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Nevermind at 25: how Nirvana's 1991 album changed the cultural landscape

The cultural landscape

  • Musically, Nirvana popularized a sound and a DIY aesthetic.
  • Culturally, Nirvana removed the distinction between the underground and mainstream and marked the end to the baby-boomer era.
  • Aesthetically, they spawned “grungy” fashion, while the Nirvana T-shirt - a yellow logo and a smiley face - remains a festival favorite.

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Nevermind at 25: how Nirvana's 1991 album changed the cultural landscape

Nevermind at 25: how Nirvana's 1991 album changed the cultural landscape

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/what-to-listen-to/nevermind-at-25-how-nirvanas-1991-album-changed-the-cultural-lan/

telegraph.co.uk

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Key Ideas

Nirvana

Nirvana was a band from Seattle. The 1991 Reading Festival spoke with awe about the band who played a no-frills set early on the Friday afternoon.

Within weeks they released one of the most influential and best-selling albums of all time. Nevermind has gone on to sell 30 million copies worldwide.

The cultural landscape

  • Musically, Nirvana popularized a sound and a DIY aesthetic.
  • Culturally, Nirvana removed the distinction between the underground and mainstream and marked the end to the baby-boomer era.
  • Aesthetically, they spawned “grungy” fashion, while the Nirvana T-shirt - a yellow logo and a smiley face - remains a festival favorite.

The road to fame

  • Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl, all in their early-to-mid 20s, had left independent label Sub Pop and signed to DGC Records, a subsidiary of major label Geffen Records.
  • Sub Pop was almost entirely responsible for the grunge sound of sludgy and detuned guitars, with darkly neurotic lyrics.
  • Moving to a major was grounds for "public hanging," where any push for commerciality was seen as selling out. But Nirvana wanted to break out and strive for broader recognition.
  • The frame of Nevermind's 12 tracks were recorded in a week. Nevermind joined the central tenents of the grunge sound - crunching guitars and loud vocals - with memorable tunes.
  • In covering the dual bases of noise and melody, Nevermind ensured Nirvana had crossover appeal to young and old, fans of punk and folk alike.
  • "Nevermind" sold a million copies in the US alone. The alternative was now mainstream.

Nevermind’s success

The success of Nevermind album can be partly attributed to Geffen's money and MTV patronage.

"Nevermind" also tapped into a new, less showy way of doing things. People, it seemed, were tired of the classic rock loved by the baby boomer generation. Nevermind gave many bands the confidence to give it a go, even if they lacked the best equipment. It took music back to the garage. Nevermind made misfits feel normal.

Changing the music industry

"Nevermind" is an era-defining album with a timeless appeal.

  • Nevermind spent 302 weeks in the UK to 100.
  • It was number five in 2011 following a 20th-anniversary re-issue.
  • Recent research found it is the third most-streamed album ever, with 122 million global streams.

The grunge look

The look that changed fashion:

  • In 2014, Vogue called Cobain "one of the most influential style icons of our time. His thrift-store look is still everywhere today.
  • Nirvana T-shirts are increasingly worn by teenagers, even though they would struggle to name a single Nirvana song.

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