The Best of 1990’s Grunge Alternative Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A look back at the best grunge and alternative music of the 1990’s.

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The music of the 1990s was characterized by a number of different genres and subgenres, including Alternative Rock, Grunge, Britpop, Hip Hop, and R&B. Each of these genres had a number of different subgenres that developed during the decade.

Alternative Rock developed out of the Punk Rock movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The original Alternative Rock bands were from the United States and United Kingdom, but the genre soon spread to other countries. The most popular Alternative Rock bands of the 1990s were Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Stone Temple Pilots.

Grunge was a subgenre of Alternative Rock that developed in Seattle, Washington in the early 1990s. Grunge music was characterized by its raw, distorted sound and its lyrics about depression, angst, and alienation. The most popular Grunge bands of the 1990s were Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains.

Britpop was a subgenre of Alternative Rock that developed in the United Kingdom in the mid-1990s. Britpop bands were influenced by British Invasion bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The most popular Britpop bands of the 1990s were Oasis, Blur, Pulp, and Suede.

Hip Hop developed in New York City in the 1970s. Hip Hop is a genre of music that is characterized by its rhyming lyrics and its use of sampling (taking pieces of other songs and incorporating them into your own song). The most popular Hip Hop artists of the 1990s were Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Wu-Tang Clan.

R&B stands for Rhythm & Blues. R&B is a genre of music that combines elements of Funk, Soul, Hip Hop, and Pop music. R&B became mainstream in the early 1990s with artists such as Mariah Carey, TLC ,and Boyz II Men .

What is Grunge?

Grunge is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged in the late 1980s. Grunge music is noted for its heavy, distorted guitars, dark lyrics, and angst-filled vocals. Grunge bands became very popular in the early 1990s with the release of Nirvana’s album Nevermind.

The Sound

Grunge music is generally characterized by heavily distorted electric guitars, lyrics with a bleak or depressing tone, and a musical style that often blends punk rock and heavy metal. The sound of grunge was created by Seattle bands who were trying to break away from the glam rock image that was popular in the 1980s.

Grunge music is often associated with the “slacker” culture of the 1990s, which was a response to the materialism and consumerism of the 1980s. Grunge bands often wrote about personal struggles and disenchantment with society, and their music was seen as a way to express these feelings.

The Style

In the beginning, there were two Seattle bands who would come to herald and personify the grunge movement: Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Both Nirvana and Pearl Jam would go on to have hugely successful careers, with Nirvana going so far as to change the face of popular music with their game-changing album Nevermind. While Nirvana would come to be known as the face of grunge, it was in fact Pearl Jam who created and popularized the style.

Grunge is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged during the mid-1980s in the American state of Washington, particularly in Seattle. It is characterized by a heavy, distorted guitar sound, atmosphere-creating bass lines, and angst-filled lyrics. Grunge fashion is characterized by plaid shirts, torn jeans, and thrift store clothing in general. Grunge music is often associated with Gen Xers and slacker culture.

The term “grunge” was first used in print by music critic Mark Arm in the May 1981 issue of Seattle fanzine Deep Six. He used the term to describe his own band Mr. Epp and the Calculations as well as local rivals Green River and Malfunkshun.Arm’s subsequent use of the term indicated that he had identified a distinct subgenre within punk rock or underground rock at that time. Jeff Gilbert of AllMusic writes that from 1986 onward,[1] “arm used grunge not only to describe a developing local scene, but also for what he saw as epitomizing punk’s DIY ethic: sloppy aesthetics paired with an unpolished heady mix of social awareness.”

The Best Grunge Bands

Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains were three of the most successful grunge bands in the early 1990s. Nirvana’s album Nevermind was released in 1991 and immediately shot to the top of the charts. Pearl Jam’s album Ten was released in 1992 and also became a huge success. Alice in Chains’ album Dirt was released in 1992 and was also very successful.


Nirvana was an American rock band that was formed in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987. The band’s lineup consisted of vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic, and drummer Dave Grohl. Nirvana’s music brought alternative rock to mainstream popularity in the early 1990s. The band’s debut album Bleach was released on the independent record label Sub Pop in 1989. The team found breakthrough success with their 1991 album Nevermind, which featured the now-iconic single “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

Nirvana dissolved following Cobain’s suicide in 1994. But, their music continues to have a lasting impact on rock music and popular culture. In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Nirvana at number 32 on its list of “The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time”. In 2009, the magazine also placed them at number 17 on its list of “The Best Rock Bands of All Time”.

Pearl Jam

If you’re a fan of alternative rock music, then you’re probably a fan of grunge music. Grunge is a genre of rock music that emerged in the early 1990s, characterized by heavy guitars, angst-ridden lyrics, and a generally “loud” sound. Grunge bands were often inspired by punk rock and heavy metal, and many grunge bands went on to become some of the most popular bands of all time.

While there are many great grunge bands out there, there are three that stand out above the rest: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains.

Nirvana is arguably the most famous grunge band of all time. Formed in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987, Nirvana was composed of singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. The band released their debut album, Bleach, in 1989. But it was their second album – Nevermind – that made Nirvana famous. Released in 1991, Nevermind featured the hit single “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which quickly propelled the band to stardom. Nirvana went on to release one more studio album – In Utero – before Cobain tragically took his own life in 1994.

Pearl Jam is another hugely successful grunge band that formed in Seattle, Washington in 1990. The band originally consisted of vocalist Eddie Vedder, guitarist Mike McCready, bassist Jeff Ament, and drummer Stone Gossard. Pearl Jam’s debut album – Ten – was released in 1991 and featured the singles “Alive,” “Even Flow,” and “Jeremy.” Ten was an instant success, selling over 10 million copies in the United States alone. Pearl Jam went on to release eight more studio albums (with Vedder as lead singer), cementing their place as one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

Alice in Chains is a grunge band that formed in Seattle, Washington in 1987 (the same year as Nirvana). The band originally consisted of guitarist/singer Jerry Cantrell, drummer Sean Kinney, and bassist Mike Starr (who would later be replaced by Mike Inez). Alice in Chains rose to fame with their debut album Facelift which featured the singles “Man in the Box” and “We Die Young.” The band went on to release four more studio albums (with Cantrell as lead singer), before Starr died of a drug overdose in 2011. In 2018, Alice in Chains was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.


Grunge music became mainstream in the early 1990s with bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but it really took off in 1992 with the release of two definitive albums: Soundgarden’s “Badmotorfinger” and Alice in Chains’ “Dirt.” Grunge combined the heavy guitars of metal with the raw energy of punk, producing a sound that was both hard-hitting and deeply personal. The best grunge bands wrote songs that were anguished, angsty, and often irreverent, reflecting the deep dissatisfaction of a generation coming of age in an uncertain world.

Soundgarden was one of the first grunge bands to achieve mainstream success, thanks to the popularity of their 1991 album “Badmotorfinger.” The band’s sound was a perfect melding of hardcore punk and heavy metal, with singer Chris Cornell’s powerful vocals soaring over guitarist Kim Thayil’s thick guitar riffs. Soundgarden quickly became one of the most popular grunge bands, thanks to hits like “Rusty Cage” and “Outshined.”

The Legacy of Grunge

Grunge music emerged in the late 1980s as a response to the polished, synth-heavy pop that dominated the airwaves. Grunge songs were often about real-life problems, such as depression, anxiety, and drug addiction, which resonated with many young people. The grunge movement faded in the early 2000s, but its impact is still felt today.

Influence on Modern Music

Grunge emerged in the early 1990s as a response to the overproduced and polished sound of mainstream pop music. The genre was characterized by its raw, distorted guitars and its emotional, angsty lyrics. Grunge quickly gained popularity, particularly among young people, and became one of the most popular genres of the 1990s.

While grunge is no longer as popular as it once was, its influence can still be seen in modern music. Many current artists have cited grunge as an influence, and the genre has played a role in shaping the sound of contemporary alternative music. Grunge will always be remembered as one of the most influential musical movements of the late twentieth century.

Influence on Pop Culture

The grunge movement had a profound and lasting impact on popular culture. It brought alternative music into the mainstream and ushered in a new era of fashion and style.

Grunge fashion is characterized by its focus on comfort and simplicity. Jeans, flannel shirts, and sneakers were common staples of the grunge look. The style was often unkempt and scruffy, with messy hair and mismatched clothes.

Grunge fashion became popular in the early 1990s, as bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam rose to prominence. The style was adopted by young people across the country as a way to express their dissatisfaction with the mainstream.

While grunge fashion has largely fallen out of favor in recent years, its influence can still be seen in today’s pop culture. Many modern celebrities have adopted the grunge look, including Kendall Jenner, Cara Delevingne, and Rihanna.

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