Music and Culture
The 90s was a decade of music, socio-cultural upheavals, and political chaos intertwined together in a decade of radical change. Changes during the decade were mainly attributed to the social concerns from all walks of life; the gulf war, degredation of minority groups, the coporate take over of the music, and most importantly, the rise of generation X; youth angst toward the strangling adult authority. The rise of liberty in the mass media industry was also a contributing factor, particularly Music Television (MTV), whose main target audience was the youth.
The rise of grunge on main stream popularity during the early 90s was indeed a very notable phenomenon. The musical style of what appears to be nothing but noise and feedbacks caught the attention of the youth who were weary of the glamorous and/or unauthentic sound of 80s rock bands and artists. It was blatant that the young generation long for change in musical style and expression of emotion. In a musical perspective, grunge uses tempo, rhythm, and key tuning considered to be unorthodox during the time. Lyrically, grunge complemented the angst oriented emotion of the youth over the world (Kitts, Tolinski, & Steinblatt, 1).
The 90s was literally the dawn of the new millenium, as such, people started to make changes through different means such as peaceful demonstrations on public areas and radical, unconventional fashion statements. Several issues like sexism and oppression of the youth became the motivations for several bands to conform to the rising grunge movement (Koskoff, 359). The release of Nirvana’s first major label studio album Nevermind marked the beginning of a new era, grunge music has found its following in massive proportions, and Nirvana lead singer was instantly the spokesperson for the entire Generation X (Kitts, Tolinski, & Steinblatt, 1).
Nirvana was a Seattle based grunge band who broke the mainstream barriers with their album Nevermind. The trio lead by a screaching and almost irritating guitaar player/vocalist is backed by a rhythm section of a bassist and a drummer were the perfect characters for an unlikely success story (Azzerad, 57). The musical style of Nirvana is a mixture of punk and heavy metal, however, and although Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain drew his influence from punk, in terms of song writing, Nirvana’s songs were Never politically motivated nor inclined as punk was (Azzerad, 168).
Singer/Songwriter Kurt Cobain always wrote lyrics based on personal experiences, it varied from romantic relationships, to the effects heroin on him. There were also notable songs in which Cobain expressed hatre for himself and other people (Azzerad, 57). Cobain also arranged unusual chord patterns for most of Nirvana songs in the Nevermind album in order to ahieve a sound that he dubbed as the “San Francisco Bay Rollers assulted by Black Sabbath” (Kitts, Tolinski, & Steinblatt, 1). In the band’s last studio effort, In Utero, Cobain once again expressed his personal feelings through the songs, particularly on his deranged youth, unwanted popularity, and his father’s failure to become a compassionate parent (Cobain, 225-226).
In a different, note, the height of Nirvana’s mainstream popularity reflected the times of teen angst and anxiety, a time when adults tend to impose rules that would hinder the 90s to become the reincarnation of the 70s. However, the younger Americans did not seem to enjoy society’s supposed good grooming policies. Adolescents felt they were bound by senseless laws that did not seem to contribute anything to life, as such, Cobain’s lyrics and music relieved the teenage population of the oppressing nature of adult authority.
Amassing the glory of one of grunge’s essential bands, Pearl Jam reached the pinnacle of commercial success in the early 90s with their debut album 10. Though the band’s musical genre is similar to that of Nirvana, Pearl Jam has a different musical style which is a fusion of classic rock and punk (Buckley & Buckley, 777). Pearl Jam’s concoction meanwhile is a mixture of guitar licks from 70s rock and the poetry of 80s punk,which brings out the angst. Songs with teen angst messages were prevalent such as Jeremy which vocalist Eddie Vedder recalls as taken from a news article about a 16-year-old high school student who shot himself with a .357 Magnum in front of his entire english class.
From their distinct style on the first studio album, the band has diversified its music in subsequent albums (Buckley & Buckley, 778). The band’s style cannot be categorized for there are notable changes such as the second album’s punk orientation. However, the extreme manner of singing by vocalist Eddie Vedder arouses a distinct emotion of angst in the lyrics of the band’s songs like the track “Daughter”.
Pearl Jam has garnered criticism since their dabut, fellow grunge musician Kurt Cobain commented that the band are nothing more than corporate sell-outs abusing the hype of the alternative rock explosiion (Buckley & Buckley, 778). However, the band has developed an identity over the course of their musical career, which is to stray away from the standard practices of career musicians like production of music videos. Due to their unconventional practices, the Rock music magazine rolling stone has commented that the band has spent much of its musical career tearting its own fame apart.
The grunge revolution of the early nineties was not simply a revolution of musicians but a revolution of the youth as well. Though most bands broke through the music industry without the intention of fueling youth emotions, the phenomenon still took place. In any case, grunge was not a rebellion but rather more of an expression of oppressed feelings and childhood.
Azerrad, Michael. Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, New York: Doubleday, 1994.
Buckley, Peter, & Jonathan Buckley. The Rough Guide to Rock. New York: The Guilford Press.
Cobain, Kurt. Journals, Riverhead Hardcover, 1 (2002): 225-226.
Kitts, Jeff., Tolinski, Brad., & Harold Steinblett. Guitar World Presents Nirvana and the Grunge Revolution. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corporation, 1998.
Koskoff, Ellen. Music Cultures in the United States: An Introduction. New York: Routledge.
Music Flash Web-Site. 15 May 2008 <http://www.musicflash.net/>.
Underground Online Networks Inc. 15 May 2008 <http://www.aahceleb.com/pics/>.