If you take a look back into the history of the music scene prevailing in the 90s, you would observe that there was a music movement that originated from the Pacific Northwest known as grunge. It was identified as a genre that featured distorted guitars, apathetic or moody lyrics. Grunge is often credited for popularizing punk rock as well, but it was not that successful as grunge itself. Furthermore, grunge is also applauded for bringing rock ‘n’ rollback. With Nirvana stepping into the scene, everything changed for the better.
The birth of grunge music
If you happen to revise the history of rock music, you will get to know that grunge music was a savior of rock ‘n’ roll and slayer of the late 80s hair metal bands. You may agree or disagree, but there is no denying that it was grunge music that lit the paper leading to the 90s alternative rock explosion. Then Nirvana released its Nevermind in 91, and the industry had no idea what actually hit it. At the time, grunge was Seattle-centric, which had initially started from the underground US rock scene of the early 80s.
Mark Arm, who was a vocalist of Green River, was credited for being the first one to use the term “grunge” when we went onto describe the music of his first band, Mr. Epp, and The Calculations, as “Pure grunge! Pure Noise”. Much later, even Kurt Cobain had to admit in his interview with Rolling Stones that Bostonians Pixies inspired him. The way they were soft and quiet and then loud and hard was what led him to make grunge music.
Some of the biggest influences on grunge music during the early movement days were heavy metal, Punk, and Neil Young. Punk’s ethos that anyone could play an instrument and produce rebellion music was almost similar to but highly influential to the beliefs of the grunge music movement.
However, as compared to Punk, grunge is much slower and distorted but highlights the heavy influences of heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath. The Grunge groups, in response, disavowed both the behavior and belief of metal bands. Neil Young was termed as the ‘Godfather of Grunge” who made use of his highly distorted guitar.
Back in the 80s, grunge was receiving heavy influences from the groups that were local hardcore and punk rock, developing grunge music style. There were alternative bands from the northeastern United States as well. For instance, the Pixies and Sonic Youth were two bands that belonged to the Northeast and were very important to the grunge scene.
Apart from Kurt Cobain admitting in his interview with Rolling Stones, he was recorded several times that his music style was heavily inspired by the Pixies as well. On the other hand, Sonic Youth was a huge supporter of the Seattle scene.
The Melvins were a band from Seattle that slowed down their hardcore music and made the heavy sound that characterized grunge. Furthermore, they would become mentors to several grunge groups that would later make it big. In addition to the Melvins, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and Tad are considered to be one of the earliest “grunge” bands that were signed to Sub Pop.
Grunge enters the mainstream.
The year 1988 saw the international rock press shifting its attention towards this new music scene that was emerging from the Pacific Northwest. It was a time when Seattle scenesters such as Nirvana came up with their first single, which went on to receive the single of the week accolade from UK rock weekly sounds.
There were some further signs that the grunge music movement was heading towards the mainstream, especially when Soundgarden, led by Chris Cornell, released their first debut album.
However, by the 1990s, grunge music had moved towards its final stages as Nirvana signed a major deal with Geffen and metal-inclined Seattle outfit Alice in Chains, scoring Billboard chart success. By 1991, grunge had morphed into a bona fide global phenomenon.
Today and even then, Nirvana was accused of changing the course of rock with their Nevermind hit. However, it was not only Nirvana but also Pearl Jam’s Mother Love Bone, which literally tore mainstream with their multi-platinum selling debut ‘Ten,’ followed by Soundgarden’s third album, ‘Badmotorfinger.’
When it comes to discussing the advent of grunge music in the 90s, it would be an injustice, not to mention Nirvana, and particularly Kurt Cobain. Nirvana was the most important and famous grunge influence. The way it played and created grunge music had an immense influence on the success factor of grunge music even though it had copied the style from the Pixies. Kurt was labeled as the tortured voice of a generation, and the label tortured him even more.
As the band released its Nevermind album in 1991 with the single “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” it was a clear sign that a cultural shift was on its way. However, grunge music’s wild popularity not only came with Nirvana at this point. It was also the band taking on the pop melodies combined with artistry and craftsmanship of Kurt Cobain.
One of the most overlooked influences and efforts of the grunge music movement was Riot Grrl. This band was a fusion of Punk with grunge music, featuring feminist politics at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Riot Grrl focused on and discussed women’s problems such as rape, domestic violence, female empowerment, and the patriarchy prevailing in their music.
Their music was intended to motivate and organize women to join and participate in rock and roll music. Members of the grunge music movement applauded the efforts of Riot Grrl as they wore baby-doll dresses and bows in hair.
At the same time, when Nirvana was credited for popularizing grunge music, it was also blamed for running it. At the time, the popularity of the band provided immense popularity to grunge music itself. This popularity had its effects on American Teenagers as major labels descended on Seattle Clubs and made bands that were terrible copies to cash in some money. A perfect example of this is Pearl Jam. Although Pearl Jam was nearly as successful as Nirvana back then but Kurt Cobain attacked the group by saying that it lacked authenticity. While Nirvana’s Nevermind success was topping the charts, Pearl Jam’s debut, ten, climbed the charts as well.
The Legacy of grunge music
During the next 12 months, some key grunge albums were released, which demonstrated as to how huge the movement had become. Furthermore, Cameron Crowe’s Seattle-based popular Gen X Singles reflected the intensity and extent to which grunge music had penetrated into mainstream culture.
By 1993, grunge had made its way into the fashion world with designers such as Karl Lagerfield and Marc Jacobs introducing their collections of ripped jeans, flannel shirts and combat boots. In terms of music, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins were still releasing their critically acclaimed tracks while earlier Seattle bands such as Melvins and Mudhoney were trying their luck with major record labels.
After Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994, both grunge and alternative rock continued going downhill. The sounds and ethos on which the movement was based began to fade. Grunge was a savior of rock and roll music but in the hands of corporate America, it died a miserable death. With records, labels trying to bring in money, the quality and principles of grunge music disappeared. So while it was enjoyed by many back in the day, it had a sad ending as soon as Kurt Cobain passed away.