In May 1994, “Closer” was released as a single from Nine Inch Nails second album, Downward Spiral. Some have said the entire album is about a downward spiral of mental illness, essentially a “concept album” about following a person’s journey that leads them to suicide. It’s their biggest hit and a highly distinctive tune. It was also made available as a single, under the title “Closer to God.”

Trent Reznor, the lead singer of Nine Inch Nails, penned the song, and it became an almost immediate success among the industrial and alternate rock communities upon its release. Trent Reznor, however, was underwhelmed with how the public received the song.

Meaning of “Closer” by Nine-Inch Nails

Closer was composed to confront obsession and self-hatred, and the song’s lyrics are vulgar and blunt because of this. But many listeners read sexual connotations into the lyrics and began to view Closer as a sexually explicit piece of music.

Indeed, many went so far as to argue that it aptly captures the mindset going through a rapist’s head, however the band has denied the allegations.

Closer’s opening lyrics are a blatant sexual allusion. The song’s lyrics convey a sense of need or desperation. Some have viewed this as a sign of sexual frustration or a desire for more sexual release.

Yet, it may also indicate an unhealthy fixation on a specific individual (sexually or otherwise). He wants and needs this person. These feelings for her have completely overwhelmed him.

 I Want To F*ck You as an Animal

This lyric is repeated several times throughout Closer, and it was the main basis for the claim by Nine Inch Nails’ fanbase that the song was about nothing more than wild sexual encounters.

This lyric may suggest a disconnect if you consider Reznor’s interpretation of the song as being about self-hatred and obsession. In Closer w/ Trent Reznor Commentary, Reznor interprets that Closer lyrics are all about self-loathing.

Instinctually, he desires sex that he can enjoy without feeling anything. He can’t express his sentiments to a woman; therefore, he has to vent them through physical activity. He hates himself and wants to forget life in pleasure.

To hit bottom is another meaning of this phrase. He has been depressed for a long time, and sex is the only thing that keeps him connected to other people. He has been reduced to acting on his most primitive instincts and has lost any sense of identity. Taken at face value, he considers himself an animal, not a human.

Feelings of self-loathing are reflected in these words. He hopes to find the person who will help him become the person he wants to be. He would like to be rescued from his current state of depression.

Sex offers him a sense of meaning or a reason to exist. He aspires to develop into someone others would like to spend time with rather than merely sleep with out of curiosity. This is supported by statements like the one about being the reason he stays alive.

Closer as Part of the Downward Spiral

The Downward Spiral is where you may find Closer. The context of Nine Inch Nails’ second album, Closer, may shed light on the song’s deeper meaning. Trent Reznor described Downward Spiral as a tale, with each track as a chapter. In an interview with RG, Reznor says the song was nearly a study in tolerance, with no melody and the poppiest chorus he has ever written. (Ref 4)

They depicted a man’s Spiral into madness from self-hatred and despair. One interpretation of Closer is that it’s about a man who uses sex to overcome his pain.

Additional Context & Music Video

The accompanying music video was release on May 12th, 1994 and was directed by Mark Romanek. It features a wide number of images across several topics from religion, animals and sexuality to terror. There were a number of scenes filmed in the Linda Vista Community Hospital in Los Angeles. Speaking on the music video, Reznor said on the Directors Label series “The rarest of things occurred: where the song sounded better to me, seeing it with the video. And it’s my song.”

The song’s iconic drumbeat sound was sampled from Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” song.


You let me violate you
You let me desecrate you
You let me penetrate you
You let me complicate you

I broke apart my insides
(Help me) I’ve got no soul to sell
(Help me) the only thing that works for me
Help me get away from myself

I wanna f*ck you like an animal
I wanna feel you from the inside
I wanna f*ck you like an animal
My whole existence is flawed
You get me closer to God

You can have my isolation
You can have the hate that it brings
You can have my absence of faith
You can have my everything

you tear down my reason
(Help me) it’s your sex I can smell
(Help me) you make me perfect
Help me become somebody else

I wanna f*ck you like an animal
I wanna feel you from the inside
I wanna f*ck you like an animal
My whole existence is flawed
You get me closer to God

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

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Atticus Ross / Trent Reznor

Closer lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

Listeners of Rock music, might also appreciate the song Fade into you by Mazzy Star.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published February 2, 2023 and last updated April 12th, 2023.