Nirvana’s “Rape Me” Lyrics Meaning
First off, let it be known that Kurt Cobain did in fact write “Rape Me” literally about rape. Now by the looks of things, he was never a rape victim himself. But he was an artist who was known, in his own special way, to sympathize with rape victims, most of whom of course are women. And so it is with “Rape Me”.
Throughout the first half of the song, one may interpret the vocalist’s disposition as being akin to inviting the rapist, i.e. the addressee, to abuse him. This stance, i.e. Cobain taking on the role of a rape victim who is actually inviting her abuser, of course had some listeners concerned. But by the time the bridge rolls around, we find him rather cursing the addressee.
So even though the narrator plays docile throughout most of the song, the bridge in particular portrays his ill will and disdain towards the rapist.
Lyrically, the bridge was apparently the last part of this song to be written, being done so a considerable time after the rest of the lyrics were conceived. And it has been put forth that the entity which inspired Kobain to pen this section wasn’t rapists but rather the media, including the likes of MTV. So in that regard, “Rape Me” has also been interpreted as one of those musician-beefing-at-the-industry kinda songs.
And at the end of the day yes, Cobain may have been akin to a concerned feminist. But the way he has gone about expressing himself in songs such as this one and 1991’s “Polly” has, understandably, rubbed some people the wrong way. Or let’s say that whereas, all things considered, it’s pretty obvious Kurt hated rapists, it’s also blatantly apparent, via his lyrics, that he’s never been the victim of a rape himself.
And the same fuel that fires him to confront such a controversial issue in an eyebrow-raising way is also the one that made him outspoken against the ‘rape’ celebrities like himself endure when dealing with the public which, in this case, we will say is personified by the media and by extension the entertainment industry.
So basically, Nirvana is using the word ‘rape’ both literally and metaphorically. And in both cases it can be gleaned that the victim is exactly that, i.e. someone who is powerless in this situation. But ultimately, the vocalist is also wishing for the rapist’s demise and to some degree is even asserting that he will do what he can to contribute to such an outcome.
Kurt Cobain talks about “Rape Me”
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Kurt shed more light on the lyrics of “Rape Me”. According to him, the lyrics were written to support women who unfortunately are rape victims. Below are Cobain’s exact words on the primary message of “Rape Me”:
When was “Rape Me” released?
This track was released on 6 December 1993. It was the second single from what proved to be the last studio album Nirvana would ever put out, “In Utero” (1993). Actually in terms of its release, “Rape Me” came out as a double A-side along with another of the band’s tracks, “All Apologies“.
Writing, Recording and the MTV Feud
The writer of this song was Kurt Cobain (1967-1994), i.e. Nirvana’s frontman. It was his suicide at the age of 27 that led to “In Utero”, which was only the band’s third studio album, being the last of such they ever put out. And the producer of the track is Steve Albini, a prolific behind-the-scenes’ musician. Cobain himself actually enlisted Steve to work with Nirvana.
The authoring of this song dates back to 1991, which was also the first year that Cobain and co. performed it.
An instrumental snippet of this piece was also played during Nirvana’s live performance at the 1992 MTV VMAs, which were held on 9 September of that year. Their original plan was to perform “Rape Me” in full. But MTV wasn’t having it, reportedly being under the impression that this is actually a diss track against them.
This led to a serious beef between MTV and Kurt Cobain in particular. And after being introduced to a number of threats, the latter only relented after Music Television threatened to fire one of their employees who also happened to be a friend of the band’s. In fact the feud was so intense that when Cobain did render said instrumental snippet, the live broadcast was almost cut and sent to a commercial.
Nirvana went about officially recording “Rape Me” later in 1992, in their home state of Washington. Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean, who would have been two years old at the time, was also in attendance. She can reportedly be heard on some demo versions of the song.
More Facts about “Rape Me”
Another powerful business entity that rebelled against “Rape Me” was Wal-Mart. As such, in the name of having their album sold therein, Nirvana had to modify this song (in title only) to “Waif Me”. And they were also forced to make modifications to the In Utero cover art.
There is also a story of George W. Bush, before he became President of the United States, sorta spazzing out on his daughter’s copy of “Rape Me”.
It has been noted by those more familiar with Nirvana songs that the guitar playing on this track is similar to that of “Smells Like Teen Spirit“, i.e. the 1991 tune that put the band on the map.
As noted earlier, Nirvana’s run as an active band ended prematurely due to the death of Kurt Cobain. However, his early passing also led to the group expeditiously becoming rock icons. Accordingly they have come out with three compilation albums since –
- Nirvana (2002)
- Sliver: The Best of the Box (2005)
- Icon (2010)
And “Rape Me” is featured on all of them.
Concerning Kobain’s empathy for womankind, it would appear that such a sentiment traces back to his youth. He was one of those types of guys who was always cooler with females than males.
This song proved to be a moderate hit, most notably breaking the top 40 of the UK Singles Chart. However, it should be noted that it never received an official music video.
The label that put out “Rape Me” is DGC Records, i.e. the label Nirvana signed with in 1991.