2. What is grunge? Select one video from the search-terms on the syllabus and reflect on what is being performed. Are there any similarities to Kurt Cobain (if you selected someone other than Nirvana)? Additionally, tell us why you think this type of musical performance was popular? After reading about Cindy Sherman and Sue William’s work do you see any similarities to the work of Kurt Cobain? Refer to both the video and the work of Sherman and Williams. Additionally, how would you categorize this art? Reflect on our semester investigating different cultures…are there any correlations to other artistic expressions?
Simply put, grunge is grotesque. Many grunge artists utilize disturbing imagery and/or lyrics to provoke the audience into questioning social order. For example, the music video to one of Nirvana’s most popular songs, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” shows the band playing in front of a high school pep rally. The whole scene is dimly lit and pretty glum – the cheerleaders are slowly and calmly shaking their pom poms, and the audience just sits and stares. Kurt Cobain evokes a similarly morbid scene during the live MTV Unplugged performance, utilizing star-gazer lilies and purple lighting to create a funeral-like effect. These dark stylistic choices are meant to simultaneously reflect and satirize society as Cobain experienced it.
This is not an isolated phenomenon, however. After reading about artists Cindy Sherman and Sue Williams, there are many similarities to Cobain’s work. Sue Williams creates “tragicomic” pieces based on her experiences with men. She manages to take negative encounters and transform them into beautiful works of art that help give a voice to the many women who have been through similar traumatic experiences. Her work provides commentary on abusive relationships from a seldom-heard perspective. Her somewhat satirical style is analogous to Cobain’s satirical performances. Likewise, Cindy Sherman’s caricature-like “portraits” convey images of putting on a mask in order to fit in with the culture, which is a main theme in Nirvana’s songs. I would categorize this type of art as dark/grotesque satire. Not every piece might have these dark characteristics, but when viewed as a whole entity, the reoccurring themes have dark and disillusioned undertones.
As for other grunge bands, such as Sound Garden or Pearl Jam, there are also many similarities to Nirvana. The images associated with the majority of grunge music are often of a distorted or dystopian reality. For example, Sound Garden’s music video of “Black Hole Sun” shows upper class white people performing mundane yet depraved acts while their facial features are digitally exaggerated. This is a more extreme version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, as I discussed earlier. I think this type of performance was so popular in the 90’s, especially, because it reflected the disillusionment of the community. People were tired of happy-go-lucky disco and pop, so they were subsequently drawn to the cynical sounds and images of grunge music.