…”Everything that I had lost
Is mine, irretrievably mine
So distant from me that it is abandonment.”
Property of a Lost Thing
The phrase “losing my religion” is an expression from the southern region of the United States that means losing one’s temper or civility, or “being at the end of one’s rope.” Michael Stipe told The New York Times the song was about romantic expression.
He also told Q that “Losing My Religion” is about “someone who pines for someone else. It’s unrequited love, what have you.”
Stipe compared the song’s theme to Every Breath You Take by The Police, saying, “It’s just a classic obsession pop song. I’ve always felt the best kinds of songs are the ones where anybody can listen to it, put themselves in it and say, ‘Yeah, that’s me.'”
The song was released as the first single from the group’s 1991 album Out of Time. Based around a mandolin riff, Losing My Religion was an unlikely hit for the group, garnering heavy airplay on radio as well as on MTV due to its critically acclaimed music video. The song became R.E.M.‘s highest-charting hit in the United States, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and expanding the group’s popularity beyond its original fanbase. It was nominated for several Grammy Awards, and won two for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Short Form Music Video.
The music video for Losing My Religion was directed by Tarsem Singh. As opposed to previous R.E.M. videos, Michael Stipe agreed to lip sync the lyrics. The video originated as a combination of ideas envisioned by Stipe and Singh. Stipe wanted the promo to be a straightforward performance video, akin to Sinéad O’Connor‘s Nothing Compares 2 U. Singh wanted to create a video in the style of a certain type of Indian filmmaking, where everything would be “melodramatic and very dreamlike”, according to Stipe.
The video begins with a brief sequence inside a dark room where water drips from an open window. Buck, Berry, and Mills run across the room while Stipe remains seated. A pitcher of milk drops from the windowsill and shatters, and the song begins. Director Singh drew inspiration from the Italian painter Caravaggio and Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky‘s The Sacrifice . The video is laden with religious imagery such as Saint Sebastian and Hindu deities, portrayed in a series of tableaux.