Grunge and the cyclical nature of music


Alexa Mueller

Pictured above is a drawn portrait of Nirvana frontman and guitarist Kurt Cobain performing.

Keval Wagher, Copy Editor

Grunge did not die with its icon Kurt Cobain. Rather, it lay dormant, waiting to connect with the next generation. 

Grunge was an alternative rock movement that started sometime in Seattle in the mid ‘80s and exploded into a pop culture phenomenon in the early ‘90s. At its peak, it captivated young people across the world and permeated American culture, challenging the norms of previous generations.

After the tragic deaths of pioneering musicians like Andrew Wood and Kurt Cobain, grunge faded into obscurity, destined to live out its days as airtime filler on alternative radio. But America is yet again within a cultural metamorphosis, and young people are rediscovering the honesty that defined the grunge movement. 

As an alternative movement, grunge musicians did not have the restrictions that suppressed sincere lyricism. Without the need to appease music critics or consumers in general, they were free to write about difficult themes like depression, alienation, domestic abuse and existentialism. Then when grunge went mainstream, their messages were propelled to the forefront of American media.

Musically, grunge found its roots in punk and metal. The dark, distinctly “Seattle” sound came from chord progressions and melodies, foreign to the tired riffs of 80s hair metal. This melancholic sound paired perfectly with sincere lyrical content is what captivates today’s listeners, the same way grunge did in its peak. 

Junior Alexa Mueller stated that her exposure to grunge started recently. “My journey deeper into the realm of grunge music began during COVID, when I had the opportunity to explore different musical genres. The themes in grunge especially connected with the feelings of isolation experienced by so many during the pandemic, “ she said. 

Some elements of grunge never left pop culture. Perhaps most prominent is the fundamental component of ripped jeans and flannels in today’s fashion, the origins of which stemmed from the moody, temperate climate of the Seattle area. 

Through MTV music videos and designer fashion as famous as Marc Jacobs, grunge fashion disseminated throughout the country. Though it seemed to be just another fashion fad, it did something much more important. Ultimately, grunge fashion introduced reusing clothes and popularized the do-it-yourself look as stylish options, giving consumers more freedom of choice and a sense of personalization. 

The ongoing popularity of the super hits of grunge, like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Pearl Jam’s anthemic “Alive” and Soundgarden’s psychedelic “Black Hole Sun,” provides a gateway to the extremely diverse discography of the movement. But grunge is reemerging in more ways than just the smash hits of the era. 

The exposure that grunge has regained with the advent of social media platform TikTok is tremendous. Anyone who has used the app for an extended period of time will have undoubtedly come across a Cobain fan page or guitar covers of famous grunge songs. “The first time I heard a Nirvana song other than ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was on TikTok,” said senior Ela Ersan. “I was surprised because I didn’t even realize it was grunge. There was something about it that drew me in.”

While grunge remains a mostly niche genre, its recent increase in popularity means it is finally earning its rightful place in music history. Even if it does not retake the popular music scene, grunge will surely take a more permanent place in alternative music. Perhaps there will be a musical shift similar in ideology to the grunge movement, due to the cyclical nature of music and culture.