Social media is hell. From the humble beginnings of chat rooms and messageboards in the 1990s to the omniscient hive mind of Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, instant communication with a global audience has incalculably rewired the human brain in less than three decades. Understanding this power and the inherent responsibility that comes with it hasn’t been easy for anyone.
Most of us have lived to regret a deluge of public internet faux pas over the years. If you are lucky, you come to your senses quickly enough to delete that comment before anyone really notices. Lots of us curate our social media in such a way that harmless shit talk among friends and family won’t spread into the greater public consciousness. It’s one thing to run your mouth over beers with your pals; taking up an inadvertent megaphone in a digital town hall holds a different kind of weight.
Rock stars by and large don’t have the luxury of anonymity. Up until somewhat recently, most of them couldn’t begin to understand the earth shattering gravity of hitting that “Tweet” button. Nine Inch Nails head honcho Trent Reznor is such an example.
Chris Cornell might be one of the great enduring voices of the modern rock era, but that didn’t make him critically bulletproof or infallible. A collaboration with pop producer Timbaland, Cornell’s third solo album, Scream, was met with critical disdain and cynical speculation. Fans and the press wanted a riff-heavy guitar record from the former Soundgarden frontman; they got dubious radio-friendly electronic pseudo-anthems.
Upon hearing Scream, Trent Reznor made the same mistake that so many of us have over the years: He took to Twitter, saying “You know that feeling you get when somebody embarrasses themselves so badly YOU feel uncomfortable? Heard Chris Cornell’s record? Jesus.”
Reznor provided some insight into that Twitter barb later that year, telling Eye Weekly “I really have no personal issue with Chris at all. The thing I said on Twitter goes deeper than what may have appeared on the surface.
We were on Interscope and I had Jimmy Iovine, the president of the label, come up to me on every record from With Teeth onwards, saying I should do some sort of urban thing — it was Timbaland for a while, then it was Pharrell for a while — because ‘that’s how you sell records.’
The idea seemed so preposterous and insulting. I’m not talking about ‘let’s go make a record with Dr. Dre,’ because that would be kind of cool. What he’s talking about is making your record sound like what’s on the radio, whether it’s appropriate or not. That’s what Chris did. I think that when somebody who is respected like he is, goes that route, it sends the message that it’s okay to give up any kind of core values you had to be the fashion of the moment. I don’t think that’s okay. I think it’s harmful. If I have one major fight in the world of the music business, it’s trying to keep art first and commerce second.”
One might think that explaining himself would be the end of it, but Reznor nonetheless perpetuated the one-sided feud; announcing a new Nine Inch Nails record called Strobe Light on April 1st, 2009. The text accompanying the press release reads: “FREE DOWNLOAD AVAILABLE NOW!
To download NIN’s new full-length album Strobe Light, PRODUCED BY TIMBALAND, enter a valid email address in the fields below. A download link will be sent to you immediately. Your credit card will be charged $18.98 plus a $10 digital delivery convenience fee. Your files will arrive as windows media files playable on quite a few players with your name embedded all over them just in case you lose them. You will also receive an exclusive photo and a free email account with our partner Google’s Gmail service.
Your email will be kept confidential and will not be used for spam, unless we can make some money selling it.”
For his part, Cornell responded to Reznor’s attacks with a cryptic tweet: “What do you think Jesus would Twitter? ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ or ‘Has anyone seen Judas? He was here a minute ago.’”
In 2014, Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails set out on a co-headlining tour. On reflecting on the feud to Rolling Stone after Cornell’s death, Reznor told the publication “Prior to the co-headlining tour, I wrote Chris an email apologizing for that outburst. He was very cool and generous about it – ‘It’s the past, eff it. Let’s go on.’ The Chris I met on that tour was a gentleman that completely had his shit together. Seeing Chris do that record felt like a blow to me. I thought, ‘He’s above that, man’. He’s one of the 10 best vocalists of our time.”