As one of the most iconic albums of the 90s, Nirvana's “Heart Shaped Box” is a classic of the era as well as one of its most beloved and remembered hits. Despite the pain and confusion of songwriter Kurt Cobain’s deteriorating mental health, the song offers a complex, chest-clenching positive message.
The first layer of the song’s message can be found in its powerful chorus. "Heart-Shaped Box" captures a feeling of overwhelming love in its imagery, of someone so helplessly devoted that they'd buy a heart-shaped box just for it. That notion resonates deeper than a romantic ideal; speaking to searing devotion to something not tangible, a feeling or an emotion, something beyond the tangible. As the chorus repeats, so does its powerful message; that we should be unafraid of the magnitude and messiness of love, that our lives should be shaped by the embodied power of love.
At a deeper level, Heart-Shaped Box urges us to remain true to ourselves in times of difficulty. Cobain’s meaningful lyrics express his feelings of hopelessness in a commitment to something he couldn't explain, while simultaneously giving an uplifting breath to those who are fighting to keep on their own paths.
The beauty of Nirvana’s song is that it speaks to both its audience's passion and their struggles, calling on listeners to accept all parts of themselves, including their darkest feelings, acknowledging that they can’t ignore the shadows of life but instead must strive to find a balance between the light and the dark.
The song’s power comes with a simple yet timeless message; that in times of depression and struggle, we must give ourselves permission to love— to love even when we may feel like we can’t or don’t deserve it. Heart-Shaped Box is a call to nurture the heart, never losing sight of love and hope in a world that has been made so much darker.