As with so many of R.E.M.’s songs, the meaning of Crush With Eyeliner is open to interpretation.
Courtney Love, for instance, has sworn that this song was about her. Michael Stipe was friends with Kurt Cobain and took Courtney Love to the MTV Music Video Awards in 1994, after Cobain’s suicide. Love has said that both Crush With Eyeliner and County Feedback are about her.
For his part, Michael Stipe has said that the song was meant to be a tribute of sorts to the New York Dolls, with the song’s mentioning of Frankenstein meant to serve as a direct reference to the Dolls’s song of the same name. Stipe has also said that the song is also about people who take on different personalities depending on whatever situation they find themselves in at the moment. That could very well describe Dolls. Of course, it could also describe Courtney Love as well.
Crush With Eyeliner was also one of the first songs that Stipe wrote after suffering through five months of writer’s block. Stipe had sunk into a deep depression following the death of his friend, the actor River Phoenix. When it came time to record Crush With Eyeliner, Stipe brought in another friend, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, to provide backing vocals on the song.
The video was directed by Spike Jonze and features a Japanese band lip-synching to the song. Jonze is a director who needs no introduction. Jonze got his start doing pop culture-themed music videos before eventually going on to become one of the most interesting feature filmmakers around. Four years after the shooting of this video, he would marry (and later divorce) Sofia Coppola. Coppola’s Lost In Translation, which was also set in Japan, features Giovanni Ribisi playing a character who is widely thought to have been based on Jonze. Coppola, for her part, said that the character was not directly based on Jonze, though “there are elements of him there, elements of experiences.”