Grunge Blog Post

After reviewing the work of Sue Williams and Cindy Sherman, I have identified some similarities with the work of Kurt Cobain and other artists from the search terms list. The similarity I found most compelling was their use of male figures to convey feminist ideas. In the past, many feminine statements seem to have been made by applying masculine characteristics to a female body, whereas these artists use a male body with female characteristics to convey a similar message. For instance, Sherman’s untitled #250 has a male head accompanied by female reproductive features in a distinctly unappealing fashion. I think this represents what grunge really is: taboo, gross, and intentionally unappealing. Williams takes a more traditional approach, using female bodies, but still uses the grotesque imagery in her art. For instance, irresistible uses a beaten female body with smeared make-up and short hair as a medium for displaying phrases that typically accompany abuse by males. Cobain, being male himself, takes an approach similar to Sherman by displaying himself in feminine adornments while still possessing distinctly male traits such as facial hair. This has, in many cases, an even stronger effect than a male-like female figure in dispelling the myth of the “perfect” cookie-cutter female figure. Other artists I explored employed similar imagery in their music videos, such as Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun. This video employs overdone, campy imagery especially surrounding gender and societal norms in the setting of American suburbs. This music video was probably very popular because of the sensational imagery and just because the music is plain good, not to mention that the subject matter was and is very popular with young people. I think it is a tricky and often harmful thing to categorize art, but I guess this can be through of as “post-industrial” artwork. This clearly follows the industrial music we just studied, but has departed in the fact that it is no longer “anti-music” and has fewer synthetic elements. The music is much easier to listen to and even possesses some blues elements with call and response techniques and imperfect vocal tones.


Images: JPG





Grunge, Kurt Cobain, & Sonic Youth


a shot of Sonic Youth playing at CBGB in New York, c. 2006

  1. What is grunge?
    • grunge seems to me like it is punk, in the sense that it does not care for the ideology of technical, authentic rock and roll. Those kids just started playing music however they felt like it, and it became a movement. Only I guess with grunge, you have more distortion, more dirt, a different key. Dr. Zeiner talks about the “grotesque” as being a defining feature of grunge. Artists, male and female alike, put a lot of personal emotion in their music, which was not exactly characteristic of punk.
  2. Select a video and reflect on what is being performed. Compare it to the work of Kurt Cobain. Why was this kind of performance popular?
    • The video 100% by Sonic Youth shows everyday kids, in a house party during the day, skateboarders on the streets, and they all look very young, like teenagers. Towards the end of the song it gets harder, more rough and disorganized, with screeching guitar sounds. The song Dirty Boots has a similar feel, getting louder and rougher as it goes on. The video is similar as well, except the people are in a dark club with the band playing on a stage, and there is more of a narrative. It is a staged and produced (though with very little production value, in my opinion, part of its charm) portrayal of this youth culture, going out to listen to live music, push some people around, maybe meet a cute girl or guy. I think this kind of art is popular because it is so regular, it is relatable, and it makes you want to get out and do some headbanging, or just hang out with your friends and enjoy the liveness of it.
    • This is definitely similar to Kurt Cobain’s videos. In Smells Like Teen Spirit, he performs in a dirty sweaty school gym. Kids are standing up in the bleachers, pushing each other around, headbanging. This is that literal grunge feel.

Kurt Cobain and Nirvana’s Unplugged


If I were to describe Kurt Cobain and Nirvana to someone who hadn’t heard of them, I’d start with terms like “grunge, rock, hard, and agressive,” but they were much more than that.  I agree with the assertion made in the video “kurt cobain and the female grotesque” by Linnea Zeiner.  Kurt Cobain was an active feminist, but not in the normal sense of the world.  He was radical and chaotic, but with good intentions.  He purposefully dressed in ways that confused the two accepted genders and embraced his feminine side, which he identified more with.  He tried to show that as time is progressing and humanity is evolving women should be given a better share of the world and should be able to protect and provide for themselves without relying on Men.

I do also believe that “Unplugged,” a show on MTV, was culturally significant because it brought many popular artists into a more wholesome and contained world to play their music, usually their hit songs.  This gave a new layer to each band that appeared on the show, and focused more on their connection with the small audience.  Unlike Nirvana’s performance on “Unplugged,” most artists simply played their biggest hits on acoustic.  Even with this simple formula, “Unplugged” was able to show that while some bands change their sound to appeal to the mainstream, they can still put on a personal show at a small location.


Zeiner, Linnea. “kurt cobain and the female grotesque.”

What is grunge?

The dictionary defines grunge as “dirt; filth; rubbish” and “something of inferior quality; trash.” The word originated sometime around 1960-1965, “perhaps reflecting grime and sludge; sense “grind” perhaps by association with drudge” (dictionary). Those definitions are representative of the alternative rock genre also known as grunge.

Grunge was used to describe the musics sound: dirty, filthy, distortion, fuzz, etc. The style of clothes worn by grunge musicians reflected an everyday, lazy, untidy look.


“24,900 Miles per Hour” by 7 Year Bitch reflects the trash, unkept, lazy vibe of grunge music in just the opening lines of the song:

She came down the staircase
Climbed into a dumpster
She grabbed an index card and she taped it to her forehead and it read
Poor white trash
She grabbed a gun, put it to her heart and pulled the trigger
Now she’s dead

The song also  reminds me of Nirvana’s song “Lithium” because of the shared fascination of one hearing voices in their head.

7 Year Bitch: “It’s just a thought inside my head Those little voices, they’re talkin’ to me.”

Nirvana: “I’m so happy ’cause today I’ve found my friends, They’re in my head.”

Grunge performances became popular because they were an expression of self-loathing, apathy, death, sadness, and love…. all at once. It was honest. It was depressing. But it was also blissful because it was music people related to.

. . .

To someone who had never heard of Nirvana or Kurt Cobain before, I would describe Kurt Cobain as the king of grunge. He was a depressed soul who expressed his misery through his style and music. It seemed as if his one true desire was to attain peace, a state of Nirvana (as the name of his band indicated).

Cobain certainly demonstrated his feminism through grotesque expressions in his music. Cobain sometimes wore makeup during performances, he had a fascination for reproduction, and he even declared his mistrust in American masculinity.

“I definitely feel closer to the feminine side of the human being than I do the male, or the American idea of what the male is supposed to be” –Kurt Cobain.

Unplugged & finally understood?


Grunge is a fascinating genre that creates a specific mood and feel like no other type of music does that I’ve heard. Much like the industrial sounds of the late 80’s, I think that the core of grunge and it’s rise in popularity can be found in the general attitudes of young people during that time. As the economy was slowing down and outlooks didn’t look so bright for the newly graduated students that grew up viewing the wealth and prosperity of the 80’s, I think grunge was an expression of that feeling of frustration in the most gloomy part of the country – the Northwest. In combination with the dissatisfaction over the economy, I think other forms of anger and annoyance found themselves being expressed through grunge. Most notably, annoyance with sounds of the 80’s which many began to feel were over-edited and staged, as well as other more general dissatisfactions with society, such as Kurt Cobain’s irritation with the traditional male figure in America. I agree with the argument in the video, and was surprised to learn of Cobain’s blatant critiques of established masculine roles in his music. After watching Nirvana’s Unplugged, I found myself relating it to the argument about Cobain’s feminism because I thought that the Unplugged setting was a more feminine version of Nirvana’s music. Without the screaming electric guitar, or the booming speakers and massive crowds, Nirvana’s music took on a softer, more intimate feel. Despite Cobain’s messaging and artwork expressing his standpoints on feminism rather directly, the sound of Nirvana in concert or on their records comes of to me as rather masculine, which may have blurred the message. I thought if there was one setting where some of Cobain’s critiques could be understood and absorbed in a more commoditized setting, it was the Unplugged concert. I think this was important for Cobain and Nirvana at the time, and was an interesting example of how altering a setting for an artistic or musical performance can change so much about it.

Progression of Nine Inch Nails

Earlier work of the Nine Inch Nails, compared to the group’s later works, was more experimentation heavy. However, as they progressed in their music career, the works of Nine Inch Nails became more electronic music heavy. For example, from their first album released in 1989, “Pretty Hate Machine” is a song titled “The Only Time”. Then in one of their most recent albums is “Hesitation Marks” is a song titled “While I’m Still Here”. After comparing these two songs, I can definitely see that the songs contain elements of both electronic music and experimentation as Woods had explained. However, it seems that over time this industrial music group has shifted to more of a electronic music heavy style. In fact, the song mentioned in from their recent album, “While I’m Still Here,” has some elements similar to “Wall Fuck,” a song by an electronic dance music (EDM) artist, Flume.

Despite the slight shift of style for Nine Inch Nails, I think they could still be considered as industrial. As I had mentioned in a previous discussion, music genres often change over time. For example, what is now considered as pop 30 years ago is much different from what pop is considered now. This being said, this could definitely apply to industrial music; the genre could have been defined as electronic music and experimentation in the past, but could have changed over time. Thus, making Nine Inch Nails a group which is still in the scope of Industrial Music. On the other hand, because I do not listen to industrial music, I could be completely wrong. However, I still stay strong to the idea that the definition of certain music genres can be fluid and thus change over time.

Ktaftwerk, a visual preformace

When listening to Kraftwerk my first impression is robotic, them maybe alien or futurist.  The lines between electronic and industrial are unclear, but Kraftwerk seems to lean towards more electronic.

I know when I was listening I did not know what to expect, now that could be because I have never been exposed to the genre, but it could also be the “shock tactics” referenced by Woods.  I was caught off guard.  I listened to their live performance of RADIOACTIVE and I did not know how to react to the introduction, I was almost uncomfortable, but also curious.

A big part of the music is live, it the visual representations that go along with the music.  Sometimes it feels like the music is coming from the visuals, not the musicians themselves.  The lighting coming from above, how the group is arranged on stage, and the images that are portrayed on the screen the screen behind them.  In a way, it almost reminded me of MTV, just how visual the music is, you can not just hear it, you can see it too.