Meaning of “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M.

Simply put, R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” is designed to prevent people from taking their own lives. In 2003, co-writer Peter Buck of R.E.M. had stated that its lyrical simplicity is founded in the fact that the track is “aimed at teenagers”. However, it should be noted, in contrast, that the cover art for “Everybody Hurts” features a man who is clearly a senior citizen. Or, as Buck later stated in 2005, this song has “tended to work for people of a lot of ages”.

But apparently R.E.M. wanted young listeners in particular who may be suffering from serious depression to identify with the song and take a different route as opposed to possibly self-harm. And the argument the band uses is that “everybody hurts”. In other words, the targeted audience is not alone in their suffering. In fact being discontent with the way things are going is something that we all go through at times. So instead of doing something extreme, they should “hold on”, as in not give up on life. And one particular remedy the band espouses is for such individuals to “take comfort in (their) friends”.

Lyrics of "Everybody Hurts"

Facts about “Everybody Hurts”

  • R.E.M.’s drummer Bill Berry is recognized as being the primary writer of this song. However, the rest of his bandmates (Mike Mills, Michael Stipe and Peter Buck) are also credited as writers. The entire band also produced the song alongside Scott Litt.
  • Michael Stipe, who sings this track, has stated that “people” have told him directly that it has saved lives. Indeed “Everybody Hurts” has been recognized by some organizations which encourage suicide prevention based on its message.
  • John Paul Jones, of rock band Led Zeppelin, wrote the song’s string arrangement.
  • “Everybody Hurts” fared impressively internationally. It peaked at number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 7 on the UK Singles Chart. It also broke the top 10 in Australia, Canada, France, Iceland, Ireland and the Netherlands.
  • The music video to this track was directed by Jake Scott (song of iconic movie director Ridley Scott).  It went on to win MTV Video Music Awards for Best CinematographyBest DirectionBest Editing and Breakthrough Video.

Covers of “Everybody Hurts”

On 7 February 2010, a collection of stars including Mariah Carey, Miley Cyrus and Jon Bon Jovi released a joint rendition of “Everybody Hurts”. This rendition was released under the collective named Helping Haiti to collect aid to be sent to that country in light of an earthquake it experienced during that year.  And R.E.M. waived the royalties they would receive from the money it generated in the name of that cause.

Music superstars P!nk and Kelly Clarkson covered “Everybody Hurts” to open the 2017 American Music Awards. They sung it in honor of America’s first responders (i.e. emergency workers) who were active during highly-publicized tragedies the nation was going through around that time.

President Donald Trump’s use of the song

“Everybody Hurts” has maintained a permanent presence in American pop culture. However, the track really caught the public’s attention in February of 2019 when US President Donald Trump used a meme created to mock his political opponents (i.e. the Democrats) which used the song.  In response, R.E.M. – and particularly Mike Mills in particular – really let the President know that they didn’t support this decision and indeed are not supporters of him as a “world leader”.  In fact they had Twitter remove the video on 16 February 2019, the day after it was posted, citing copyright infringement.

When did R.E.M.’s  “Everybody Hurts” come out?

“Everybody Hurts” was originally dropped as a part of R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People on 5 October 1992. Later, on 15 April 1993, it was also released by Warner Bros Records as a single. FYI, the hit single “Man on the Moon” also appears on the album Automatic for the People.

FYI, this song was later featured on multiple other albums of R.E.M., including the following:

  • The Automatic Box of 1993
  •  In Time – The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 of 2009
  • Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011 of 2011

12 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you!

  2. Anonymous says:

    My friend committed suicide and I heard this song on that same day I wished he would of heard it every time I hear this song I think of him I miss him

    • Levi Ackerman says:

      im so sorry about that, i hope your feeling okay right now. I just want you to know your very loved and he will be happy if you are happy. I know its hard to move on but you got to let ago and accept that his gone. he might be gone in real life but he will always be with you.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you! Cried

  4. bazza 54 says:

    thank god for song, it shows love, compassion , hope and a way out for those who are at that dark place.the singer has opened his heart to you(as do the rest of the rem band) As an amature muso My eyes were fixed on the black ricky guitar but then my heart was convicted by my selfishness and I realised that love and caring are so much more valuable. Their is a answer in this song. listen and you will hear it. My life is great now . SO GLAD I did not end it when I was hurting . you do not have carry hurt on your own. from the heart of a stranger

  5. John says:

    I need this…

  6. Ray says:

    I have attempted suicide twice, once I came very close. I now make sure I listen to this song when my demons catch up with me. It seems strange that a song can have such a powerful effect on a persons thoughts, but so do love songs, driving songs etc. But either way, I am thankful for the song and hope it has saved lives all over the planet.

  7. anonymous says:

    What friends?

  8. Don B. says:

    I light a candle for those who I know have left

    🕯💔

  9. Anonymous says:

    Do not support Trump as a world leader? Really ? Just what do you support a grifting never do nothing in 50 + years in Congress demented farting embarrassing American economy killing demon from the very pit of hell Biden? Yeah. I thought so. Liberals are mentally ill. I guess you write that song for yourself.

  10. Gengis says:

    My uncle/idol was murdered and his body was discarded less than 50 metres from the view of his mother’s window, me my nana and his son among others had to wait all night till morning for forensics. No one slept, we all for some 10 hrs wept in conflicting disbelief at the reality of my uncles fully avoidable fate. He chose this song as his funeral song.

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