Grunge was still in its relative infancy when Pearl Jam’s music video for “Jeremy,” the band’s third single, debuted in 1992. While the song hit No. 5 on the Mainstream and Modern Rock Billboard charts and remained in heavy rotation on MTV for months, the music video tells a story that is deeper than one might have guessed.
“Jeremy” is based on a tragic true incident of an emotionally anguished teenager, Jeremy Wade Delle, who ended his own life in front of his classmates in 1991. Combined with lead singer Eddie Vedder’s intense vocals, the song's lyrics captured the alienation and loneliness of Generation X while the music video brought visuals and drama to the narrative.
The video that aired on MTV was not the full cut, however, and the pivotal scene that was eliminated changed the video's message entirely, causing confusion and controversy for years.
Director Mark Pellington Initially Passed On The Project
Pellington had growing clout as a music director, working with ‘90s megastars including U2, PM Dawn, Public Enemy, and De La Soul. Pellington later said that when he was approached to create the video for “Jeremy,” he wasn’t a Pearl Jam fan, didn’t feel drawn to the lyrics, and initially passed on the job.
Thankfully for music history, Pellington’s producer urged him to listen closely to the lyrics. Pellington says he locked himself in a room and listened to the track on repeat. After speaking with Vedder about the song’s meaning, Pellington had his proverbial “Aha!” moment and agreed to do the project.
The Official Video Featured Mostly Vedder, Not The Band
Unlike the original Cuffaro video, which focused heavily on each of the band members playing their respective instruments and only in microdoses on the narrative of Jeremy, Pellington’s video hardly shows the band at all. Instead, the director honed in on telling Jeremy's story, with Vedder’s intense performance intermittently shown to narrate the dark tale.
After the massive media attention of Pearl Jam’s first two singles, “Alive” and “Even Flow,” Vedder was relieved not to be the sole focus. During filming, Pellington described Vedder as having a “possessed look,” a description that’s evident in the final official video.
After 'Jeremy,' Pearl Jam Didn’t Make Another Music Video For Six Years
American Music Club singer/songwriter Mark Eitzel told Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament that the “Jeremy” video “sucked. It ruined my vision of the song.” Ament subsequently told Vedder that he wanted Pearl Jam to be remembered for their songs, not their videos.
What ensued was a six-year hiatus from music videos altogether. Pellington later mused, “I think Pearl Jam was very, very upset that this piece about an alienated kid who [took his own life] was taken to be this glorified piece about a guy who shoots his classmates.”
The Video Won Top Honors At The 1993 MTV Video Music Awards - And Lasting Criticism
“Jeremy” dominated the 1993 MTV VMAs with four awards for Video of the Year, Best Group Video, Best Metal/Hard Rock Video, and Best Direction. That same year, the song took home two Grammys for Best Rock Song and Best Hard Rock Performance.
Its enduring legacy is evident in other accolades, including MTV’s 100 Greatest Music Videos Ever Made (1999) and Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Pop Songs. However, “Jeremy” is also criticized by some, even listed as one of the most controversial music videos of all time.