instances of the word "fuck" being edited out were accompanied by a stop in the video motion, making it appear as if the stop was a result of defective film (this was done to make sure the flow of the song was not affected). The video has a stylized, old-film look. It is also one of two videos directed by Romanek that the Museum of Modern Art has added to its permanent collection. The other is Madonna's "Bedtime Story".
The unedited version of this video was shown on Playboy TV's uncensored music video show Hot Rocks in 1994. In mid-2002, the unedited version of this video was aired on MTV2 as part of a special countdown showcasing the most controversial videos ever to air on MTV. This countdown was only shown late at night due to the graphic imagery of "Closer" and several other videos.
In 2006, "Closer" was voted number one in a VH1 Classic poll titled "20 Greatest Music Videos of All Time."
In retrospect, Reznor commented about the video that "The rarest of things occurred: where the song sounded better to me, seeing it with the video. And it's my song.
The unedited video is included in Closure, The Downward Spiral (DualDisc) and Directors Label Volume 4: The Work Of Director Mark Romanek, and it is even available for download from iTunes under the band's page. Behind-the-scenes footage with commentary by Romanek is included in Closure (DVD) and Directors Label.
In the tours following the release of With Teeth, Nine Inch Nails has been performing "Closer" with a new breakdown that cuts the track length by about a minute and a half. Instead of playing a prerecorded clip of Trent Reznor saying "all through every forest, above the trees / within my stomach, scraped off my knees / I drink the honey, inside your hive / you are the reason, I stay alive", Reznor screams these lyrics live to the backdrop of "The Only Time", a track from Pretty Hate Machine. Two versions of this appear on Beside You in Time.
Another new feature is the keyboard solo that follows the chorus is now a guitar solo, with it being played using heavy distortion effects. This is seen on Beside You in Time.