Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” Lyrics Meaning

There are probably no artists in the history of American music who utilized heavy-handed symbolism more than rock stars of the 1990s. And such is the case with Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box”. So instead of attempting to interpret the lyrics directly, first we will view what the artists themselves have said about the song.

What Kurt Cobain said inspired “Heart-Shaped Box”

Kurt Cobain, who penned the tune, stated that it was inspired by the disturbing reality of children living with cancer. And being that he is credited as the sole writer of the song, we have to take his word for it. But that being said, such does not seem to be the case, at least based on a surface examination of the lyrics.  But then again, who knows.  Perhaps references to things like “meat-eating orchids”, an “umbilical noose” and even the titular “heart-shaped box” itself somehow alludes to the idea of such individuals undergoing undeserved suffering.

Courtney Love says “Heart-Shaped Box” means something else

Meanwhile Kurt Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, whom he was married to at the time of penning this song, said something totally different. She stated as recently as 2012 that this song is actually about her lady part. And all things considered, this is definitely plausible. For example, the album it is featured on is entitled “In Utero”. Moreover a “heart-shaped box” can plausibly be interpreted as an allegory for a female’s lady part. Moreover there are a couple of direct lady part references in the lyrics.

Famous Interpretation of the lyrics of “Heart-Shaped Box”

Indeed the most-popular interpretation of this track, as in the one that is most widely accepted, is that it is based on Cobain’s and Love’s romance. And to make a long story short, based on the song, this association is in fact a tumultuous one. But he is “locked inside (her) heart-shaped box”, which based on the explanation above can be interpreted as him being hooked on her holy part.

But even if such is the case, the overall implication is that he is in love. And as such, throwing the cancer inspiration aside, that is how “Heart-Shaped Box” has gone down in history, as being considered a love song. In fact the origin of the title is said to be the physical description of a material gift, not a body part, which Courtney gave to Kurt when they first started dating.

A song with many Interpretations

All in all, if you dig into the history of this track, you’re going to find varying explanations. Some of these explanations or interpretations range from the medical to the philosophical to the sensual to the romantic. But it is the last one that has truly withstood the test of the time. Or put differently, Kurt Cobain was quite a unique individual. And “Heart-Shaped Box” is the equivalent of a love letter such a singular individual would write to his wife.

Lyrics of "Heart-Shaped Box"

Music Video

The highly-cinematic music video to the song had Anton Corbijn as its director. However, another director and regular Nirvana collaborator, Kevin Kerslake, also reportedly made a contribution. In fact he actually sued Nirvana due to not being credited for such.

The video went on to be one of the most-celebrated of all-time actually, which included taking home multiple MTV Video Awards. And Nirvana was compelled to accept these trophies, on 8 September 1994, without the presence of Cobain himself, as he had committed suicide earlier in the year on 5 April.

Release Date of “Heart-Shaped Box”

DGC Records released “Heart-Shaped Box” on 30 August 1993. The track came out as the lead single from what would prove to be Nirvana’s final studio album, which they titled “In Utero”.

Writing/Production Credits

It was written by none other than the iconic Kurt Cobain (1967-1994) himself, who also served as the vocalist.

And it was produced by Steve Albini, who worked on the entirety of “In Utero”.

Heart-Shaped Coffin

This is a tune that Cobain originally named “Heart-Shaped Coffin”, which in fact he had thrown to the wayside. And apparently his wife, Courtney, served as the impetus to make him take the song seriously. In fact overall, completing it proved to be an arduous task for the band.

However doing so proved to be a wise decision. And why? Because the track topped Billboard’s Alternative Songs and went on to reach number 5 in Britain. Furthermore, it charted in over 10 other countries.

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