This week in 1998 Hole released its third album Celebrity Skin. Hole is a rock band fronted by Courtney Love, but in the early ’90s Love was more so known as the wife of Kurt Cobain. Just days after Cobain’s suicide in 1994, Hole released the album Live Through This. Critics raved, with Entertainment Weekly calling the album a “force of nature.” Unfortunately, there were also rumors that Cobain was responsible for writing a lot of Live Through This. So, in terms of making an artistic statement, the pressure was on when Hole released their follow-up album Celebrity Skin a full four years later. The album was led by lead single (and title track) “Celebrity Skin,” a fusion of the early jagged fury of the band and a more mainstream rock sheen.
In the years between Hole albums, Courtney Love received great reviews and awards attention for her performance in The People vs Larry Flynt. She also became a glamour queen who famously wore Versace on the red carpet of the 1997 Oscars. “Celebrity Skin” addresses this transformation.
Love opens the song with the sneering lines, “Oh make me over/I’m all I wanna be/A walking study/In demonology.” The lyric is a clever reference both to Love’s Hollywood makeover, as well as her being demonized for said makeover as well as receiving some blame for Cobain’s suicide. On the song Love’s vocal is less ragged than on previous Hole albums, and there is a focus on melody. The guitar riff rings of late ’70s glam metal. In short, “Celebrity Skin” is polished rock and not an all out attack.
Throughout the song, Love uses references that highlight the way Hollywood uses celebrities and then disgards them. At one point Love sings, “My name is might-have-been/My name is never was/My name’s forgotten.” The line “My name is might have been” is pulled from a section in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem “The Superscription” about the impossibility of retaining value; in other words, it’s a reference celebrities being replaced by the new ‘It Girl.’ Another line references a “pound of flesh.” This term is mostly associated with Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in which a character is asked to give a “pound of flesh” in order to borrow money. Love seems to be saying that the debt of celebrity is excessive, if it’s even able to be paid at all. That is a theme Love made reference to in earlier songs like “Ask For It” and “Doll Parts.”
In the song Love seems to be having a bit of an identity crisis, or maybe she’s just toying the audience with the two sides of her image. She had become glam, but is she now used up? Love has also said the title is a reference to all of the celebrity skin she has touched, which makes one wonder if she’s also commenting on herself.