Remembering the time Nine Inch Nails advertised their unfinished album at the MTV Awards

That time Nine Inch Nails issued a mysterious primetime TV ad for The Fragile – a release that wouldn't come out for over a year…

Remembering the time Nine Inch Nails advertised their unfinished album at the MTV Awards
Kerrang! staff

A new Nine Inch Nails album is always a big event. But imagine, if you will, what it would have been like 20 years ago, before the internet had properly evolved into what it is now, information was harder to come by and mystery and suspense were an inherent part of the preamble – there were no streams the week before a record's arrival, and websites didn't just copy and paste press releases by way of announcement. Especially a band like Nine Inch Nails, who have never played by anybody's rules except their own.

And so it was on September 10, 1998 – some four and a half years after the release of their phenomenal, now-classic second album The Downward Spiral – that Trent Reznor and co. broke a long media silence at that month's MTV Video Music Awards. Hosted by Ben Stiller, the ceremony was also broadcast on TV, and the top 20 markets in the U.S. had a mysterious 30-second primetime teaser that featured snippets from the band's forthcoming and at the time as-yet-untitled new record. Thanks to the power of the internet, you can watch it below. (And yes, the video description says this was broadcast at the following year's MTV Awards but it's wrong. We promise you.)

Trent apparently made a last-minute decision to make and broadcast the ads. Designed by former Raygun magazine designer Robert Hayles, the spot featured the band's logo glowering and flickering in black and white as a piano track played. As the ad went on, the logo became brighter and a pulsating beat grew in intensity as the frontman's voice sang the phrase, 'Tried to save myself but myself keeps slipping.'

That 30-second mutation was all anybody – apart from Trent and a few of those close to him, presumably – knew about the mystery album, and it would remain that way for a while. Amazingly, the record wouldn't be released for over a year – on September 21, 1999 – and didn't even have a name. That's presumably the reason the TV spot finished only with the word 'ninetynine' in orange. Very enigmatic.

We know now, all these years later, that the record would turn out to be an epic and ambitious double-album called The Fragile, and that the lyric is a line from Into The Void, the second track on the second disc – and that the clip was a kind of mutated, bastardised piece of music featuring snippets of other songs from the album. At the time, however, there was literally no other information about it. Given that The Fragile wouldn't come out for such a long time, it seems like an odd marketing tactic, but we aren't ones to question Trent Reznor's wisdom. Besides, it was probably the best thing that happened at the awards show anyway…

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