American rock band Nirvana released the critically acclaimed single “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic formed Nirvana in 1987. After a succession of drummers they recruited Dave Grohl in 1990, with whom they signed to DGC Records and soon began recording the album Nevermind. Cobain was initially reluctant to include “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as he was reportedly concerned that it sounded too similar to songs by the Pixies, a band whose music he had long admired and attempted to emulate. However, he was eventually persuaded by the other band members and producer Butch Vig.
The song title was inspired by graffiti scrawled on Cobain’s wall by Kathleen Hanna, singer with feminist punk band Bikini Kill. The message, ‘Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was a reference to how the Nirvana frontman had been marked by his girlfriend’s deodorant, the popular Teen Spirit brand produced by Mennen.
When Cobain shared the main guitar riff and chorus melody with the rest of the band, Novoselic is said to have described it as ‘ridiculous’. Despite such blunt criticism, the band played the riff repeatedly and, after an hour and a half of experimentation, they had agreed to slow down the tempo while Grohl added his iconic drum intro. A rough demo recording was sent to their producer, who immediately heard the song’s potential.
The single was released to radio on 27 August, and to the public on 10 September. Intended to consolidate and build Nirvana’s core following, neither DGC Records nor the band members themselves expected the single to take off in the way it did. The music video took MTV by storm and within weeks, it had catapulted alternative rock and the grunge genre into the mainstream.