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Hurt (Nine Inch Nails song)

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Promotional single by Nine Inch Nails
from the album The Downward Spiral
ReleasedApril 17, 1995 (1995-04-17)
Songwriter(s)Trent Reznor
Producer(s)Trent Reznor
The Downward Spiral track listing
14 tracks
  1. "Mr. Self Destruct"
  2. "Piggy"
  3. "Heresy"
  4. "March of the Pigs"
  5. "Closer"
  6. "Ruiner"
  7. "The Becoming"
  8. "I Do Not Want This"
  9. "Big Man With A Gun"
  10. "A Warm Place"
  11. "Eraser"
  12. "Reptile"
  13. "The Downward Spiral"
  14. "Hurt"
"Hurt" on YouTube

"Hurt" is a song by American industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails from its second studio album, The Downward Spiral (1994), written by Trent Reznor. It was released on April 17, 1995, as a promotional single from the album.[a] The song received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Song in 1996. In 2020, Kerrang and Billboard ranked the song number two and number three, respectively, on their lists of the greatest Nine Inch Nails songs.[4][5]

In 2002, Johnny Cash covered "Hurt" to commercial and critical acclaim. The related music video is considered one of the greatest of all time by publications such as NME. Reznor praised Cash's interpretation of the song for its "sincerity and meaning", going so far as to say "that song isn't mine anymore".[6]



The song includes references to self-harm and heroin addiction, though the overall meaning of the song is disputed. Some listeners contend that the song acts as a suicide note written by the song's protagonist, as a result of his depression, while others claim that it describes the difficult process of finding a reason to live in spite of depression and pain and does not have much to do with the storyline of The Downward Spiral.[7]

Music video


The music video for Nine Inch Nails' original version of "Hurt" is a live performance that was recorded before the show in Omaha, Nebraska, on February 13, 1995, and can be found on Closure and the DualDisc re-release of The Downward Spiral. The audio portion appears on the UK version of Further Down the Spiral. The version released on Closure differs slightly from the video originally aired on MTV. In addition to using an uncensored audio track, the Closure edit shows alternate views of the audience and performance at several points during the video.

To film the video, a scrim was dropped in front of the band on stage, projected onto which were various images to add visual symbolism to fit the song's subject matter, such as war atrocities, a nuclear bomb test, survivors of the Battle of Stalingrad, a snake staring at the camera, and a time-lapse film of a fox decomposing in reverse. A spotlight was cast on Reznor so that he can be seen through the images. Compared to the live renditions performed on future tours, this version most resembles the studio recording with its use of the song's original samples.[citation needed]

There are also official live recordings on the later releases And All that Could Have Been and Beside You in Time. Each version features distinct instrumentation by the varying members of the band in the respective eras.

Live performances


During the Dissonance Tour in 1995, when Nine Inch Nails opened for David Bowie during his Outside Tour, Bowie sang "Hurt" in a duet with Reznor, backed by an original melody and beat. This served as the conclusion to the dual act that began each Bowie set.

During the Fragility Tour, the progression was performed by Robin Finck on acoustic guitar rather than on piano.

Since the 2005–06 Live: With Teeth Tour, Nine Inch Nails has been playing "Hurt" in a more toned-down style, featuring only Reznor on vocals until the final chorus, when the rest of the band joins in.

The song was brought back to its original form during the Lights In The Sky Tour in 2008, before returning to the toned down style on the 2009 Wave Goodbye tour.

Track listing

  • US promotional CD single[8]
  1. "Hurt" (quiet version) (clean) – 5:04
  2. "Hurt" (live version) (clean) – 5:15
  3. "Hurt" (album version) (clean) – 6:16
  4. "Hurt" (quiet version) (soiled) – 5:21
  5. "Hurt" (live version) (soiled) – 5:15
  6. "Hurt" (album version) (soiled) – 6:13




Chart (1995) Peak
Canada Rock/Alternative (RPM)[9] 8
US Radio Songs (Billboard)[10] 54
US Alternative Airplay (Billboard)[11] 8

The song was featured in the season two finale of the adult animated science fiction program Rick and Morty, overlaying the series of events in which Rick surrenders to the intergalactic authorities, allowing his family to return to Earth while simultaneously abandoning them.[12]

Johnny Cash version

Single by Johnny Cash
from the album American IV: The Man Comes Around
ReleasedMarch 2003
Songwriter(s)Trent Reznor
Producer(s)Rick Rubin
Johnny Cash singles chronology
"The Man Comes Around"
"God's Gonna Cut You Down"
Music video
"Hurt" on YouTube

In 2002, Johnny Cash covered the song for his final album during his lifetime, American IV: The Man Comes Around. Its accompanying video, featuring images from Cash's life and directed by Mark Romanek, was named the best video of the year by the Grammy Awards and CMA Awards, and the best video of all time by NME in July 2011.[17] The single contains a cover of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" as a B-side.

Cash's cover of the song had sold 2,148,000 downloads in the United States as of March 2017.[18]

Cash's cover is widely considered one of his best works. In 2017, Billboard ranked the song number four on their list of the 15 greatest Johnny Cash songs,[19] and in 2021, American Songwriter ranked the song number three on their list of the 10 greatest Johnny Cash songs.[20]



When Reznor was asked if Cash could cover his song, Reznor said he was "flattered" but worried that "the idea sounded a bit gimmicky." He became a fan of Cash's version, however, once he saw the music video.

A few weeks later, a CD shows up with the track. Again, I'm in the middle of something and put it on and give it a cursory listen. It sounded... weird to me. That song in particular was straight from my soul, and it felt very strange hearing the highly identifiable voice of Johnny Cash singing it. It was a good version, and I certainly wasn't cringing or anything, but it felt like I was watching my girlfriend fuck somebody else. Or something like that. Anyway, a few weeks later, a videotape shows up with Mark Romanek's video on it. It's morning; I'm in the studio in New Orleans working on Zack De La Rocha's record with him; I pop the video in, and... wow. Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps... Wow. I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn't mine any more. Then it all made sense to me. It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. Some-fucking-how that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning – different, but every bit as pure. Things felt even stranger when he passed away. The song's purpose shifted again. It's incredibly flattering as a writer to have your song chosen by someone who's a great writer and a great artist.

— Geoff Rickly interviews Trent Reznor, Alternative Press[21]

Mike Campbell (acoustic guitar) and Benmont Tench (piano, organ, mellotron) of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played on the track.[22] Smokey Hormel also played guitar on the track.[23]

Music video


The music video was directed by former Nine Inch Nails collaborator Mark Romanek,[24] who sought to capture the essence of Cash, both in his youth and in his older years. In a montage of shots of Cash's early years, twisted imagery of fruit and flowers in various states of decay, seem to capture both his legendary past and the stark and seemingly cruel reality of the present. Much of the video is in a style deliberately reminiscent of vanitas paintings, thus emphasizing the lyrics' mood of the futility and passing nature of human achievements.[25][26] According to literature professor Leigh H. Edwards, the music video portrays "Cash's own paradoxical themes".[2]

Romanek had this to say about his decision to focus on the House of Cash museum in Nashville:

It had been closed for a long time; the place was in such a state of dereliction. That's when I got the idea that maybe we could be extremely candid about the state of Johnny's health, as candid as Johnny has always been in his songs.[27]

When the video was filmed in February 2003, Cash was 71 years old and had serious health problems. His frailty is clearly evident in the video. He died seven months later, on September 12.[28] His wife, June Carter Cash, who is shown gazing at her husband in two sequences of the video, had died on May 15 of the same year.

In July 2011, the music video was named one of "The 30 All-TIME Best Music Videos" by Time.[29] It was ranked the greatest music video of all time by NME.[30]

The house where Cash's music video for "Hurt" was shot, which was Cash's home for nearly 30 years, was destroyed in a fire on April 10, 2007.[31]


  • The Johnny Cash cover was given the Country Music Association award for "Single of the Year" in 2003. It ranked as CMT's top video for 2003, No. 1 on CMT's 100 Greatest Country Music Videos the following year (and again in 2008), and No. 1 on the Top 40 Most Memorable Music Videos on MuchMoreMusic's Listed in October 2007. As of March 2016, the single occupies the number nine spot on Rate Your Music's Top Singles of the 2000s.[32] The song is also Cash's sole chart entry on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, where it hit No. 33 in 2003.[33] In June 2009, the song was voted No. 1 in UpVenue's Top 10 Best Music Covers.[34]
  • "Hurt" was nominated for six awards at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, winning for Best Cinematography. With the video, Johnny Cash became the oldest artist ever nominated for an MTV Video Music Award.[35] Justin Timberlake, who won Best Male Video that year for "Cry Me a River", said in his acceptance speech that the MTV Video Music Award for Best Male Video should have gone to Cash.[36]
  • The music video won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video.
  • In May 2010, 'Hurt' was voted the fifth most influential video of all time by MySpace.[37]
  • In October 2011, NME placed it at number 35 on its list "150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years".[38]
  • In a 2014 survey conducted by the BBC the UK public voted the Johnny Cash version the second greatest cover version (of any song) of all time.[39]

Track listing

  • European CD single
  1. "Hurt" – 3:38
  2. "Personal Jesus" – 3:21
  3. "Wichita Lineman" – 3:06
  4. "Hurt" (music video)


Chart (2003) Peak
Canada (Nielsen SoundScan)[45] 38
Germany (Official German Charts)[46] 75
Ireland (IRMA)[47] 25
UK Singles (OCC)[48] 39
US Alternative Airplay (Billboard)[49] 33
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[50] 56
Chart (2005) Peak
US Digital Song Sales (Billboard)[51] 34
Chart (2006) Peak
Norway (VG-lista)[52] 8
Chart (2012) Peak
Canada (Nielsen SoundScan)[53] 42
Germany (Official German Charts)[54] 68
US Digital Song Sales (Billboard)[51] 69
US Alternative Digital Song Sales (Billboard)[55] 9
Chart (2016) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[56] 66
France (SNEP)[57] 52
Scotland (OCC)[58] 33
US Country Streaming Songs (Billboard)[59] 22
US Rock Digital Song Sales (Billboard)[60] 9


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Brazil (Pro-Música Brasil)[61] Gold 20,000
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[62] Gold 45,000
Germany (BVMI)[63] Gold 150,000
Italy (FIMI)[64] Gold 25,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[65] Platinum 600,000
United States (RIAA)[66]
Gold 2,148,000[18]
United States (RIAA)[67]
video single
2× Platinum 100,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Other versions


The song has been used in the 140-second advertisement "This is Why" created for the SickKids Foundation by Cossette in 2019 as part of the "SickKids Vs." campaign to support fundraising for The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.[68]

Cover versions of the song include:


  1. ^ "The 95 Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1995". Spin. August 6, 2015. p. 4. Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Edwards 2009, pp. 59–60
  3. ^ "Nine Inch Nails".
  4. ^ Law, Sam (August 7, 2020). "The 20 greatest Nine Inch Nails songs – ranked". Kerrang. Retrieved August 29, 2022.
  5. ^ Unterberger, Andrew (November 5, 2020). "The 25 Best Nine Inch Nails Songs: Staff Picks". Billboard. Retrieved August 29, 2022.
  6. ^ Rickly, Geoff (June 26, 2004). "Geoff Rickly Interviews Trent Reznor". Alternative Press. Cleveland, OH. Archived from the original on October 15, 2017. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  7. ^ Nine Inch Nails, by Martin Huxley; published 1997 by St. Martin's Press, p. 104
  8. ^ "Hurt" (US promotional CD single). Nine Inch Nails. Interscope Records. 1995. PRCD 6179.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  9. ^ "Top RPM Rock/Alternative Tracks: Issue 9238." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved December 25, 2016.
  10. ^ "Nine Inch Nails Chart History (Radio Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
  11. ^ "Nine Inch Nails Chart History (Alternative Airplay)". Billboard. Retrieved December 25, 2016.
  12. ^ Sinacola, Dom (December 17, 2015). "I Will Make You Hurt: Grief in Rick and Morty, The Leftovers and Heart of a Dog". Paste Magazine. Archived from the original on November 27, 2016. Retrieved March 3, 2020.
  13. ^ Farber, Jim (March 5, 2003). "THE MAN IS BACK: CASH COVERS NINE INCH NAILS, FINDS A HIT". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  14. ^ Kennedy, Lee. "The Top 40 Acoustic Rock Songs". Planet Rock. Retrieved October 20, 2014.
  15. ^ Blerly, Mandi (April 7, 2008). "Johnny Cash's 'Hurt' still the greatest country video". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 9, 2016.
  16. ^ Thomas Alan Holmes; Roxanne Harde (October 9, 2013). Walking the Line: Country Music Lyricists and American Culture. Lexington Books. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-7391-6968-1.
  17. ^ "NME names Johnny Cash's 'Hurt' the greatest music video of all time". NME. July 5, 2011. Retrieved December 27, 2011.
  18. ^ a b Bjorke, Matt (March 22, 2017). "Top 30 Digital Single Sales Chart: March 22, 2017". Roughstock.
  19. ^ Dauphin, Chuck (June 26, 2017). "Johnny Cash's 15 Best Songs: Critic's Picks". Billboard. Retrieved April 3, 2022.
  20. ^ D'Amico, Anna (October 6, 2021). "Top 10 Johnny Cash Songs". American Songwriter. Retrieved April 3, 2022.
  21. ^ Alternative Press No. 194. September 2004.
  22. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Hurt". YouTube.
  23. ^ "BIOGRAPHY of Guitarist Smokey Hormel".
  24. ^ "Director Mark Romanek Tackles 'Never Let Me Go'". Fresh Air. September 23, 2010. Retrieved October 27, 2010.
  25. ^ "Video Vault 104: Johnny Cash, 'Hurt'", 333sound, 24 June 2016. Retrieved 18 November 2020.
  26. ^ Davidson, A., (2018) "Performing "Hurt": Aging, disability, and popular music as mediated product and lived-experience in Johnny Cash's final recordings", University of South Florida scholar commons: Graduate theses and dissertations. Retrieved 18 November 2020.
  27. ^ Binelli, Mark (February 20, 2003). "Johnny Cash Makes 'Em Hurt". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  28. ^ "Johnny Cash, 'Hurt' & Trent Reznor". Stagepass News. Archived from the original on November 27, 2011. Retrieved December 11, 2011.
  29. ^ Levy, Glen (July 28, 2011). "The 30 All-TIME Best Music Videos - Johnny Cash, Hurt". Time. Archived from the original on September 26, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2011.
  30. ^ "100 Greatest Music Videos". NME. June 2, 2011. Retrieved December 15, 2012.
  31. ^ "Fire destroys Johnny Cash home". BBC News. April 11, 2007. Retrieved August 23, 2009.
  32. ^ "Top Singles of the 2000s". Rate Your Music. Retrieved September 17, 2009.
  33. ^ Billboard - Artist Chart History - Johnny Cash
  34. ^ "UpVenue's Top 10 Best Music Covers". Retrieved August 23, 2009.
  35. ^ "Johnny Cash - Memories Shared". Songstuff. Retrieved June 27, 2013.
  36. ^ "mtv.com "September 12, 2003 Johnny Cash Remembered By Justin, Bono, Trent Reznor, Others"". MTV. Archived from the original on February 15, 2015. Retrieved October 30, 2016.
  37. ^ "Sky News 03/05/2010". News.sky.com. Archived from the original on July 13, 2012. Retrieved December 11, 2011.
  38. ^ "150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years". Nme.Com. October 6, 2011. Retrieved December 11, 2011.
  39. ^ "Pet Shop Boys' Always On My Mind tops cover version vote". BBC News. October 27, 2014. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  40. ^ "Inside I'm Dancing (2004) Soundtracks". October 15, 2004 – via IMDb.
  41. ^ "Johnny Cash". IMDb.
  42. ^ "Johnny Cash Soundtracks First Trailer for the Depressing New Wolverine Movie - SPIN". October 20, 2016.
  43. ^ "Portugal sink England on Penalties". Retrieved September 12, 2014.
  44. ^ Theundertakerfan85 (October 19, 2009). "Eddie Guerrero Tribute Show in RAW part 1". Archived from the original on December 21, 2021 – via YouTube.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  45. ^ "Top 50 Singles". Jam!. Archived from the original on September 25, 2003. Retrieved May 27, 2024.
  46. ^ "Offizielle Deutsche Charts: Johnny Cash - Hurt". Retrieved November 29, 2023.
  47. ^ "Chart Track: Week 45, 2003". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  48. ^ "Johnny Cash: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  49. ^ "Johnny Cash Chart History (Alternative Airplay)". Billboard. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
  50. ^ "Johnny Cash Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
  51. ^ a b "Johnny Cash Chart History (Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved November 29, 2023.
  52. ^ "Johnny Cash – Hurt". VG-lista. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  53. ^ "Johnny Cash Chart History (Canadian Digital Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved November 29, 2023.
  54. ^ "Johnny Cash – Hurt" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  55. ^ "Johnny Cash Chart History (Alternative Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved November 29, 2023.
  56. ^ "ARIA CHART WATCH #392". auspOp. October 29, 2016. Archived from the original on October 29, 2016. Retrieved October 29, 2016.
  57. ^ "Johnny Cash – Hurt" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  58. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved November 1, 2016.
  59. ^ "Johnny Cash Chart History (Country Streaming Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved November 29, 2023.
  60. ^ "Johnny Cash Chart History (Rock Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved November 29, 2023.
  61. ^ "Brazilian single certifications – Johnny Cash – Hurt" (in Portuguese). Pro-Música Brasil. Retrieved June 27, 2024.
  62. ^ "Danish single certifications – Johnny Cash – Hurt". IFPI Danmark. Retrieved September 21, 2019.
  63. ^ "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Johnny Cash; 'Hurt')" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie. Retrieved July 10, 2018.
  64. ^ "Italian single certifications – Johnny Cash – Hurt" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
  65. ^ "British single certifications – Johnny Cash – Hurt". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved July 10, 2018.
  66. ^ "American single certifications – Johnny Cash – Hurt". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved November 18, 2021.
  67. ^ "American videosingle certifications – Johnny Cash – Hurt". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved November 18, 2021.
  68. ^ Griner, David (October 11, 2019). "Nine Inch Nails' 'Hurt' is beautifully reimagined, giving hope to hospitalized children". Adweek. Retrieved October 21, 2020.
  69. ^ Loftus, Johnny. "Sevendust - Southside Double-Wide: Acoustic Live". Allmusic. Retrieved January 3, 2016.
  70. ^ O'Brien, Jon. "2Cellos - 2Cellos". Allmusic. Retrieved January 3, 2016.
  71. ^ "Video: Mumford & Sons covern Nine Inch Nails "Hurt"". March 11, 2019. Retrieved March 21, 2019.



Further reading

  1. ^ The song was not given a commercial release and was issued straight to radio.[3]