Nirvana accidentally kickstarted an enduring cultural movement when they released Nevermind. Today, 20 years after its release, we are constantly reminded of the catalyst it really was. From September 24, 1991 on, almost every artist that considered themselves "alternative" or experimental can be traced back to this album's wild, unexpected success. The band that smashed convention and threw all the rules into the air -- only to be hit square on the forehead by success -- inspired a generation to start doing things its way.
With a few power chords, infectious hooks and a decibel overdose, kids realized that they didn't have to listen to Extreme, C&C Music Factory or Vanilla Ice anymore. Nevermind created a demand for sincere and powerful music. Kids started digging in the vaults and discovering all kinds of punk, new wave and independent bands. Labels started grabbing these bands by the dozen, trying to supply the consumers with the next Nirvana.
With Nirvana propping the door open, bands like the Breeders and Sonic Youth snuck onto mainstream radio rotation for a little more than the mandated 15 minutes. Grunge was an appropriate label for their look and sound. But, as far as Nirvana was concerned they were a punk band, they defined punk rock as freedom, not mohawks and bondage pants.
Whatever you call it, most of us called it alternative. Bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day and Weezer wouldn't be selling millions of albums had Nevermind never come out. The Beastie Boys picked up their guitars again, built their own studio and started sporting thrift store tees; they brought some kids into the world of actual hip-hop. Suburban kids started finding out about groups like Wu-Tang Clan on their new mission to find the real thing.
Nine Inch Nails' industrial blasts, Faith No More's crazy people music and Aphex Twin's abrasive electronic beats received regular rotation on MTV in the next few years. Those bands would have never been seen by such a large audience without Nirvana.
We know that many of these bands existed before Nirvana and many would've existed without them. But, just as the shitty musical climate of the late '80s and early '90s set the stage for the Nevermind, Nirvana made millions of music fans want more from their music.
The public's desire for originality quickly spread into fashion. Not to be outsold by Goodwill, places like the Gap started selling grunge-themed clothes. Without this record, places like Urban Outfitters or Hot Topic would definitely not be around today. Today's hipsters are wearing the kind of stuff Kurt Cobain would throw on before getting on stage, except the jeans are skinnier now.
The Alternative bug infected movies and TV, and all of a sudden The Jon Stewart Show and The State were the funniest things on TV. Jon Stewart's cynicism was completely in line with the '90s fuck-the-mainstream mentality. Jon Stewart is still holding it down on The Daily Show; and, The State's creators are still around today writing and directing stuff like Role Models, Reno 911 and Herbie: Fully Loaded.
We're still talking about it now, because it is still a great record today. It always hits hard and even if we can't understand the lyrics, we end up singing along. The songs always sound fresh, new and exciting. Hopefully, the 20th anniversary re-issue will keep inspiring artists to make powerful, primal and liberating material. The record labels and music fans are still looking for the next Nirvana.
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