Nirvana: The Shockingly Risque Meaning of ‘Heart-Shaped Box’

Nirvana was perhaps the most iconic band of the 1990s. Some critics have called the band the Beatles of their generation. Like the Beatles, Nirvana wrote some songs which are difficult to interpret.

“Heart-Shaped Box” is one of those songs. It sounds great, but its message is unclear. Surprisingly, Courtney Love gave the world a very risque interpretation of the track.

Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" is s song which is difficult to understand. Here's what Courtney Love had to say about its meaning.
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana on MTV |
Frank Micelotta Archive / Contributor

Possible inspirations behind the song

Love gave Kurt Cobain a heart-shaped box as a gift. It’s reasonable to conclude the gesture inspired the title of Nirvana‘s “Heart-Shaped Box.” AllMusic also says a report on children with cancer had some influence on Cobain when he wrote the song.

However, there’s more to the song than its title and cancer references. Not all of the song can be explained by looking at Cobain’s inspirations. What did Cobain mean when he sang “I’ve been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks/I’ve been drawn into your magnet tar pit trap/I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black.”

The director of the ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ video chimes in

Some fans think the track is merely a love song. Anton Corbijn, the director of the “Heart-Shaped Box” video, didn’t have a definitive interpretation of the song. However, he did feel it reflected on some aspects of Cobain’s personal life, including, perhaps, his relationship with Courtney Love.

“Heart-Shaped Box” by Nirvana

When Andrew Romano of The Daily Beast asked about the song’s meaning, Corbijn said “I’m not totally sure…I never got to the bottom of that. Some idea about cancer in society, as well as proper cancer, but I never … It was not really clear to me, to be honest, what Kurt personally had in there. And there were absolutely personal things in there: maybe to deal with drugs, maybe to deal with Courtney.”

What Courtney Love had to say

Nirvana released “Heart-Shaped Box” in the 1990s. However, it wasn’t until the 2010s that Love gave fans her interpretation of the song. Why did she open up about the song? The answer lies with Lana Del Rey.

Del Rey is a huge Cobain fan. She’s been drawn to his work since she was little. She has strong memories of watching him perform “Heart-Shaped Box” on television when she was young.

“Heart-Shaped Box” by Lana Del Rey

Del Rey performed a cover of “Heart-Shaped Box” in 2012 in Sydney, Australia. Her cover was softer than the original. The rage of Nirvana’s version was replaced with the melancholy of Del Rey’s work. After Del Rey covered the song, Love decided to chime in on Twitter.

According to NME, she said “You do know the song is about my Vagina right? ‘Throw down your umbilical noose so i can climb right back,’ umm. On top of which some of the lyrics about my vagina I contributed. So umm next time you sing it, think about my vagina will you?” Love deleted the tweets. for reasons which remain unclear.

Love is an outspoken and sometimes controversial artist. Her music has drawn a mixed reception. However, it’s nice too see that she finally helped fans to understand what “Heart-Shaped Box” means.

Also see: Kurt Cobain: Producer Shuts Down Conspiracy Theory About Nirvana