Trent Reznor and the rest of Nine Inch Nails are one of those ubiquitously applauded bands. Their style and sound have never truly been compromised on a wholistic front and because of this, they remain high in most music aficionado’s list of people to praise. But there may well be a rethink on that list as there’s one notable exception from NIN’s track record: their appearance on the awful TV show ‘Dance Party USA’.
For those in the US we can hear your unified groan at the mention of this show and for those of us across the pond and beyond let us explain what ‘Dance Party USA’ is. The show was an eighties version of the very popular Bandstand, which essentially saw local teens (in this case Philadelphia) take to the studio to dance and generally look silly with a daft hairdo, while artists would (sometimes strangely) lip-sync to their latest track. It was a massive show. Massive.
Looking back it can all feel a bit silly, but when you remember that the kids of the day were without phones or the internet and had only radio and cable TV to look to for their music needs, it’s not too hard to reason why ‘Dance Party USA’ was so popular. Even more so when you consider the level of talent on show. The acts which took to the stage on Dance Party included Will Smith, Stevie Wonder, Madonna, and, of course, our friends Nine Inch Nails. Already you can feel the slight disparity between acts.
Back in 1989 Nine Inch Nails had just released their debut album Pretty Hate Machine and were gaining some traction. The LP was an instant smash with those in the know but it would be a while before the band would ‘make it big’ and see the accolades they deserved. They needed to start promoting the record as soon as possible to make sure there would be another one. When one is promoting an album, a relatively unknown album to boot, you tend to take whatever you can get. So when a national TV show approaches you with a slot with your name on it you better take it.
And that’s what they did. A band which many would argue are the epitome of non-conformist rock took to the saccharine stage of pre-recorded teeny-bopper Mecca and made themselves at home.
The band performed one of their Pretty Hate Machine tracks ‘Down In It’ and let Reznor, with some quite ‘fashionable’ hair, lip-sync to the track while teens across the studio awkwardly bumped into one another trying to catch the beat. While PHM isn’t the band’s most industrial and subversive sound, it actually feels more aligned to synth-pop than anything else, it still looks very odd to see the bastion of rock be so steeped in bubblegummery.
Back in 2012, Trent Reznor himself answered rumours about the show as many refused to believe it could’ve happened. He said:”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…”
In 1989, ‘Dance Party U.S.A’ was the one making the calls and giving some pokey industrial band a shot at the big time. And boy did NIN take it. Looking back on this performance now it can all feel a bit silly, Nine Inch Nails are one of the biggest bands on the planet and nobody under 30 has ever heard of ‘Dance Party U.S.A’. but for a brief moment, we see Trent Reznor ‘singing’ in a disgustingly sweet studio, and if for nothing else, you have to watch the clip for that.
Watch below as Nine Inch Nails perform ‘Down In It’ on ‘Dance Party U.S.A’ from back in 1989.