R.E.M. tried out this song during some live rehearsals in Dublin during the summer of 2007. At the time it was in an unfinished form with the name "Disguised."
Like the rest of the album, this was produced by Jacknife Lee (Snow Patrol, U2, the Hives, Bloc Party). Lee won Best Rock Album for U2's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
and Best Rock Song for U2's single "City Of Blinding Lights
" at the 2006 Grammy Awards.
The video, showing the band taking a jovial jaunt round various locations around the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was directed by Vincent Moon. This was Moon's first traditional music promo. Before he was best known for The Take-Away Shows
, a series of single-take live performances that he'd filmed for the French music blog La Blogotheque
Frontman Michael Stipe has said that this track, which tells the story of a teenage séance gone wrong, was about adolescent humiliation and the kinds of things that follow you through your life. Billboard magazine asked Stipe what inspired him to write such a song now, long after adolescence. The REM frontman replied: "We all have our geek moments that we kind of carry with that or us have some impact on us throughout our lives [laughs]. I hate to use the term 'geek anthem' but it's a little bit, for me, like that. I have friends - who are adults - who move with such grace and poise through life and in fact completely embrace the incredibly stupid aspects of growing up and the humiliating teenage moments. They can totally laugh about and make fun of themselves and allow themselves to be, I think, more of a complete adult because of it. So that was really kind of the inspiration for the song."
The interviewer then commented on the way that after harboring things for years, decades later we think, "Why am I thinking about this now?" Stipe replied: "Yeah, it's like that one horrifying school picture where you either knew or didn't know that that was the day they were taking the school picture. Okay, so now anyone in the world can now pull that up online if they want to look at you when you were in sixth grade and had, whatever, really stupid glasses. But the song inhabits an almost more internal humiliation, something that happens to all of us because we were all kids and we all have insecurities on some level or the other. This one, I kind of particularly wrote it around a séance gone horribly wrong at a summer camp that then manifested itself later in life as kind of a sexual deviance, but a fun one."
It was Coldplay's Chris Martin who was responsible for the song's change of name from "Disguised." R.E.M. were in London, mixing the record and Chris Martin was working on the Coldplay album at the same time. Michael Stipe told Mojo magazine April 2008: "He heard the song and said, 'This is a great song, but it's a s--tty title. You need to name it 'Supernatural Superserious.'' And we went, 'You know what, you're right.' 'Disguised' was a working title, but Chris was dead right. A terrible title for a great song."
This was R.E.M's first US Hot 100 chart entry in seven years. The group was last on this tally in 2001, when "Imitation of Life" peaked at #83.
Though this had disappointingly poor chart placings in most territories, in Norway this topped the singles chart.
Mike Mills noted in Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage: "I love this song. It was written on a Les Paul custom in my music room in Athens, Georgia. I knew right away that I had something good."
"Harry Houdini is quoted at the beginning of the original lyric," Stipe said, "which might lead you to think of men with piercing eyes, great sideburns, chains and straps. Haha. 'There's nothing dark and there's nothing weird' indeed."
This was featured in the 2009 romantic comedy-drama He's Just Not That Into You, starring Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, and Drew Barrymore, among others.