What is 90’s Grunge Music?

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


In the early 1990s, grunge music became mainstream. This type of music is characterized by its dark and angsty lyrics, distorted guitars, and heavy bass. If you’re a fan of grunge music, check out this blog post to learn more about its history and what makes it so unique.

Origins of Grunge

Grunge music is a style of alternative rock that became popular in the early 1990s. Grunge music is typically characterized by heavy guitar riffs, distorted sound, and a generally “dirty” aesthetic. The genre is often associated with Seattle, Washington, where many grunge bands originated.

The Seattle Sound

The Seattle sound is a subgenre of grunge music that was popularized in the early 1990s by a number of bands from Seattle, Washington. The sound is characterized by heavy use of distorted guitars, bass, and drums, as well as a thick, “sludgy” sound. The Seattle sound became widely known after the release of Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind, which popularized the genre worldwide. Other notable bands associated with the Seattle sound include Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden.

The Sub Pop Record Label

Grunge music became popular in the early 1990s, with bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden gaining mainstream success. The genre was associated with Seattle, Washington, and the grunge fashion trends of ripped jeans and flannel shirts.

Grunge music was originally produced by independent record label Sub Pop, which was founded in 1986. The label’s first release was the compilation album Sub Pop 100, which featured tracks by artists such as Sonic Youth and Mudhoney. Sub Pop achieved mainstream success with Nirvana’s debut album Bleach, which was released in 1989. Nirvana’s follow-up album Nevermind (1991) was an even bigger success, reaching number one on the Billboard 200 chart.

Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten (1991) was also successful, reaching number two on the Billboard 200 chart. Soundgarden’s third album Badmotorfinger (1991) reached number seven on the chart. These albums helped bring grunge music to a wider audience.

The Bands

There were many grunge bands in the early 1990’s. Some of the most popular grunge bands were Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. These bands helped to define the grunge sound. Let’s take a look at each band.


Nirvana was an American rock band formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987. It was founded by singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. Nirvana went through a succession of drummers, the longest-lasting and best-known being Dave Grohl, who joined the band in 1990. Though the band dissolved in 1994 after the suicide of Cobain, their music maintains a popular following and continues to influence modern rock and roll culture.

Nirvana’s debut album Bleach was released on June 15, 1989, on Sub Pop Records; the success of Bleach made Nirvana relative celebrities within the alt-rock underground and unexpected superstars after the release of their next album, Nevermind, in 1991. Nevermind was produced by Butch Vig and featured explosive singles such as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that became an anthem for alienated youth around the world. It propelled Nirvana into overnight success and made them one of the most influential bands of all time. Their third studio album In Utero (1993), though less successful commercially than Nevermind, was critically acclaimed and topped many year-end lists for best album.

Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam is an American rock band that formed in Seattle, Washington, in 1990. The band’s lineup consists of founder Eddie Vedder (lead vocals, guitar), Mike McCready (lead guitar), Jeff Ament (bass), and Stone Gossard (rhythm guitar). Since its inception, the band’s membership has included drummer Matt Cameron (also of Soundgarden) and vocalist-guitarist Dave Abbruzzese.

The band’s fifth and current drummer is Matt Cameron, who has been with the band since 1998. Pearl Jam was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 7, 2017, in their first year of eligibility. Pearl Jam is considered one of the key groups in the development of the grunge music genre and described as central to the rise of Generation X.


Soundgarden is an American rock band formed in Seattle, Washington, in 1984 by singer and rhythm guitarist Chris Cornell, lead guitarist Kim Thayil, and bassist Hiro Yamamoto. Matt Cameron became the band’s full-time drummer in 1986, whileving for the next five years. In 1990, the band was joined by singer Eddie Vedder and recorded their breakthrough album Badmotorfinger. After touring extensively for two years, Soundgarden released Superunknown (1994), which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and eventually sold more than nine million copies worldwide. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Record.

The Legacy

Though it significantly faded from popularity in the late ‘90s, grunge music- and the grunge culture and fashion that came with it- has made a recent comeback in popularity. It’s been thirty years since the start of the grunge movement, so what has made this subgenre of rock music so timeless?

The Success of Grunge

The success of grungemusic was a surprise to many, as the genre was initially viewed as a niche style that would likely never achieve mainstream appeal. However, beginning in the early 1990s, grunge began to gain popularity outside of its native Pacific Northwest region, and by 1992 it had become one of the most popular music genres in the world. Grunge’s popularity continued to grow throughout the decade, culminating in the massive success of Nirvana’s album Nevermind in 1991.

While grunge music was initially developed in the 1980s by a small number of bands from Seattle, Washington, its popularity did not begin to spread until the early 1990s. By 1992, grunge had become one of the most popular music genres in the world, thanks in large part to the success of Nirvana’s album Nevermind. While Nirvana was undoubtedly the most successful grunge band, other popular grunge bands included Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden.

Glam metal bands of the 1980s such as Poison and Mötley Crüe were pushed out of the mainstream by grunge bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam

The rise of grunge music coincided with a decline in popularity for so-called “hair metal” bands that had dominated rock music in the early 1990s. Bands such as Poison and Mötley Crüe were pushed out of the mainstream by grunge bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The decline of hair metal also led to a decline in sales for guitar manufacturers such as Gibson and Fender.

The End of Grunge

The commercial and critical peak of grunge was 1992–1993. By 1996 grunge had largely disappeared from mainstream popular music, replaced by a combination of post-grunge and other alternative rock music.

Grunge music experienced a resurgence in popularity and critical acclaim in the 2010s, coinciding with the release of remastered editions of albums by Nirvana and Pearl Jam, as well as the rise of contemporary acts influenced by grunge, such as Tame Impala, Dinosaur Jr., Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Foo Fighters, and others.

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