Grunge lives on with re-emerging influences on modern culture

Grunge lives on with re-emerging influences on modern culture

A Story by Kat Wentzell

It's like an anti-pop genre.


Threadbare flannels and unwashed hair.  Combative bass and forceful drums.  Haphazard guitars and strained voices caterwauling rebellious expressions.  These signature symbols of the once-famous “grunge” genre are becoming visible again in modern music and pop culture.

Grunge music first appeared in the mid-1980s in Seattle, Washington, and flourished throughout the 90s.  Bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam are accredited with pioneering this genre.

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1992, Jack Endino, a Seattle-native producer best known for his work on albums for grunge bands Mudhoney and Nirvana, defined grunge as “seventies, slowed-down punk music.”

Ray Mulvaney, a singer/songwriter attending Stockton University, described grunge as “moody, distorted rock that often embodies agonizing emotion.”

When grunge bands first emerged, they were perceived as raw and exciting, almost polar opposites in style from the 80s glam metal hair bands they pushed from the media spotlight. 

“I think a lot of grunge comes from a place of poetic introspection and intelligence, which was different from most of the pop, rock, and metal that preceded it,” said Kahlil Gunther, a music teacher and director at Woodstown High School.  “It was almost like the folk music of rock.  It had a certain characteristic sound, of course, but it was more about the feel and the expression than about the specific sound.  Young musicians [at the time] were hungry for this kind of music and instantly latched onto it, and helped it grow in popularity on a truly grassroots level.” 

Today, the grunge genre exists as a faint, lingering spark of the once-prolific flame that thrived twenty years ago.  Many current artists recycle grunge ideals and fashion trends.

“I’d say the better majority of rock music is influenced by grunge music,” said Jacob Doskeland, a frequent concertgoer from Delaware. “For example, a lot of Green Day songs are about how terrible the government is.  Nirvana is known for doing that.”

Alternative rock band Green Day is notorious for being political; one of its most famous songs, “Holiday,” criticizes former president George W. Bush Jr’s performance in office.  Other groups like Rage Against the Machine and Rise Against also show strong grunge roots with anti-establishment messages in their lyrics.    

“Grunge is a rebellious genre,” said Doskeland. “It inspires people to go against the norm; it’s like an anti-pop genre.  Grunge music makes us more aware of what is going on in our country and our world, and tries to give us the courage to do something about it.”      

Contemporary fashion has also taken a few pages from the grunge book.  Ripped and whitewashed jeans, flannels, and “skater-style” footwear have been walking the runways and successfully selling out of stores once again.

“Aeropostale has different "brands" in the store, such as Tokyo Darling, which is more on the "grunge" side of fashion,” said Kylie Larrabee, a North Carolina store manager. “Here lately I've been seeing more people wearing 90's styles.  I see it a lot more than a few years ago.”

Big names like Calvin Klein have also been embracing grunge culture and even re-introducing it to the catwalk.  His entire Spring 2016 collection was complete with styles influenced by the 90s.

As a genre, grunge will most likely remain extinct; there is not a demand for a revival.  Despite this, its legacy continues to be a source of inspiration.

“I feel that grunge is similar to disco in that you had to live it to truly experience it,” said Mulvaney. “I don't think that bringing it back would be quite the same.”

© 2017 Kat Wentzell

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Added on February 20, 2017
Last Updated on February 28, 2017
Tags: nonfiction, music, grunge, grunge music, nirvana, pop culture, 90s


Kat Wentzell
Kat Wentzell

Galloway, NJ

♡ my name is kat. i am 19 years old. i'm a journalist for unclear magazine. here are my stories. ♡ more..