The Nine Inch Nails Video That Led To An FBI Investigation

Through the '90s, Nine Inch Nails was one of the most innovative metal bands around. They're practically responsible for bringing industrial metal to the mainstream market, with hits like "Closer" and "March Of The Pigs" hitting the Billboard charts in 1994 and several others following suit in the years after. We all have Trent Reznor to thank for Nine Inch Nails' success. If it weren't for him, the band wouldn't have existed in the first place.

Reznor started NIN in 1989 as a one-man studio band before taking to the road and touring with rock superstars like David Bowie, Guns 'N Roses, and Marilyn Manson. When Reznor started making music, chances are he didn't plan on going from a nobody to one of the most famous metal bands in the world within a decade. Since its start, Nine Inch Nails has released 11 studio albums, won multiple awards, and produced several stellar music videos. One of those earliest music videos would lead to an FBI investigation, something else Reznor never could've predicted. (We're guessing, anyway.)

Balloons can't be trusted

The Federal Bureau of Investigation deals with some pretty crazy stuff on a daily basis, from serial killers to smuggling operations and more, but when Nine Inch Nails made the music video for "Down In It" (on YouTube) from their debut album Pretty Hate Machine, they managed to get the FBI up and at 'em.

The video shows Trent Reznor running through the streets of Chicago, pursued by a couple of hardcore hooligans, before being pushed from the top of a building to his death. Reznor is seen lying in a pool of blood. According to Mental Floss, the camera crew weren't the types to have loads of money lying around, and they had no way of hiring a crane or other machinery that would allow them to take the aerial shots they needed. As happens with low-budget productions, the crew got creative in their search to make do. The team ended up tying the camera to some weather balloons to get the shot, which probably would've worked out perfectly, had a gust of wind not sent the balloons, and the camera suspended from them, to places unknown. Bye-bye, little guys.

The balloons went on quite a journey, too, flying clear up to the outskirts of Burr Oak, Michigan. There, according to Consequence of Sound, a farmer happened to see the balloons float over his property and decided to be a nice guy and retrieve them. That's when things got crazy.

There's murder afoot!

When the farmer saw the device floating through the air, he assumed it was some sort of surveillance deal going on, according to Mental Floss. It seems that some farmers in the area had been known to grow less-than-legal crops in their fields, and the farmer who found the camera thought it was probably the police scouting for illegal plants. The good citizen turned the camera over to the authorities.

When the police reviewed the film footage, they believed they'd uncovered a murder. To the Michigan State Police detective in charge, Paul Wood, the video clearly showed some sort of gang killing. Both of the perpetrators were in similar dress, wearing leather jackets with matching symbols. Upon examination, the investigators were able to discern the lights of Chicago in one of the shots. The "evidence" had crossed state lines, making it the jurisdiction of the FBI.

It's 1989, and now the big boys were in play. From the shot, FBI pathologists determined the "victim" lying in a pool of "blood" was rotting. It was go time. They'd spend the next year trying to solve what, according to Dangerous Minds, they believed to be a gang or cult murder. With no leads turning up, the Bureau started handing out flyers around Chicago, particularly at schools. They were desperate. It had been a year, and they weren't getting any closer to catching the "killers." The flyers did their job, though ... sorta.

Wait, this was a what?

The FBI never did end up solving the crime, probably because there was, in this case, no crime that needed solving. An art student from the Chicago area happened to be watching MTV when Nine Inch Nails' "Down In It" video played, according to Mental Floss, and he knew he'd seen something similar recently. Ah-ha! The flyer! Of course, the video had been missing the death shot at the time, since it had floated away, but the aesthetic was the same. The kid called the cops to let them know that they'd wasted a full year chasing down a music video, and the case was put to rest. The authorities then called Nine Inch Nails' management to let them know the travels their camera had gone through and all the fuss their apparently life-like murder scene had caused.

"When the news came through that this was some sort of a cult killing, and that I had been killed, this great story, my initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion, and so many people were working on it," Reznor later told an interviewer (found via Dangerous Minds). "And I felt kinda good that the police had made idiots of themselves."