TV’s Most Surreal Musical Performances – Nine Inch Nails on ‘Dance Party USA’
Trent Reznor can laugh about it all he wants these days, but there must have been at least a part of him that was thrilled for the chance to parade his Nine Inch Nails in front of a national television audience on ‘Dance Party USA’ in the months following the release of their debut album, ‘Pretty Hate Machine.’ Sure, it was the USA network’s super-cheesy teen dance program that provided the exposure — but hey, it was national TV! Not something for a virtually unknown band like NIN to sneeze at.
NIN released their groundbreaking debut album ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ in October 1989, but it would be a while before anyone outside the insular industrial scene caught on to its mind-blowing brilliance (their revelatory stint on the debut edition of Lollapalooza was two summers away). The band hit the road in support of ‘Hate Machine’ in ’89, embarking on a seven-date headlining club trek that fall, followed by two lengthier trans-American tours opening for the Jesus and Mary Chain and Peter Murphy in the spring of 1990.
It was in between two of these tours that NIN presumably traveled to the USA Network’s studios in Ocean City, N.J., to tape an appearance on what was then the longest-running teen dance TV program of all time: the indomitable ‘Dance Party USA.’
Various sources suggest the Nails performance was taped in late 1989 and aired in early 1990, but nobody seems to know for sure. Reznor himself tweeted about the experience in 2012 when the ‘Dance Party’ video suddenly popped up on YouTube and became an instant Internet sensation following years of rumors about its very existence:
Many years ago, a young and naive Nine Inch Nails were asked what TV shows they’d be interested in appearing on. As a joke (and likely drunk), they thought of the most absurd choice they could come up with at the time. They were then informed their bluff had been called and were actually booked on said show… They hopped in their Honda Civic touring vehicle (hatchback) and travelled [SIC] many miles to (I think) NJ for the big show. They had a laugh making fun of the people, their fashion choices and hairstyles. Life was good. Years later, the internet is discovered… There’s a moral in there somewhere. Come to think of it, Skrillex may indeed owe me some publishing on that hairdo…”
As for the actual performance, it’s probably best to just watch it; mere words cannot describe the thrill of witnessing a rail-thin, pasty-faced (and yes, proto-Skrillex-haired) Reznor bound across the stage, lip-synching along to the album version of ‘Down in It’ as teenagers awkwardly try to bounce and twist along to the beat.
NIN of course are known now for their hard-edged take on industrial music, but ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ was more of a synth-pop album with some heavy guitars thrown in the mix for good measure. ‘Down in It,’ in particular, was big on catchy pop hooks and club beats. Nearly 25 years later, the album has definitely stood the test of time; it’s considered a classic. So has NIN’s appearance on ‘Dance Party USA’ — in its own absurd way.