"Losing My Religion" is a song by the American alternative rock band R.E.M. The song was released as the first single from the group's 1991 album Out of Time. Based around a mandolin riff, "Losing My Religion" was an unlikely hit for the group, garnering heavy airplay on radio as well as on MTV due to its critically-acclaimed music video. The song became R.E.M.'s highest-charting hit in the United States, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and expanding the group's popularity beyond its original fanbase. It was nominated for several Grammy Awards, and won two for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Short Form Music Video.
Recording of the song started in September 1990 at Bearsville Studio A in Woodstock, New York. The song was arranged in the studio with mandolin, electric bass, and drums. Bassist Mike Mills came up with a bassline inspired by the work of Fleetwood Mac bassist John McVie; by his own admission he couldn't come up with one for the song that wasn't derivative. Buck said the arrangement of the song "had a hollow feel to it. There's absolutely no midrange on it, just low end and high end, because Mike usually stayed pretty low on the bass." The band decided to have touring guitarist Peter Holsapple play acoustic guitar on the recording. Buck reflected, "It was really cool: Peter and I would be in our little booth, sweating away, and Bill and Mike would be out there in the other room going at it. It just had a really magical feel." Singer Michael Stipe's vocal was recorded in a single take. Orchestral strings were added to the song by members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at Soundscape Studios in Atlanta, Georgia in October 1990.
In the song, Michael Stipe sings the lines "That's me in the corner/That's me in the spotlight/Losing my religion". The phrase "losing my religion" is an expression from the southern region of the United States that means losing one's temper or civility, or "being at the end of one's rope." Stipe told The New York Times the song was about romantic expression. He told Q that "Losing My Religion" is about "someone who pines for someone else. It's unrequited love, what have you. Stipe compared the song's theme to "Every Breath You Take" by The Police, saying, "It's just a classic obsession pop song. I've always felt the best kinds of songs are the ones where anybody can listen to it, put themselves in it and say, 'Yeah, that's me.'"
"Losing My Religion" became R.E.M.'s biggest hit in the United States, peaking at number four on the Billboard Hot 100. The single stayed on the chart for 21 weeks. It charted at number 19 on the UK Singles Chart, and peaked at number 16 and number 11 in Canada and Australia, respectively. Mills said years later, "Without 'Losing My Religion', Out of Time would have sold two or three million [copies], instead of the ten [million copies] or so it did. But the phenomenon that is a worldwide hit is an odd thing to behold. Basically that record was a hit in almost every civilised country in the world." The success of "Losing My Religion" and Out of Time broadened R.E.M.'s audience beyond its original college radio-based fanbase. When asked at the time if he was worried that the song's success might alienate older fans, Buck told Rolling Stone, "The people that changed their minds because of 'Losing My Religion' can just kiss my ass.
The song received a number of critical plaudits. The single placed second in the Village Voice Pazz & Jop annual critics' poll, behind Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit". R.E.M. was nominated for seven awards at the 1992 Grammy Awards. "Losing My Religion" alone earned several nominations, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year. The song won two awards, for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Short Form Music Video. In 2004, Rolling Stone listed the song at number 169 on its list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
The video begins with a brief sequence inside a dark room where water drips from an open window. Buck, Berry, and Mills run across the room while Stipe remains seated. A pitcher of milk drops from the windowsill and shatters, and the song begins. The video is laden with religious imagery, and notably features images of Saint Sebastian and Hindu deities, portrayed in a style influenced by the aesthetics of the French photographers Pierre et Gilles. Soviet poster art imagery is also prominently featured, and the overall dark tone and lighting was heavily inspired by the paintings of Caravaggio. The concept of the video is based on Gabriel Garcia Marquez' short story, "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings", which told the story of an angel who fell from Heaven, and people made money by putting him on display.
The music video was nominated in nine categories at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards. The video won six awards, including Video of the Year, Best Group Video, Breakthrough Video, Best Art Direction, Best Direction, and Best Editing. "Losing My Religion" also ranked first in the music video category of the 1991 Pazz & Jop poll.
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