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Nirvana

Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl.

It's better to burn out than to fade away.
Kurt Cobain, quoting Neil Young, in his suicide note

A rock band coming from Aberdeen, Washington -- not Seattle, as is commonly assumed, though Seattle is where they first hit it big -- up in the Pacific Northwest, Nirvana became the breakthrough in alternative rock with their smash hit album Nevermind in the early 1990s. The trio of Kurt Cobain (guitar, lead singer, lead songwriter), Krist Novoselic (bass) and Dave Grohl (drums) would become the face of the Grunge movement of the '90s; the group is most well known for the songs "Smells Like Teen Spirit", "Come As You Are", "Heart Shaped Box", and "You Know You're Right". Nirvana was one of the first bands many people of the current generation got into, and thus, their music is often considered to be in the upper echelons of influential rock music. Even after the death of Cobain, the band still continued to remain popular, releasing many compilation albums. After the group split up, drummer Dave Grohl formed the band known as the Foo Fighters, who have gone on to be one of the most respected and successful alternative rock bands in history.


  • Albums released by Nirvana (official studio albums)
    • Bleach (1989)
    • Nevermind (1991)
    • In Utero (1993)
  • There also three official live albums:
    • MTV Unplugged In New York (1994)
    • From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah (1996)
    • Live At Reading (2009)
  • And there are also a few compilations:
    • Incesticide (1992) - a compilation of the B-sides and rarities
    • Singles (1995)
    • Nirvana (2002) - a "one-CD history of the band"
    • With the Lights Out (2004) - the massive box set
    • Sliver: The Best of the Box (2005) - a condensed version of With the Lights Out
    • Icon (2010) - another Greatest Hits Album

Nirvana provides examples of:

  • Album Title Drop: From "Smells Like Teen Spirit," the line "Oh well whatever Nevermind."
    • "Come as You Are," also on Nevermind, actually has the title drop from their previous album, Bleach:

  "Come doused in mud, soaked in bleach. As I want you to be."

  • Alternative Rock
  • Artist Existence Failure: Cobain, who Ate His Gun.
  • Black Sheep Hit: "Aneurysm", the song was only a B Side and later was ranked in third place for best Nirvana song, right under "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Heart Shaped Box".
    • Made all the more impressive since it was the final track on the Smells Like Teen Spirit single and the final track on their 15 song compilation album released in 1992.
  • Bowdlerization The version of In Utero sold in Wal Mart changes the title of "Rape Me" to "Waif Me" and alters the artwork on the back. It's still the same inside, though.
  • Breakup Breakout: While Dave Grohl's next band Foo Fighters is generally acknowledged not to have had as much cultural impact as Nirvana, for him personally, it was a breakout from being virtually anonymous as "just the drummer" in the background to the leader and Face of the Band of one of the most popular, commercially successful and critically acclaimed rock bands of the late 90's and early 21st century.
  • Broken Record: From "Sliver": "Grandma take me home, grandma take me home..." (It repeats this 49 times to depict an annoyed/annoying child.) Below is a list of some other Broken Record songs:
    • From "Dumb", there's "I think I'm Dumb"
    • From "Breed", its "She said"
    • From "School", there's "You're in high school again"
      • That's all that "School" is. "Wouldn't you believe it? It's just like my luck. Wouldn't you believe it? It's just like my luck. Wouldn't you believe it? It's just like my luck. Wouldn't you believe it? It's just like my luck. No recess! No recess! No recess!"
    • From "All Apologies", there's "All in all is all we are"
    • From "Smells Like Teen Spirit", there's "A denial" and "Hello, hello, hello, how low?"
    • From "Aneurysm", there's "Beat me outta me"
    • From "Rape Me", there's "I'm not the only one".
    • From "Heart-Shaped Box", there's "Forever in debt to your priceless advice"
    • From "You Know You're Right", there's, well, "You know you're right"
    • The whole of the lyrics of "Stain".
  • Celebrity Is Overrated: Kurt stated his daily life hadn't changed much with fame. Also, fame didn't help at all with mental issues.
  • Censored Title: On some copies of In Utero, "Rape Me" was titled "Waif Me".
  • Concept Album: While not an outright one, all the songs on Nevermind tend to follow the general themes of teenage sexuality, loneliness, the madness that results from rejection, or an obssesion over a girl
    • Again while not an outright one, In Utero is mostly about Cobain's Creator Breakdown and dealing with his new found fame.
  • Contemptible Cover: Nevermind's classic "naked baby swimming after a dollar bill".
  • Cover Version: Besides the ones below, some others were recorded live (or as demos) and have surfaced on compilations, B-sides and EPs (mostly With the Lights Out) -- "Heartbreaker" and "Moby Dick" by Led Zeppelin, "They Hung Him on a Cross", "Grey Goose" and "Ain't It a Shame", also by Leadbelly, "Here She Comes Now" by The Velvet Underground, "D-7" and "Return of the Rat" by The Wipers, "Seasons in the Sun" by Terry Jacks, "Do You Love Me?" by Kiss, "The Money Will Roll Right In" by Fang, and "The End" by The Doors.
  • Creator Breakdown: In Utero.
  • Dead Artists Are Better
  • Deadpan Snarker: Kurt has moments of this on MTV Unplugged in New York, crossed with Self-Deprecation. For example: before playing "The Man Who Sold the World", he says I guarantee you I will screw this song up. And I know exactly which part, to which someone in the background (probably Dave) snarks Yeah, like he only screws up one part. Then, at the end of the song, I didn't screw it up, did I? But here's another one I could screw up.
    • Also in the same album, before playing About A Girl, he states "This song is off our first album; most people don't own it."
    • Even Krist has moments of this. When asked what is your favorite Nirvana song he replied something along the lines of Smells Like Teen Spirit, because "it bought my first house."
  • Filk Song: "Scentless Apprentice" was based on the novel Perfume.
  • Garage Band: They started out this way.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: At rehearsals for the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, Nirvana announced to the MTV executives that they were going to play their brand new song; it just so happened that the song was "Rape Me". MTV refused to let them play the song, even threatening to throw Nirvana off the show if they so much as even tried to play the song on the air. What did Nirvana do? They played "Lithium" -- but not before Kurt played the opening riff of "Rape Me" at the start of their on-air performance.
  • Grunge: The poster boys of the genre.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Surprisingly for an early 90's band, but it pops up in "All Apologies":

 What else should I say?

Everyone is gay

    • Though there are suggestions that Kurt meant to say the modern meaning of the word.
    • Kurt was an open bisexual who spoke constantly about the evils of homophobia and general bigotry through his lyrics and interviews. This Troper has it in her mind that "everyone is gay" was making an intentionally shocking comparison between human beings who enjoy the company of the same sex and human beings who don't.
  • Hidden Track: On some copies of Nevermind, "Endless, Nameless".
  • I Don't Know Mortal Kombat: Krist fumbled when playing In Bloom on Rock Band 2.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: "Rape Me"; arguably Incesticide.
  • In the Style Of: Cobain once stated that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was deliberate attempt to write a Pixies song.
    • "About a Girl" was his crack at an early era Beatles tune, and more generally, he wanted In Utero to be his Sergeant Pepper's.
  • Loudness War: The recent remaster of Nevermind is completely ruined by this.
    • As is the box set With The Lights Out. Luckily, most of the songs had previously been bootlegged and so the bootlegged versions don't suffer from this issue.
  • Lyrical Cold Open : "Pennyroyal Tea"
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Sliver", "Polly", and arguably "You Know You're Right".
  • Metal Scream: The number of songs in which Cobain doesn't start yelling the lyrics (or just screams, such as "Love Buzz") is really small.
  • Misaimed Fandom: The liner notes of Incesticide have Kurt complaining that "Polly" was sung by actual rapists.
  • Mis Blamed: Courtney didn't exactly help Kurt's state of mind, but she wasn't solely responsible for getting him hooked on heroin; that was mostly down to Kurt's "self-medicating" for the stomach problems he had suffered for most of his life. The Charles Cross biography suggests, however, that it was the reverse -- it was Kurt who got Courtney back onto heroin.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: About a 5 or 6. Their softer stuff is usually a 2 or 3. On the other hand, "Endless, Nameless" is an 8, and might even go up to 9 if not for the quiet parts.
  • Name's the Same: "Nirvana" was also the name of a psychedelic band formed in the UK in The Sixties. The elder Nirvana sued over the name and settled out of court, to the effect that both groups were allowed to continue using the name. The earlier band even recorded a cover of "Lithium", and intended to record an entire album of Cobain's material before his death put the kibosh on it.
  • New Sound Album: MTV Unplugged in New York is perhaps the most obvious example for being acoustic; it was also Nirvana's first live album, and nearly half of the songs performed during the show were covers. Their three main studio albums also have distinct, albeit slightly more subtle, differences.
  • Non-Appearing Title: Considering songs such as "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle", perfectly justifiable.
  • Nose Yodeling
  • Popcultural Osmosis: Nirvana are much more popular and well-known than many bands who inspired them, e. g. The Melvins, Black Flag, Celtic Frost and The Pixies.
  • Precision F-Strike: From Lounge Act: " 'til it's fucking gone."
  • Promoted Fanboy: Cobain always made sure to plug his favorite bands in interviews and several of them (Meat Puppets, The Melvins, The Vaselines and Shonen Knife, just to name a few) got major label record deals just because Cobain said he liked them. Nirvana also got a record contract thanks to the support of Sonic Youth, a band they were all big fans of and quickly befriended afterwards.
  • Pun-Based Title: Hormoaning, Incesticide.
  • Rape as Drama: "Polly". They later did "Rape Me", which according to Kurt is about "sort of poetic justice, where a guy rapes a girl, ends up in jail, and gets raped there."
  • Refuge in Audacity: Cobain screams "God is Gay" at the end of Stay Away. They probably avoided controversy because nobody could understand what Cobain was screaming.
  • Retraux: For the "In Bloom" video, the band dressed up as a 1950s pop group. The video was shot with old Kinescope cameras.
  • Rock Trio
  • Serious Business: Kurt Cobain has been posthumously deemed a rock god; the house where he died in Seattle, as well as several other former residences throughout Washington, have come to be considered holy ground by his fans, and the main road leading into his hometown of Aberdeen bears a welcome sign reading "Come As You Are" (despite the fact Kurt hated the town).
    • Strongly related is fan reaction to a move Activision made with Guitar Hero 5, where you could play as Cobain and have him sing any song in the game. Not only did Courtney Love sue, and the surviving members of Nirvana declare they wouldn't work with Activision ever again, but the fans went nuts. This was in spite of Activision having done this numerous times before to no complaint from artists and -- at best -- mild grudging from fans.
      • Love lost the lawsuit because she gave Activision the go-ahead in the first place by signing the contract stating that they could use his image for the game (meaning the lawsuit was a lost cause from the beginning).
    • Kurt has also become canonized as a dour, tragic figure. He was, most of the time (especially when he wasn't smacked up on heroin), a smart, goofy music nerd with a wicked sense of humor.
  • Short Lived Big Impact: He helped define the image of rock the late 80's and early 90's, and set the stage for the rock scene in the next decade. He died at age 27.
  • Shout-Out: The song "Scentless Apprentice" is inspired by Patrick Süskind's novel Perfume.
    • Even Kurt's suicide note, as quoted above, was a shoutout to the godfather of grunge, Neil Young.
  • Smoking Is Cool
  • Springtime for Hitler: In Utero was Kurt's attempt to alienate their newfound fandom by making a noisy rock record; it became another big hit, instead.
  • Stylistic Suck: The crows in the video for "Heart-Shaped Box".
  • Three Chords and the Truth: Pretty much ran off this trope. Well, maybe it was more like Four Chords And The Truth. Or Four Chords And The Truth In Drop D Tuning. Anyway...
  • Throw It In: While recording Bleach, the band had been experimenting with Drop D tuning. Krist Novoselic accidentally left his bass in Drop D before recording "Blew", and this was the take that was used for the album because it just sounded cooler.
    • Nevermind has two mistakes that were left in: on "Polly", Kurt accidentally starts the "Polly says" verse too early, pauses, and then re-starts on the right spot. This became a sort of Ascended Glitch, even appearing on the faster "(New Wave) Polly" version from Incesticide. During double-tracking for "Come As You Are", he similarly sang "And I don't have a gun" before the last "memoria, memoria" section was over, but saved the mistake.
  • Title-Only Chorus: Something In The Way.
  • The Unintelligible: Kurt Cobain allowed Weird Al to parody "Smells Like Teen Spirit" because it would be about the Indecipherable Lyrics due to Kurt's singing.
  • Unplugged Version: Nirvana's performance on MTV Unplugged contains several of these. Pretty much any pop culture TV show featuring the band will feature the clip of Cobain singing "All in all is all we are" from the Unplugged Version of "All Apologies."
    • Nevermind also has two unplugged songs, "Polly" (which, in an inversion, they also played electrically as "(New Wave) Polly") and "Something in the Way".
  • Wham! Line: Kurt Cobain shows off his talents as a lyricist with the first two lines of "Polly".

 Polly wants a cracker

Think I should get off her first

  • Word Salad Lyrics: Kurt himself lampshaded this in "On a Plain", with the line What the hell am I trying to say?. Then again, that is a song about writer's block...
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