Written by: Vincent Nijenhuis
Ah, yes, the band that made indie mainstream. Kurt Cobain is yet another rock icon whose queerness is erased by history. Yet another rock icon to join the 27 club. Yet another rock icon that fans fetishize their death. Yet another rock icon that people fetishize their mental illness and rebrand it as glamour. But unlike so many icons before him, he managed to steal Michael Jackson’s #1 spot on the billboard charts, and officially managed to make the obscure, not just cool, but marketable.
1.Smells Like Teen Spirit(“Nevermind” 1991)
So, it’s almost impossible to talk about the 90s without talking about “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It was the first time rock ‘n’ roll felt disheveled, and an honest representation of angst in the mainstream unlike the bands that went mainstream before them like Metallica and Guns ‘N’ Roses. This was a band embracing angst, and borderline fetishizing isolation and loneliness. Nirvana was a band that let shit hit the fan, and tell everyone “look at the mess you made.”
2. Pennyroyal Tea (“In Utero” 1993)
I am not going to lie; I have no idea what this song is about. This is one of those songs that can be read as anything, and nothing. It could be about illness. It could be about addiction. It could be about isolation. It could be about all these things simultaneously, or something completely different. What can’t be denied is this is Nirvana’s most tightly conducted song they’ve ever released. This song is, dare I say, polished, or as polished as grunge can get. This song doesn’t just let things confess to their ruins; Nirvana creates them for themselves.
3. Come As You Are (“NeverMind” 1991)
The amount of queer people who have came out of the closet, because of this song is a lot. Like, a lot a lot. It’s a song about urgency, and longing, and being both “a friend” and “a known enemy.” It’s easy to read a queer closet into this song. Also, if you are a queer kid who doesn’t identify with Madonna, but needs something, anything to identify with “Come As You Are” was the closest thing we got.
4. Man Who Sold The World
This is technically cheating, considering that this is technically a cover, but it’s beautiful cover. This cover is so good that people went up to Bowie, who sang the original version, and complimented his daring on covering a Nirvana song. When you google “Man Who Sold the World” lyrics, the first lyrics that come up are ‘by’ Nirvana. If a band can make people forget David Bowie sung the original, you know it’s something special.
5. About A Girl (“Bleach” 1989)
Which one is the better version? Unplugged or the original? Does anyone actually care? Whatever the case, this is Nirvana still grasping to establish their sound. Signature slushed, distorted guitar, but sans soft verses and harsh choruses. This definitely isn’t their “self assured” single. (That would be “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”) It’s was a necessary stepping stone to get to the Nirvana/grunge sound we all know as being truly iconic.