What is Grunge Music of the 90s?

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


If you’re a fan of alternative rock, then you’ve probably heard of grunge music. But what is grunge music, exactly? In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the history and defining characteristics of grunge music, so that you can appreciate this unique genre even more.

What is Grunge Music?

Grunge music is a type of rock that became popular in the early 1990s. It is characterized by its heavy use of guitars and grungy lyrics. Grunge music often has a dark and depressing tone.

The Rise of Grunge

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new type of rock music emerged from the American Northwest. This form of music became known as “grunge”, and it would go on to change the face of rock music forever.

Grunge was a reaction against the polished, synth-heavy pop music that dominated the airwaves in the 1980s. Grunge bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden werecharacterized by their stripped-down sound, which featured heavy guitars and emotionally charged lyrics.

While grunge music was initially popular only in the Northwest, it eventually became a nationwide phenomenon in the early 1990s. This was largely due to the success of Nirvana’s second album, “Nevermind”, which featured the now-iconic song “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

The popularity of grunge would be short-lived, however, as the genre began to decline in the mid-1990s. By the end of the decade, grunge had all but disappeared from the American musical landscape.

The Grunge Sound

Grunge is a rock music genre that emerged in the early 1990s. It was characterized by a dirty, distorted sound and lyrics that often dealt with dark subject matter. Seattle, Washington was the epicenter of the grunge scene, and many of the most popular grunge bands hailed from there, including Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.

Grunge music is often cited as a reaction against the polished sound of mainstream 1980s rock music. Grunge bands were often signed to independent labels and did not receive much radio airplay or MTV rotation. They achieved commercial success through word-of-mouth buzz and touring.

Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind is credited as the album that broke grunge into the mainstream and made it commercially viable. Nevermind featured the hits “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come As You Are,” both of which were huge MTV and radio hits. After Nirvana’s success, other grunge bands found mainstream success, including Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots.

Grunge fashion was characterized by plaid shirts, ripped jeans, and Doc Martens boots. Grunge fashion has been revived in recent years by celebrities like MIA and Kanye West.

The Grunge Scene

Grunge music is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged in the early 1990s. It was characterized by a heavy, distorted sound and angsty lyrics. Grunge bands were often signed to independent record labels and played in small clubs.

The grunge scene was centered in Seattle, Washington, and the most successful grunge band was Nirvana. Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind popularized grunge music and led to a mainstream breakthrough for the genre. Other successful grunge bands included Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden.

Grunge music was largely overshadowed by Britpop in the mid-1990s, but it continued to influence alternative rock music in the 21st century.

The Grunge Bands

Grunge bands of the 90s were a force to be reckoned with. With their unique sound and style, they quickly gained popularity in the underground music scene. Some of the most famous grunge bands include Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam. These bands defined a generation and their music is still loved by many today.


Nirvana was one of the most successful and influential grunge bands of the early 1990s. The band, which was founded by singer-songwriter Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic, released its debut album Bleach in 1989. The album was a critical and commercial success, but it was Nirvana’s second album, Nevermind, which catapulted the band to global stardom. Released in 1991, Nevermind features the now-iconic singles “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come As You Are.” The album helped to popularize grunge music and to bring it into the mainstream. Nirvana continued to enjoy success with 1993’s In Utero, before Cobain’s untimely death in 1994 brought the band to an end.

Pearl Jam

Formed in Seattle in 1990, Pearl Jam is one of the most successful and influential grunge bands of all time. The band’s classic lineup consisted of Eddie Vedder (vocals), Jeff Ament (bass), Stone Gossard (rhythm guitar), Mike McCready (lead guitar) and Matt Cameron (drums).

Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten, was released in 1991 and propelled the band to stardom. The album’s singles, “Alive”, “Even Flow” and “Jeremy”, were all hits, and the album has since been certified thirteen times platinum by the RIAA.

The band followed up Ten with the equally successful Vs. in 1993. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart and spawned the hit singles “Go”, “Animal” and “Dissident”.

In 1994, Pearl Jam released their third album, Vitalogy. The album was another critical and commercial success, debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200 and producing the hits “Spin the Black Circle”, “Not for You” and “Better Man”.

Pearl Jam has released nine studio albums to date, most recently Lightning Bolt in 2013. The band has sold over 32 million records in the United States alone, making them one of the best-selling rock bands of all time.


Soundgarden was 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, while bassist Ben Shepherd became a permanent replacement for Yamamoto in 1990. The band’s fifth member was touring keyboardist Keith Jozsef.

Soundgarden was one of the seminal bands of the grunge movement of the early 1990s. Although most grunge bands had disbanded by the end of the decade, Soundgarden continued to record and tour into the next decade with bassist Ben Shepherd replacing original bassist Hiro Yamamoto in 1990 and drummer Matt Cameron becoming a full-time member in 1992. In 1997, Soundgarden released its fourth studio album – “Down on the Upside”; this was its last album before going on hiatus due to tensions within the band.

In January 2017, Cornell died by suicide at age 52. Thayil later said that following Cornell’s death, there is “no likelihood” of Soundgarden continuing without him.

Alice in Chains

Formed in Seattle in 1987, Alice in Chains rose to international fame as part of the city’s grunge movement in the early 1990s. The band’s classic lineup consisted of vocalist/guitarist Jerry Cantrell, vocalist Layne Staley, drummer Sean Kinney, and bassist Mike Inez.

The band’s debut album, Facelift (1990), was a commercial success and helped to fuel the grunge explosion of the early ’90s. Alice in Chains followed with the release of their second album, Dirt (1992), which entered the Billboard charts at number six and went on to be certified quadruple-platinum.

Dirt featured the hit singles “Would?,” “Angry Chair,” and “Rooster,” the latter of which was a tribute to Cantrell’s father, who served in Vietnam. The album’s dark subject matter, which dealt with topics like addiction, abuse, and suicide, reflected the bleak reality of life in Seattle at the time.

In 1994, Alice in Chains released their third studio album, Jar of Flies, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart—the first time a grunge band had achieved this feat. The album was also notable for its heavy use of acoustic guitars, which lent it a more mellow sound than its predecessors.

Following Staley’s death from a heroin overdose in 2002, Alice in Chains went on an extended hiatus; Kinney and Inez joined forces with Pearl Jam’s William DuVall to form a new lineup of the band in 2005. This incarnation of Alice in Chains released their fourth studio album, Black Gives Way to Blue (2009), followed by another period of touring andactivity. In 2013, they returned with their fifth studio effort—the Grammy-nominated The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here—and continue to tour extensively throughout North America and Europe

The Legacy of Grunge

Grunge was a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged in the 1990s. It was characterized by a distorted, heavy sound, and often featured lyrics about angst and alienation. Grunge music was popularized by bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. Although grunge was short-lived, it left a lasting legacy.

The Influence of Grunge

The grunge music scene of the early 1990s was influential in many ways. First and foremost, grunge helped to shape the sound of alternative rock for years to come. With its heavy guitar riffs and angsty lyrics, grunge was the perfect antidote to the polished pop music that was dominating the radio waves at the time.

In addition to its musical influence, grunge also had a major impact on fashion and culture. Grunge fashion is characterized by rugged, plaid flannel shirts, ripped jeans, and Doc Martens boots. This style was popularized by iconic grunge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.

Grunge culture also brought with it a sense of nihilism and dark humor. This was perfectly captured in Nirvana’s 1991 breakthrough hit single “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which includes lines like “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous/ Here we are now, entertain us.” This sense of despair was prtly due to the fact that many grunge musicians were struggleing with addiction at the time. Tragically, this would lead to the untimely deaths of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Layne Staley of Alice in Chains.

Despite the darkness that often surrounds it, grunge remains an important part of musical history. It’s a genre that shaped a generation and continues to inspire musicians today.

The End of Grunge

In the mid-1990s, grunge music was on the rise with bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains leading the charge. This new style of music took the world by storm and quickly became one of the most popular genres of the decade. However, by the end of the 1990s, grunge had all but disappeared from the mainstream. So what happened to grunge music?

There are a number of factors that led to the decline of grunge in the late 1990s. First and foremost, the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994 was a huge blow to the genre. Cobain was not only a hugely successful musician, but he was also an icon for many young people who related to his raw and emotional lyrics. With Cobain gone, there was no clear leader of the grunge movement.

In addition, many of the other big names in grunge were moving away from their early sound and experimenting with other genres. Pearl Jam released their 1995 album Vitalogy which Had a more experimental sound than their previous albums, while Nirvana released In Utero in 1993 which was much heavier than their breakthrough album Nevermind. Some fans felt that these bands were selling out and moving away from what made them great in the first place.

Finally, by the late 1990s, mainstream America had grown tired of grunge. The dark and gloomy lyrics no longer resonated with people who were enjoying a period of peace and prosperity. Alternative rock acts such as Beck and The Foo Fighters began to rise in popularity, while traditional pop acts such as Britney Spears and *NSYNC dominated the charts. Grunge simply couldn’t compete with these newer, more upbeat styles of music.

While grunge is no longer as popular as it once was, its influence can still be heard in many modern rock bands. And for many people who grew up in the 1990s, grunge will always be remembered as one of the most innovative and important musical movements of its time.

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