If you weren’t familiar with Nirvana and took a quick look at the title of “Rape Me,” you would understandably have some questions. But a simple internet search should clear up any confusion — Kurt Cobain was open about the meaning behind the track, clearing up any potential misunderstanding and painting it as a blunt anti-rape song. Enter Say Anything frontman Max Bemis, who picked the song for The AV Club’s Hatesong feature, which interviews artists about songs they can’t stand. Bemis professes his love for Nirvana, one of his “favorite bands,” but says that it was his least favorite song of the In Utero era and, even further, that it was his “least favorite of many, many different genres and subsets of music.”
BEMIS: Sonically and musically, this song annoys me. Lyrically, it’s vapid. And then on another level, it annoys me because, as someone who makes music and someone who admires Kurt Cobain as one of the greater songwriters and musicians of our time—to me, it’s the prime example of a musician feeding into or just being overly influenced by success, even if his knee-jerk reaction is to write a song like “Rape Me,” where it’s railing against his success. He probably wouldn’t have written the song if it wasn’t for becoming this unlikely icon. And so, clearly, he wrote the song to be a punk rock song about, like, “Fuck the fact that I’m a celebrity and screw the fact that the man has co-opted Nirvana.”
AVC: But it was written before Nevermind even came out.
BEMIS: Is that true?!
After being filled in that it was from the perspective of an abused woman, he still doesn’t get it.
BEMIS: The song is “Rape me, rape me, rape me again,” so even if it’s a postmodern take on rape and a feminist perspective on it, it’s still ironic, you know? It’s still saying that the person can rape them again. And that was something that I didn’t like about it in the first place. I know it’s ironic for him to be encouraging the rape to continue to happen. But it’s still encouraging the rape to continue to happen.
You know, since I had heard it after Nevermind, I took it as this kind of veiled thing about their success. But if you take it that way, he’s just inviting the rape.
AVC: It’s supposed to be, like, “Go ahead and do this, but know I’ll get you back.”
BEMIS: But it’s still like he’s still getting raped in the process of that.
Bemis tries to backtrack and chalk his dislike for the song up to his teenage disappointment with Nirvana’s post-Nevermind output. He also added, “If it were a Soundgarden song, people would just not like ‘Rape Me.'” Bemis thought the song was Cobain’s reaction to the press and put it on the record because he wanted to get a reaction. He then compares this to Miley Cyrus:
BEMIS: It’s the sort of baseline assumptions that one can make. It’s sort of like Miley — I’m going to get a lot of shit for this — but it’s just like what Miley Cyrus is doing right now. We don’t really know what’s in her head or why she’s doing this. But we can assume she’s trying to grow up and expand her image and no longer be a teeny-bopper icon, and she’s trying to be dangerous and sexy and hip. So that’s our assumption that may be miles from whatever she’s actually thinking about.
So in this instance, with Nirvana, Kurt was an intelligent, brilliant guy, so we don’t really know why he released “Rape Me” at the time he did or wrote the song or whatever. But from our perspective, from the general perspective, it certainly seemed that it was some kind of reaction against their success with Nevermind.
Read the full interview here.