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The Most Influential Artists: #5 Nine Inch Nails

Trent Reznor
UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 01: Photo of NINE INCH NAILS (Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns)

As part of our 35th anniversary, we’re naming the most influential artists of the past 35 years. Today, we’re at #5. From Cleveland, Ohio, here is Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails. 

The Most Influential Artists: #5 Nine Inch Nails

Long before Trent Reznor was sitting for thoughtful, lightly acerbic interviews, sitting in on Beats Music executive meetings and steadily amassing Academy Award nominations with Atticus Ross, he was an exceptionally angry young pop auteur. While Nine Inch Nails is a revolving door, Reznor is the door: a patient perfectionist who runs a tight ship, doesn’t suffer major label fools lightly and is largely responsible for legitimizing and popularizing industrial pop in the U.S.

The bracing 1992 EP Broken is a conceptual work, recorded covertly, in agitation against Reznor’s TVT contract. Legal wrangling brought him to Interscope, where he used his clout to create a side label: Nothing Records. His pre-online example — his agita — is embodied in every modern artist who threatens to advance release a delayed record on Twitter. And while industrial purists lambasted NIN’s lacerating anthems as a watered-down version of genre stalwarts like Ministry and KMFDM, his outsized success — the hit albums and remix records, the explosively theatrical tours and videos, the starkly designed iconography — served to widen the commercial visibility of this cold, often unsettling music.

Trent Reznor Woodstock 94

Movie and video game soundtracks entered the mix as early as the 1990s, but as NIN’s rabid intensity faded in the late 2000s, Reznor (in league with Ross) pivoted to instrumentals with Ghosts and The Social Network — textured dread and Brian Eno-esque ambience became his new, compelling normal. The old rock world standard demanded an ongoing conversation with the idealized, celebrated iteration of a band. Reznor subverted that by turning to a subtle aesthetic as opposed to an overt one — and today, it’s hardly unusual for musicians to actively pursue movie soundtracking as a genuine artistic pursuit, chasing their muses alongside directors, for grateful audiences.