Monday, December 28, 2020

5 ways Nirvana changed and defined a generation

Nirvana are arguably one of the most well-known bands to date, with ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ easily being the song of the 90s. But even though their logo is still used on a varying types of merch after almost 30 years, the question still remains to those of us not lucky enough to live through Nirvana’s rise to fame: What made them so influential?

1.     Nirvana made the ‘from average Joe to Rock ‘n’ Roll legend’ dream a reality

After growing up in Aberdeen, Seattle, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic met as teens to form the early beginnings of ‘Nirvana’; Novoselic was still a student at school and Cobain was the janitor. After a while of gigging  and later joining forces with Dave Grohl, the band we now know as ‘Nirvana’ was formed. Despite creating music that defined the 90s, all three members came from very humble backgrounds, and remained so throughout their career together. Nirvana were able to prove to an entire generation of people that through hard work, showcasing their talents and sheer luck, you could become the ultimate rock star, when this notion seemed completely unreachable in a pop music saturated world. To put it shortly, Nirvana made it look as though anyone could be the next big thing in music as they did exactly that.

2.     They changed the course of popular music

In the late 80s, punk and alternative music only existed underground and definitely wasn’t seen on any charts. Hair Metal and Pop artists always topped the charts, until Nirvana came into their own. Like other musical legends before them, they managed to flip what was considered the ‘norm’ of music and pave their own path. Their album, ‘Nevermind’, which was only expected to sell around 200,000 copies, knocked the Michael Jackson from the number one spot. This led to other like-minded artists being sought out by the industry and, arguably, to the alt revolution of the early 90s. Alternative music had only once before been on the UK charts in the 70s Punk era and had never been seen on the USA ones. Without Nirvana’s achievements, bands like Green Day, My Chemical Romance and Weezer may not have existed in the same way.


3.     They created a new aesthetic

If you are into subcultural fashion, you will know about the influence Nirvana had on kickstarting the grunge trend. With a lack of money being no problem, the band and their followers would raid vintage and second-hand stores for anything baggy and looking borderline dirty was now considered the in thing. ‘Heroin Chic’ became the newest style and Seattle was a now setting for Hollywood rom-com movies. The grunge subculture that followed was also about not having a care in the world and being unapologetically yourself – something which Cobain executed perfectly after appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing a “Corporate Magazines Still Suck” tee and on The Face wearing a blue floral dress and guyliner.

4.     Nirvana spoke about important world issues

Kurt Cobain was said to have called the band ‘Nirvana’ as it represented the freedom and being truly individual, as well as the idea of being a healthy and positive influence in a genre that was often associated with negative energy. Being a positive light was something Nirvana successfully completed, both in and outside of their music. Cobain often spoke about political and social issues in interviews, such as grassroot campaigning, and used his music and voice to show deep disagreement with homophobia, sexism and racism. This allowed for Nirvana fans to build a community around being able to voice your opinion, even if it was against social norms and to question everything you think you know about life. One example is ‘Something In The Way’, which is a slow, raw ballad said to depict Cobain’s time sleeping rough under a bridge after leaving his childhood home. All of the emotions in Nirvana’s music allowed for listeners to feel as though they weren’t alone in their problems, as their favourite musicians were so open and honest about their sufferings.

5.     They managed to make a glamourous industry appear the total opposite.

The idea of being a rock ‘n’ roll star automatically conjures up images of lavishness and glamour. But through mediums, such as their music videos (Smells Like Teen Spirit in particular) and the obvious acting of not giving a hoot, Nirvana made the luxury of the music industry seem foolish and unnecessary. Through just being themselves, the band allowed for realness to perpetuate the music industry and reveal the charade that was running within it. This encouraged more and more fans, as the ‘normalness’ was refreshing in a world of over-the-top spectacles.


These reasons are by no means exhaustive but begin to reveal why Nirvana gained such traction among fans, old and young. The band gathered up a loyal army and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ firmly cemented this in with Cobain using ‘Here we are now’ to show how they were in this together. Their legacy will be long-lasting and forever great. This seems especially insane considering they only made three studio albums.



Lauren Firth

@laurenefirth   @laurenellisfirth

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