Why It’s Time For Grunge To Die


1991: the year Grunge broke. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released as a single in September, and everything changed. A manifesto for dissatisfied Reagan-era youth.

2018: Rock music is still in the remission its been in for a vague number of years. Everyone yearns for the glory days of rock to return. You still get some solid releases from legacy guitar acts like Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, STP. There’s plenty of quality underground guitar rock acts who never really make that leap outside of indie rag buzz, and we get some solid new acts like Royal Blood and Highly Suspect on a mainstream level. However, it seems like they never hit their career zenith and release an album the likes of Ten, Superunknown, Nevermind.

Something happened along the way that put a cap on rock music. We’ve had some little movements along the way (nu-metal, and the early 2000’s garage rock wave spearheaded by The White Stripes and The Strokes), but it just seems as though the rock scene is dead as a doornail in public eyes. We’ve haven’t experienced a “moment” in the vein of the British Invasion, or the Glam Metal explosion (maybe for the better), or the Grunge movement. Those three sweet years, 1991-1994, made as much noise as they possibly could before burning out with Kurt Cobain’s suicide.

In the years since, we’ve had a disgustingly hollow echo of the Grunge movement in the post-grunge craze, a scene that made such a vapid mockery of itself by 2010’s “Porn Star Dancing”, by My Darkest Days. That song was so non self-aware of its ticking off of every single awful cliche of the genre, from its macho-man sex machine attitude (as if someone had listened to STP’s “Sex Type Thing”, had the ironic feminist message go over their head entirely, and built an entire genre around it) and awful lyrics, that guitar rock almost entirely disappeared from radio after the fact, being replaced by the pop crossover acts spearheaded by Mumford and Sons and Owl City. And that’s where we still stand today: pop stars like Imagine Dragons still hog up alternative radio music space, and good old fashioned guitar rock, for the most part, stands by in wait.

Lots of young bands today like to refer to themselves as “grunge”; my own inbox is flooded with thousands of emails from representatives of bands “trying to bring back grunge”, or something to that effect. Many seem to want success but don’t go for it in full measure. Many of these bands are talented musicians, but lack any songs with discernible hooks that would get the attention. I hear many young bands argue about artistic integrity and a fear of selling out. Oftentimes, if I suggest a way to help get them attention on the internet, there is a backlash against being “clickbait” or “not earning attention the right way”. Many people claim anyway that another big rock “moment” will never happen again anyway, due to the fragmentation of the music audience on the internet.

I say all of this is completely wrong.

“Grunge” was never a genre of music. It was a buzzword used by market research groups to sell products to disaffected Reaganite youth, a way to advertise punk and hard rock bands that grew up equally on their dad’s Black Sabbath records and their mother’s ABBA compilation.  The term has become so synonymous with the early 90’s now that trying to say you are “reviving grunge” would probably be a disservice to your own future career, likening yourself to a tribute act instead of being a trailblazer in and of yourself.

It isn’t a horrible thing to “sell out”, and hatred of financial success was never a component of the “Grunge” scene. Trying to appease the Grunge gods and your own sense of honor by NOT writing the next “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a disservice to the genre in general. The myth that Kurt Cobain hated success is always underscored by the fact that he specifically had discussions with Geffen Records about making Nirvana “the biggest band in the world” – he took his commercial pop songwriting chops displayed on Bleach‘s “About a Girl” and applied it to every single track off of his sophomore record, Nevermind.

Take an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine in 1993, where Kurt himself breaks down the mythology surrounding the “the whiny, complaining, neurotic, bitchy guy who hates everything, hates rock stardom, hates his life… I’ve never been happier in my life.”

Despite failing record sales, we live in an age where Kendrick Lamar’s Damn can go double platinum in 2017, or Adele’s 25 can go diamond in 2015. It doesn’t matter if the internet has made the music-consuming audience scatterbrained. All we need is one single hungry for success guitar-driven rock band with a knack for pop songwriting sensibilities, shed of Post-grunge’s douchey exterior or Indie pop’s pretentious and glossy facade, to bring rock back to the forefront and inspire other bands to achieve the same.

To do that, we have to unlearn what Grunge supposedly taught us about image and financial integrity, and move forward. That’s not to say I’m being an armchair critic telling Pearl Jam and STP to break up (unless it’s an unhealthy situation similar to propping Chris Cornell or Scott Weiland up on stage for a project their heart and soul isn’t entirely in); all I’m saying is they had their time in the limelight.

Now it’s time for the next generation to pick up the slack. Maybe it’s time for a new Beatles, not a new Nirvana.

  • Seattlesound21

    I just always really thought of grunge as America’s version of England’s punk but better

  • KurDt CObain89

    I just read this and I am blown away.I was so caught up in the fact of always saying that I would bring “grunge” back a million times over. But I really want to make a band and be successful in making music to speak to a whole new generation. The 2020s. I’m heavily Nirvana influenced and I disagree that there should be a new Beatles and not a new Nirvana which everyone needs.

  • Michael Cunningham

    yo man … far out …. 😀

  • Keri Raymer

    I’m a female vocalist in a Nirvana tribute band. I consider myself like a female Kurt. I got his pipes in a female tone. Music today SUCKS. We dont need a new name for a new style. The reason those bands were knew and signed is because they were good bands. Today you go on the voice to sound like someone else. Get judged by some sucky low grade pop or country singer. Or get seen on youtube. I’m in the mist of writing and recording. Imagine a Kurt & Courtney rolled into 1 voice. That’s me. Except I’m actually just being me. Be ready america I’m coming for ya!

    • Zach Harrison

      A female Nirvana!? That’s freaking awesome. I love real women rockers and my love for Nirvana might be borderline unhealthy. I’m not like others my age. I was 3 years old when Kurt died but Nirvana and 90s Rock in general is what I love

  • DanSwon

    LOL grunge died in about 1996

    • John Scott

      More like 98-99, but your point is accurate. It’s long gone, but man do I miss it.

  • Uncle-Archie

    Grunge,,heh,I am 48 and witnessed it all here in Seattle.
    It was more people turned off by the LA hair bands ,punk was always underneath the Rock scene, but no one really melded it together.
    The northwest was a unique place and time for it to come together,the grey skies,the rain,the forests and moss and plentiful mushrooms for the taking from junior high onward if one wanted,a certain melancholy was always around.

    In the end it’s just rock,punk,music.

    To those young musicians ,do copy,refine etc I bet you find something in time.

    Good luck.

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  • Olga Stewart

    So I see the author referred to both Auduoslave and Velvet Revolver in this article.

    Maybe it was an unhealthy situation. But some good songs came out from both of those groups.

    I don’t understand why some people have to see mostly the negative in things.

    What’s wrong with trying to see the positive?

    Oh, and I would be happy just to hear good music. Nothing labelled. Just good music.

  • Stone Gossardish

    I had no idea anyone was hanging onto the grunge term.

  • dakotablue

    Guitar rock has never almost “disappeared” from radio, although I think it took a terrible blow with the death of Tom Petty. As far as the death of grunge, the headline is somewhat ironic (and sad) with three of the four musicians pictured no longer with us.

  • dawn521

    After reading this article, I was so disturbed, to say the least. Music is simply a constant evolution, and each generation of artists gets their inspiration from music and artists from their past! And without those eras that are referred to as ” dead”, we wouldve never had the opportunity to enjoy the world’s greatest musicians, because they wouldn’t have existed without the inspiration of the ” dead” eras in music history. Should we say that the Era of B.B. king and muddy waters is dead after so many evolutions of great artists were inspired by their music?? And, by the way, these great songs and artists that are achieving their fame today, are inspired by songs and musicians of the past, so long story short…no Era ever dies….it always lives on through another ones passion to keep it alive!!! ROCK ON, GRUNGE!!!! LAYNE STALEY LIVES!! ♡♡♡♡♡♡

  • Hwang Sunghyeop

    the word ‘grunge’ will never fade away.

  • Cristiann

    I don’t really want a new Beatles or a new Nirvana. I just want several new young bands to come along, have each create something special/innovative and make me feel excited about rock music again.

    • occupy now

      Have you heard of Metz, Mannequin Pussy, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, All Them Witches, Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees?

  • Joe Costigan

    Nice article – good take on the grunge thing. All Grunge was is a term used for marketing all of the Seattle bands. Rather than call it rock music – it has been diced up and labeled – from Heavy Metal to Punk to New Wave to Alternative to Grunge to post-Grunge to Nu-Metal and so many other sub genres and labels applied to guitar driven music. Just look up rock music wikipedia to see how sliced up and labeled it is. It’s beyond ridiculous. It’s just guitar driven rock music.

  • rockdrummer

    Good article.

    It’s been almost 20 years since music with guitar distortion was firmly in the mainstream. A tiny amount of record labels control the vast, vast majority of the market and I believe they are not promoting guitar-driven music or anything too rebellious because they want a more sedate youth culture.

    Because of social programming and other factors, if you look at the typical 23 year old male today, I’m not so sure guitar rock would be received well by him.

    That said, here are some tracks from the last couple of years that I think visitors to this site would dig. Three male-fronted bands and three female-fronted bands:

    Metz “Cellophane”

    The Cribs “Rainbow Ridge”

    Plague Vendor “Jezebel”

    Bully “Trying”

    Downtown Boys “Lips That Bite”

    Charly Bliss “Glitter”

  • cmlukey

    There is a reason why so much “grunge” still gets heavy radio play and occurrences like STP’s catalog soaring in popularity after Weiland’s death take place – it’s great music. Tastes in culture are cyclical. Guitar heavy rock will come back, and I expect it will be soon. Today’s pop-rock and “alternative” all sound like electronica and Musak to me. It sucks and will be landfill material in a few years.

  • Anton

    Just a weird article. You run a web page which has Chris Cornell (RIP), Pearl Jam, and Dave Grohl on the front page (today) – and then you complain about kids telling you their new band cites Grunge as a genre? If you want kids to come to you and tell them they want to be the next Beatles, then you should go start a Beatles website.