"I'm taking our music to the next level - Guitar Rock Utilizing Nihilist Grunge Energy - or, as I call it, GRUNGE!"
Homer Simpson, The Simpsons

"What the fuck is grunge?"

Primary Stylistic Influences:
Secondary Stylistic Influences:

Grunge is a form of Alternative Rock. A very popular one, at that. So popular that it made Alternative Rock more popular. Without this genre the vast majority of us wouldn't know the Alternative Rock bands we listen to today, since Grunge broke it out of its niche status and into the public eye. For good or bad, the vast majority of us wouldn't know most of the bands we take for granted without it.

Grunge itself is widely believed to have started in Seattle, and is sometimes referred to as "the Seattle sound" by nobody in particular, even though some bands weren't actually from there. Grunge was created by two groups — Malfunkshun and Green River — and started off underground, which was the philosophy of the music. As a backlash against Hair Metal, which was big at the time (the mid-'80s), Grunge artists didn't care much for theatrics or their appearance, resulting in that trademark messy look characterized by flannel shirts (though several prominent acts, namely Alice in Chains and Mother Love Bone, started out as glam acts; the former later cast off all traces aside from a noticeable metallic edge, while the latter never really dropped it and was still not a million miles from something like Cinderella or Love/Hate when Apple posthumously dropped).

The music itself could be described as a strange combination of sludge metal and Alternative Rock with even more influences from Hardcore Punk (Black Flag's sludgier, slower material from 1984 on was frequently cited as an influence). The guitars have heavy distortion and plenty of feedback (usually), songs often consist of both loud and soft sections, and the lyrics are often pretty personal, influencing lots of more angsty genres such as Nu Metal and modern emo bands. The vocals range from Perishing Alt Rock Voice to Yarling, and all stops in between. However, these were among the few traits that most of the acts had in common; while Nirvana, Melvins, Mudhoney, and Tad could certainly be said to have lived up to most of those supposed hallmarks, they had little to do with Pearl Jam's arena rock stylings, Alice in Chains' dark, dirty, glam-tinged dirges, Soundgarden's mix of 70s hard rock spectacle with the grit and fuck-you attitude of noise rock, Mother Love Bone's sleazy, punkish blues rock, and Screaming Trees' psychedelic leanings. In short, while there was something resembling a basic skeleton of grunge, there wasn't really anything resembling a codified style and the bands that did sound alike often did so out of coincidence or common influences.

So, Grunge started off underground, but of course something happened. What was this "something", you may ask?


Nirvana, a Seattle (by way of Aberdeen and Olympia) Grunge band fronted by Kurt Cobain, unexpectedly made it big in 1991 with their album Nevermind, containing the famed hit single "Smells Like Teen Spirit", which, in typical "most famous song" fashion, was shunned by Cobain. With Nirvana's success, other grunge bands, such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, also made it pretty big, and less-popular groups (namely Mudhoney, Melvins, Screaming Trees, and Tad) also had their moments in the mainstream spotlight. Against their will. As for punk before it, being big and famous went against Grunge's philosophy, and many of the bands tried to avoid fame. Cobain himself was pretty depressed over this, as well as many other things, including his heroin addiction. This whole depression thing culminated in Cobain's shotgun suicide in 1994 (although some conspiracy theorists still maintain that he was murdered).

Then Nirvana disbanded, Soundgarden released their most famous song ("Black Hole Sun"), and Grunge began to fade in the shadow of Britney Spears and a new generation of Millennial techno-geeks inspired by the Britpop revolution which was historically hostile to Grunge. Another blow was dealt to Grunge nearly a decade after Cobain's suicide when Layne Staley, lead singer of Alice in Chains, died of a heroin overdose — on the approximate date of Cobain's death note , which is cause for concern and even more paranoid conspiracy theories. Courtney Love did it!

So, there you have it. The strange story of Grunge.

Archetypal of The '90s. For more information see articles like this one.

The "signature look" of Grunge, much to the distress of fashion designers everywhere, was loose-fitting jeans and a t-shirt with an open flannel shirt over it. This had been a "burnout" look among poorer teens for years — the members of grunge bands only wearing such clothes because it was literally the only warm clothing they could afford when they were struggling — and was now promoted to "cool" kids.

Although Grunge's time is over, the genre is still viewed as a landmark one due to its honesty and creative musicianship (especially compared to what it mutated into), and it still has a fanbase in certain corners, and the teens of the nineties are starting to look back upon it with nostalgia. Some of the bands have also had a significant influence on Doom Metal subgenres such as Stoner Metal and Sludge, which could be seen as a Spiritual Successor of sorts.

Not to be confused with PostGrunge, which, beyond being based around downtuned guitar, often has very little in common.

Bands typically categorised as Grunge include: