Who Came Up With the Term ‘Grunge Music’?

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Many people associate the term “grunge music” with the Seattle music scene of the early 1990s. But where did the term come from?

The Origins of Grunge Music

The term “grunge music” was coined in the early 1990s to describe a new type of rock music that was coming out of the Pacific Northwest. Grunge music is a mix of punk, metal, and alternative rock. It is characterized by its heavy sound and its use of distorted guitars. Grunge music was made popular by bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.

The Seattle Sound

The Seattle sound is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with a focus on the DIY ethic of punk rock and indie rock. The Seattle sound was characterized by heavy guitars, distorted sounds, and angsty lyrics. The Seattle scene was made up of small, independent record labels and clubs that cultivated a do-it-yourself ethos.

Grunge music emerged from the Seattle sound as a more specific subgenre. Grunge music is defined by its dirty, distorted sound and its dark, emotional lyrics. Grunge became a breakout genre in the early 1990s with the release of Nirvana’s album Nevermind. Grunge music quickly spread beyond Seattle, spawning a host of imitators and influencing other genres.

The Influence of Punk Rock

Though it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact origins of grunge music, we can trace its roots back to the American punk rock scene of the early 1980s. Punk rock was a genre of music that was subversive, DIY, and often angry, and it’s no surprise that many of the early grunge bands came out of the punk scene. These bands shared a frustration with the mainstream music industry and a desire to make music on their own terms.

One of the most important early grunge bands was Green River, who were active from 1984 to 1988. Green River are often credited as being the first grunge band, and their sound was a major influence on later grunge bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Green River’s songs were slower and more heavy than typical punk rock songs, and they often featured distorted guitars – two elements that would become trademark sounds of grunge music.

While Green River were certainly influential, they were by no means the only early grunge band. Other important early grunge bands include Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Mother Love Bone. These bands all played a role in shaping the sound of grunge music, and they would go on to achieve mainstream success in the 1990s.

The Rise of Indie Rock

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new type of rock music began to emerge from the American underground. This style, which came to be known as “grunge,” blended elements of punk rock and heavy metal with a raw, DIY aesthetic. Grunge bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden achieved massive commercial success in the early ’90s, popularizing a new sound and attitude that would come to define a generation.

Though grunge had been brewing in the Seattle scene for years before Nirvana’s breakout album Nevermind was released in 1991, it was that record that brought the movement to national attention. Nevermind swapped out the polished production values and radio-friendly pop hooks of 1980s hair metal in favor of a rougher sound that better reflected the unease and disaffection of young people in the post- Reagan era. The album’s success propelled Nirvana’s frontman Kurt Cobain to global superstardom, and cemented grunge as one of the most influential musical movements of the 20th century.

In the years following Nevermind’s release, other grunge bands such as Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney found their own measure of mainstream success. While some decried grunge as a cynical cash-in on adolescent angst, others praised it as a much-needed breath of fresh air in an overly polished and commercialized musical landscape. Either way, there’s no denying that grunge left a lasting mark on popular culture, and continues to influence musicians both inside and outside the genre today.

The Main Protagonists of Grunge Music

Grunge music is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged in the mid-1980s. The term was first used to describe the Seattle music scene by music journalist Mark Arm in the May 1971 issue of Seattle fanzine, Desperate Times.


Nirvana was an American rock band formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987 by singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. The drummer Chad Channing joined the band later that year. Nirvana went through a succession of drummers, the longest-lasting and best-known being Dave Grohl, who joined 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.

Cobain and Novoselic met while attending Aberdeen High, although they never connected, according to Cobain. The pair eventually became friends while frequenting the practice space of the Melvins. Cobain wanted to form a band with Novoselic, but Novoselic did not respond for a long period of time. In persuading Novoselic to form a band with him, Cobain gave him a compilation tape of his favorite songs by artists such as Pixies, R.E.M., Lead Belly, and Meat Puppets; Novoselic later said that he “didn’t enjoy [the tape] at first.” After months of asking,Novoselic finally agreed to form a band with Cobain on January 14th ,1987 . The pair recruited Bob McFadden on drums slot; however after only about two weeks McFadden quit due to creative differences. They then recruited Chad Channing on drums .

Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam is an American rock band, formed in Seattle, Washington in 1990. The band’s lineup consists of founders Eddie Vedder (lead vocals, guitar), Mike McCready (lead guitar), Jeff Ament (bass) and Stone Gossard (rhythm guitar), as well as Matt Cameron (drums), who joined in 1998. Boasting the widest musical range of any artist in alternative rock, Pearl Jam is noted for Vedder’s distinctive and powerful voice, McCready’s emphatic guitar style and Cameron’s steady drumming.

The band released its debut album, Ten, in 1991. Although labelled “alternative rock”, the album displayed a grunge-influenced sound that quickly made it one of the best-selling albums of the year. It was followed by Vs. (1993) and Vitalogy (1994). These albums were highly successful, becoming two of the best-selling albums in history while breaking numerous records along the way. The band also found success with its fourth album, No Code (1996), but its follow-up, Yield (1998), met with a lukewarm response from both audiences and critics.

After a four-year hiatus that included the release of various solo projects from the members, Pearl Jam returned with its sixth album, Binaural (2000). The album was considered a return to form for the band, winning multiple awards and being nominated for several Grammy Awards including Album of the Year. Despite this success, Pearl Jam soon found itself at odds with Ticketmaster over ticketing service fees charged for concerts; this feud would come to an end when the band co-headlined Woodstock ’94 with Nirvana—an act that served as an indication of changing musical tides—and later released Live on Two Legs (1998), an LP consisting entirely of live concert recordings taken from those two crucial years on tour.


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 keyboardist and backing vocalist Chris DeGarmo, who joined them in 1990.

Soundgarden was one of the seminal creators of grunge music, and is often credited as being the first true grunge band. Grunge music is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged in the early 1990s. It was characterized by heavy guitars, downtuned guitars, and a rawer sound than that of other alternative rock styles of the time.

The term “grunge” was first used to describe the Seattle music scene by Mark Arm, the frontman of the influential grunge band Mudhoney. He used the term to describe his own band’s sound, as well as that of other Seattle bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains. While most grunge bands were from Seattle, there were also several important grunge bands from other parts of the United States, such as Dinosaur Jr. from Massachusetts and Sonic Youth from New York City.

The Legacy of Grunge Music

Grunge music is a style of rock music that emerged in the mid-1980s in the American state of Washington, particularly in the Seattle area. Grunge music is characterized by its distorted guitars, abrasive vocals, and dark, pessimistic lyrics. Grunge music became popular in the early 1990s with bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.

The End of an Era

The end of the grunge era was signalled by the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994 – an event that shocked the music world and led to a period of mourning and reflection on the state of alternative rock. In the years that followed, grunge would become absorbed into the mainstream and lose its countercultural edge. The release ofPearl Jam’s Vitalogy in 1994 marked a turning point for the band, with frontman Eddie Vedder adopting a more politically-minded stance and decrying the role of Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley as a spokesman for a lost generation. For many, this was seen as a betrayal of what grunge was meant to be about.

The late 1990s also saw the rise of commercial pop-punk and emo bands such as Blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World, who would come to dominate radio playlists in the 2000s. In contrast to grunge’s dark and introspective lyrics, these bands wrote songs about teenage angst and romantic relationships that were more likely to make you want to dance than contemplate your own mortality. While some grunge veterans were able to adapt to this new musical landscape – most notably Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, who went on to form the punk-influenced band Sweet 75 – others found it harder to reconcile their sound with the changing times.

The legacy of grunge is still very much alive today, with many modern bands citing Kurt Cobain and Nirvana as a major influence on their sound. Grunge may have ended as an era in the 1990s, but its impact can still be felt in music today.

The early 1990s saw the rise of grunge music, a genre that was characterized by its raw and unapologetic sound. While grunge music was originally created and popularized by American bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, it quickly gained a global following. The popularity of grunge music led to a major shift in the musical landscape, as well as in fashion and culture.

Grunge music had a major impact on popular culture. The raw and often dark lyrics spoke to a generation of young people who were feeling disaffected and lost. The music was also a rebellion against the polished and manufactured sound of popular music at the time. Grunge fashion became popularized by celebrities such as Kurt Cobain, who often wore flannel shirts, ripped jeans, and doc martens. This style came to be known as “Seattle chic” and was later adopted by mainstream fashion brands.

While grunge music is no longer as popular as it once was, its legacy can still be seen in today’s music scene. Many current artists credit grunge musicians as being an influence, and the genre continues to be an important part of American culture.

The Influence on Modern Music

Grunge music’s impact can be most keenly felt in the post-millennial wave of guitar bands that followed in its wake. The Killers, Muse, Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys all cite Nirvana as an influence, and all four bands achieved mainstream success with a guitar-based sound that would have been unthinkable without Cobain and co. There are other grunge offshoots too: Seattle’s Pearl Jam helped to pioneer the emo movement of the mid-’90s with their confessional lyrics and cathartic live shows, while their compatriots Soundgarden became one of the first metal bands to break into the US mainstream.

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