Turn You Inside-Out

December 23, 2007

A three-way collision of trebly post-punk guitar, thundering arena rock drums, and melismatic gospel, “Turn You Inside-Out” ranks among R.E.M.’s weirder hit singles. In lesser hands, the song may have come across as disjointed and gawky, but the band managed to put the piece together well enough that the final result does not call much attention to its unlikely, somewhat asymmetrical combination of genre signifiers. It’s a huge, bombastic song, but it’s actually quite subtle in the way it plays upon audience expectations, and implies this passionate stadium anthem without following the traditional form of such a thing. Map it out — there’s only one verse, but there’s two different choruses and a bridge. The song is in a huge hurry to push the listener to ecstatic heights, and it’s not at all an accident — it’s a manipulative song about a manipulative character.

“Turn You Inside-Out” is a song about the power a performer has over their audience. The type of performance is left purposefully vague — we’re meant to read between the lines and equate the skill set of an actor or musician with that of a charismatic politician. It’s essentially the same theme as Living Colour’s “Cult Of Personality” (which came out only five months prior to the release of Green in 1988), but R.E.M.’s take on the subject is more nuanced, and considerably less literal and ham-fisted. The big difference is that Michael Stipe is not at all strident in this song, and though the lyrics certainly work as an auto-critique, it’s not exactly an exercise in self-flagellation. If anything, it’s a work of art that makes us understand what it feels like to wield power over an audience of any kind. It’s an intoxicating rush, it’s terrifying, it’s occasionally morally dubious. There’s no clear value judgment in “Turn You Inside-Out,” no assumption that having this sort of power automatically makes a person corrupt. It’s more about asking the audience to be aware of this type of power dynamic, and to recognize its patterns and pitfalls.


29 Responses to “Turn You Inside-Out”

  1. Paul Alferink Says:

    Best Lyrics
    I believe in what you do
    I believe in watching you

    Just when you thought REM couldn’t add another type of song to there repertoire. . . .

    Merry Christmas. God bless us everyone!

  2. ScottMalobisky Says:

    and you just did
    and how many times have you chosen not to

  3. protimoi Says:

    All I have to say is this is the song that makes me want to play drums. I’m a guitarist but I do the air drums every time.

  4. maclure Says:

    Ditto protimoi. I just love this song! That’s all I have to say and Merry Christmas one and all.

  5. Kirsten Says:

    I love this song. It’s one I often call my “favourite”. I love the power in this song. I love the power Michael has over me. I love how he plays with me (I could TYIO, but I chose not to). I love how he DOES Turn me Inside-Out and can do it again at any given moment.
    I had the honour of seeing them perform this one live on the ATS tour, it was fabulous, though Michael didn’t use the megaphone for some reason.
    Also have to quickly mention the video for this song. Very well done. Don’t know why Michael Stipe wiping his nose on his sleeve is so cute, but it just is. And the dancing is great. Everything about this song is perfect. Everything about REM is perfect. Can’t wait for the next album so they can Turn Me Inside-Out and Upside-Down all over again. Have a great holiday season everyone. Stay safe.


  6. Figgy Says:

    Great stuff, Matthew. I’ve been waiting for your review of “Turn You Inside-Out” as this song is perhaps my favourite song from the entire REM catalogue. I say “perhaps” simply because I love so many REM songs that once I decide on an all-time favourite, others like “Fall On Me” or “Perfect Circle” very quickly come to mind and make me question my decision!

    All I know is I’ve never grown tired of “Turn You Inside-Out”. It still sounds as fresh and as exciting to me now as the day I first heard it. This song grabs me from the opening drum beat and if the conditions are right (i.e. I’m home alone), I’ll be throwing myself around the room aping Stipe’s performance from TourFilm.

  7. ScottMalobisky Says:

    always sounds to me like it’s “they smoke pot”, not , “they spoke loud”

  8. Figgy Says:

    Before anyone thinks I like this song simply coz I enjoy punching the air in time with the drums (I’m referring to that TourFilm performance again), I really love the theme. Matthew really nails it is his review – you’ve really done the song justice, mate. Excellent write-up.

    This song is about wielding power or influence over anyone. Sometimes I picture the song from the obvious point of view of a politician or pop star. Other times, I imagine the main character to be more low profile – for example, in a regular workplace scenario where he could compromise someone else’s career by revealing something negative about that person. Having the power to turn that person’s world inside-out but choosing, for whatever reason, not to. But enjoying that power nonetheless, perhaps waiting for the most advantageous moment in which to use it.

    I think the song is also about keeping people focused on doing the right thing. There have been times, over the years, when I’ve seen charismatic figures (both in public life and the workplace) who promise to make big changes and ultimately improve things. “Turn You Inside-Out” always comes to mind in these moments. “I believe in what you do, I believe in watching you” is such a good couplet: you want the person to succeed with their aims if they match your own, but you’ve also got to watch them to make sure they follow up on their intentions and don’t sell out to some other conflicting goal.

  9. Figgy Says:

    Yo, Kirsten. I also got to hear this one on the ATS tour. Third song in. It followed “I Took Your Name” and “Bad Day” – a great way to kick the night off. Just like you, I was expecting Stipe to use the megaphone but that didn’t take away from a brilliant performance.

    Well, folks. I’m gonna get outta here and start my Christmas break. I won’t be near a computer for a week so who knows what I’ll miss here on popsongs.

    Have a great Christmas, everyone. Looking forward to more REM banter in the new year.

  10. Kirsten Says:

    Yo?? Figgy the Hommy! I wasn’t disappointed, but he had the megaphone there and used it for Orange Crush so why not use it? More mind games perhaps – choosing to turn me inside-out. Have a good week off Figgy. See ya in 08 (and REM too I’m hoping!)

  11. Dark Bob Says:

    This is one incredible song. I can’t help but think of Jim Morrison when I hear this. Morrison was very aware of the power a performer had over a large crowd and how that could be used to create good and bad results. Morrison used to toy with that power. Bill really does a great job on this. Love it.

  12. ScottMalobisky Says:

    yeah , Morrison once called the crowd a bunch of fucking idiots , Stipe never actually used those words

  13. Dark Bob Says:

    Yeah, Morrison would provoke the crowd almost to the point of rioting and then calm them back down.

  14. ScottMalobisky Says:

    1989. The Antithesis Of Unskinny Bop. (bop bop)…………….I remember walking up Ridge Avenue in the late morning totally into the big hair bands of the time and TYIO was cranking inside this nondescript yellow house about 50 yards from where I lived, was completely transfixed there , the first time I was really blown away by REM (although I do recall hearing The One I Love on the radio before then but not really taking heed)…………. Was flipping thru the channels last night and came upon VH1 counting down the Top 100 Songs of the 90’s, figured LMR had to be near the very top ; it was #9 which I thought was kinda lame , #2 was U2 One , #1 was Smells Like Teen Spirit. I think Vogue was in the top 5, and a Whitney thing.

  15. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Although don’t get me wrong, Unskinny Bop is a HELL OF A FUN SONG . Sometimes one has to lighten up and have a bit of fun , eh ?

  16. pggtips Says:

    Whereas “At My Most Beautiful” was their homage to the Beach Boys, I would guess this is their homage to the Rolling Stones. In fact, the bridge in the song sounds a lot like “Paint it, black”.

  17. Dark Bob Says:

    REM was the antithesis of all the 80’s cliches (Big hair, spandex, drum machines) I remember hearing Driver 8 back in ’85 and being blown away by how different it sounded then anything else at the time. It’s what made me a life long fan. Turn you inside out, is probably the closet they ever got to ARENA ROCK back then. Just a real kick-ass song.

  18. Kirsten Says:

    phhtips, They did cover Paint It Black quite a bit in their shows in the early 80s, so you could be right there.

    Unskinny Bop! Classic. I haven’t heard that in years. I use to love all those heavy metal bands. What ever happend to Brett Michaels? After seeing Axl Rose recently, we’re probably better off not knowing!

  19. 2d Says:

    this song is perfect. video too. could have fit well on “monster” and along the same lines as “lotus”.

    and i love the strange sound effects that swirl around in the background of “i… could… i…”

  20. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Stipe spasmodically seizure-like (seeing the truth?)
    Conveying that personal seethe in Tourfilm
    Can’t beat it .
    Punch the air, Oh People.
    We can work it out without assassination.
    Or continuing, horrific, senseless violence.


    actually Brett Michaels has this show on (I think) MTV where women compete for his affections, got a glimpse of it once, sorta like that Bachelor thing that was on FOX….cracks me up how he somberly dismisses them narrowing down the field …I don’t think he’s taking himself too seriously with this — the women probably are–although he never takes his headband off, hiding his receding hairline I guess………

  21. Kirsten Says:

    15 years ago I would’ve been so up for that! I am glad that he is still wearing his headband – wouldn’t be the same without it. After yesterday’s discussion, I went home and looked through some of my old junk, and yes, I do still have a bunch of pictures of Poison!
    And for the record, Nothin But A Good Time is STILL a great song!

  22. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:


    Tell me it is not true! How has my beloved REM blogsite degenerated into a discussion of 80’s hairbands! Oh, I loathe(d) 80’s hair Metal. I largely became a fan of REM because they were not 80’s Hair Metal. Although this song sort of is there loose take on that genre in some ways. That said, maybe that is why I am the voice of dissent here and consider this to be one of my very least favorite REM songs – it does almost nothing for me. Also, does anyone else hear TYIO and think it sounds a lot like Finest Worksong? The guitars are very similar to me, except that for me Finest Worksong has a magic that is simply missing from TYIO. Is the similarity there for anyone else?

  23. Kirsten Says:

    LOL. Sorry BWD, but in my defence I was only 10 years old in 1989…..

  24. Dark Bob Says:

    From Mike Stipe to Brett Michaels…………WOW!!!!!

  25. ScottMalobisky Says:

    yes , absolutely BWD, the similiarity is very much there..Noticed that just the other day , had TYIO in my head –the beginning–and it completely morphed into FS. the guitar riff is almost EXACTLY the same

  26. adam Says:

    seems the megaphone stuff followed Tom Wait’s megaphone use the year before on record and in concert.. REM are huge fans and no doubt this was an influence.

  27. Mr Cup Says:

    Sorry to miss this with being away and all.

    In brief it one of my favourites and it slots into a rather bulging top 5. I mentioned before I love the more caustic songs and this is one of them. It always ends far too soon form my liking. I wish there was a 17 minute version!

    I also wish someone could explain the opening lines to me.

    BWD – Worksong has one finger riff, TYIO uses 2 in a similar manner.


  28. […] in turn provides a nice touch of contrast on the record as it falls between two of the most tightly composed tracks in the band’s discography. The approach also adds to the sense of intimacy in the […]

  29. […] motivation, and a conflict between self-image and public image. In a way, it picks up where “Turn You Inside-Out” leaves off, with a performer who has become acutely aware of the power he wields over an audience, […]

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