Grunge Music and Gen X: What the Pew Research Says

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A recent study by Pew Research shows that Gen Xers are more likely to enjoy grunge music than any other age group.


Grunge music and Generation X go hand-in-hand.

The Pew Research Center released a report in 2015 that shows just how closely related the two are. According to the report, people who were born between 1965 and 1980 (a.k.a. Gen Xers) are more likely than any other age group to say that grunge is their favorite musical genre.

What is grunge music? Grunge is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged in the early 1990s. The music is characterized by its raw, unpolished sound and its focus on personal, introspective lyrics.

artists like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden defined the sound of grunge and helped to make it one of the most popular genres of the 1990s. Gen Xers who came of age during this decade are especially fond of grunge music; in fact, nearly half (48%) of all Gen Xers say it is their favorite genre.

Even though grunge is often associated with Gen X, the music has appeal across generations. In the Pew Research Center’s 2015 report, 25% of millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) said grunge was their favorite genre. And although Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) are less likely than other generations to say grunge is their favorite type of music, 16% still listed it as such.

What is Grunge Music?

Grunge music is a style of rock that emerged in the early 1990s. It is characterized by heavy guitar riffs, deep and distorted bass lines, and angsty lyrics. Grunge music became popular in the Seattle area of the United States, and bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden helped to bring the genre to a wider audience.

Despite its popularity, grunge music was often criticized for being dark and depressing. Some people even claimed that it was a contributing factor to the high rates of suicide among young people in the 1990s. However, there is no evidence to suggest that grunge music had any direct impact on suicide rates.

Pew Research Center released a report in 2017 that found that only 5% of American adults listen to grunge music. However, among adults aged 40-49 ( Generation X), 11% say they enjoy grunge music. This suggests that while grunge music may not be as popular as it once was, it still holds a special place in the hearts of many Gen Xers.

The Origins of Grunge Music

Grunge music emerged in the early 1990s as a reaction against the polished sounds of popular music at the time. Grunge bands were oftenassociated with Seattle, Washington, and featured a raw, distorted sound that was reminiscent of garage rock. The lyrics of grunge songs were often dark and introspective, dealing with themes such as social alienation, apathy, and despair.

While grunge music was initially popularized by a handful of Seattle-based bands, it soon spread to other parts of the United States and became a global phenomenon. Grunge music had a major impact on pop culture in the 1990s, leading to a resurgence in popularity for guitars and rock music.

Despite its massive popularity, grunge music was largely ignored by the mainstream music industry. This helped to create an underground movement that prided itself on being outside of the mainstream. Grunge bands often rejected the trappings of fame and fortune, preferring to remain independent and DIY.

The popularity of grunge music dwindled in the late 1990s as alternative rock began to take over as the dominant genre of rock music. However, grunge has remained an influential force in popular culture, with many modern bands drawing inspiration from its raw sound and dark lyrics.

The Grunge Music Scene in the 1990s

The Grunge music scene in the 1990s was a major force in popular culture, and it had a significant impact on the Generation X demographic. Most notably, Grunge music brought alternative rock into the mainstream and helped to establish Seattle as a center for the music industry.

According to Pew Research, nearly half of all Gen Xers (46%) say they like Grunge music, making them the most likely to enjoy this type of music. Baby Boomers and Silents are significantly less likely to say they like Grunge music, while Millennials are split on the issue.

Interestingly, there is a gender divide when it comes to Grunge music: 53% of Gen X men say they like it, compared to only 40% of women. This could be due in part to the fact that many of the most popular Grunge bands were fronted by men, including Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. Overall, though, it seems clear that Grunge was an important part of Gen X culture.

Grunge Music and Gen X

Grunge music was popularized in the early 1990s by a number of bands from the Seattle area, and it became known for its dark and distorted sound. The genre was also associated with a particular fashion style, which included flannel shirts and ripped jeans. Grunge music was widely seen as a reaction against the slick pop music of the 1980s.

According to Pew Research Center, Gen Xers are more likely than other generations to say they like grunge music. In fact, 36% of Gen Xers say they like grunge music, compared to 25% of Baby Boomers and 21% of Millennials.

Interestingly, Gen Xers are also more likely to say that grunge music is an important part of their identity. When asked whether various types of music represent their generational identity, nearly half of Gen Xers (48%) say grunge does, compared to just 32% of Baby Boomers and 27% of Millennials.

The Legacy of Grunge Music

The legacy of grunge music is still being debated today. Was it a passing fad or a genuine musical movement? And what does it say about Generation X – the so-called “lost generation” that came of age in the 1990s?

According to a Pew Research Center report, “grunge was neither a short-lived phenomenon nor a dead end for rock music.” In fact, the report argues that grunge ” rejuvenated rock music and left an indelible mark on popular culture.”

So what exactly is grunge? The report defines it as “a hybrid style that merged elements of punk, metal and alternative rock.” Grunge artists were often characterized by their ” DIY aesthetic, dark subject matter and anxious sound.”

And who were some of the most famous grunge bands? Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains were all top acts in the genre.

But what does all this have to do with Generation X? The Pew Research report argues that grunge was “the perfect soundtrack” for this lost generation. Grunge reflected the cynicism, angst and disenchantment of Gen Xers who were coming of age in a time of economic uncertainty and social change.

In many ways, then, grunge can be seen as the embodiment of Generation X’s unique worldview.


It’s been nearly 25 years since the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind, and the generational divide that accompanied the rise of grunge music endures to this day. The Pew Research Center polled 1,835 adults in March-April 2017 about their views on a variety of topics related to music, including generational differences in taste.

Overall, there are more similarities than differences between Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) and Millennials (1981-1996) when it comes to music. But there are some significant points of contrast, particularly when it comes to the role of technology in musical discovery and the importance of live concert experiences.

When asked about the statement “I like learning about new music,” 78% of Gen Xers agreed or strongly agreed, compared with 71% of Millennials. This 7 percentage point difference is statistically significant. But when asked whether they “prefer live concerts to recordings/streaming,” 64% of Gen Xers said they preferred live concerts while just 50% of Millennials said the same – a 14 percentage point difference that is also statistically significant.

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