Nevermind: how Nirvana sculpted rock culture in the 1990’s

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When American alternative-grunge-rock band, Nirvana, released their second album in September of 1991, it did much more than top music charts and sell 30 million copies; Nevermind screamed out everything that other bands were afraid to say about teenage confusion and emotional turmoil. Nevermind changed rock culture.

The album’s mega-hits “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come As You Are” were part of the reason why grunge became so popular in the early ’90s. They were catchy enough become as fluent with teenagers as pop songs did, while holding high ranks on music charts. However the other, less popular, songs held deep contributions to the movement as well. Songs like “Drain You”, “Polly” and “On a Plain” are ones that I love listening to that did not reach the same anthem status but still rose with the album as some of the greatest rock songs of the ’90s.

If you were to ask me what I thought best described the lyrics of a Nirvana song, I would tell you that they lie somewhere near the apex of passionately angry and highly sensitive. Some songs make you want to cry while others possess you to kick a hole in the drywall that houses your bedroom. Plugged in, Nirvana was able to rattle bones with just a six string, a head-banging backbeat and a bass guitar to carry the track. Lead singer, Kurt Cobain, contributed his famous aggrieved rasp and desperately agonized vocals which were so recognizable that, almost twenty-seven years later, anyone in the world would still know that special Cobain sound.

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Unplugged, Nirvana told a whole other story with delicate strumming and lyrical sensitivity. They were the only rock band who had Kurt Cobain, a man who could scream for hours to cutting guitar chords (on maxed volume of course) and then tone it down enough to reveal a more vulnerable side of his music. Cobain was a genius when it came to expressing things that were painfully true albeit not at all easy to conjure into a song catchy enough to reach mainstream audiences.

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Not only did the Nevermind album change how bands jumped at opportunities to express their darker emotional artistry, but some might say that it guided the upheaval of grunge rock into the mainstream. As an album, Nevermind changed how rock sounded, and as a band, Nirvana changed rock culture. Ejected from the 1980s, rock saw a messier, less polished (more alternative) side in the 1990s. No longer was it the tacky ‘hair bands’ of heavy metal that held the spotlight, but rather a simpler theme. Three young men standing on stage in cardigans and ripped jeans accompanied by nothing but their instruments, pouring their hearts into their songs. They didn’t desire to have flashy lights, face makeup, or tight leather pants.

nirvana-bandaNevermind was so wrong that it was right.

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