"Skinny Love" was the first single released from Bon Iver's 2007 début album For Emma, Forever Ago in America. The song was released as a single in the United Kingdom on 28 April 2008. While "Skinny Love" has been considered a reference to his relationship with former girlfriend Christy Smith, Vernon countered this as "not entirely accurate [...] it's about that time in a relationship that I was going through; you're in a relationship because you need help, but that's not necessarily why you should be in a relationship. And that's skinny."
The song was used in the first episode of Grey's Anatomy's fifth season. The digital download track "Skinny Love" was selected to be iTunes (UK) single of the week and was available for free during that time, as well as being featured as the track of the day on National Public Radio. On 6 October 2008, "Skinny Love" was featured in the NBC series Chuck (season 2, episode 3). On 11 December 2008, Bon Iver performed "Skinny Love" on the Late Show with David Letterman. On 26 January 2009, "Skinny Love" was announced at #21 by the Australian national radio station Triple J in the annual Hottest 100 countdown of the previous year's best songs. In July 2009, "Skinny Love" was announced at #92 in Triple J's Hottest 100 of All Time countdown. In June 2013, "Skinny Love" was announced at #16 in Triple J's Hottest 100 of the Last 20 Years countdown.
British musician Birdy released a cover version of the song in 2011 as her debut single. The single has been B-listed on Xfm and is a particular favourite with listeners of Shak's overnight show. The song was also chosen as "Record of The Week" by UK radio DJ Fearne Cotton. This version was used in Season 2 Episode 21 of The Vampire Diaries and in Season 1 Episode 1 of Prisoners' Wives.
The song also skyrocketed in Australian popularity within the ARIA Charts' top ten, partly because of Bella Ferraro, an X Factor 2012 Top Four contestant, who performed the song at the X Factor auditions aired in Australia in August 2012. A similar event took place in New Zealand in May 2013 after X Factor winner Jackie Thomas performed the song at her audition. The song entered the top 40 for the first time and reached #2 on the RIANZ charts following the broadcast.
In 2011, "Skinny Love" sold 259,000 copies in the UK, becoming the third biggest selling rock single of that year. As of August 2016, the song had sold 744,502 copies in the UK.
Birdy's version of the song was serviced to U.S. contemporary hit radio on 11 February 2014.
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There are three music videos for this single. The first music video for the song was uploaded to YouTube on 1 April 2011. It features Birdy playing the piano of walking in a dark house. The second music video was shot in one take and framed on Birdy's face. The camera changes focus as she sings. It was uploaded on 14 October 2011. The third music video was uploaded on 15 January 2014.