Who Coined the Term ‘Grunge’ for Music?

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

Did you know that the term “grunge” was actually coined by music journalist Mark Arm? In this blog post, we explore the history of this musical genre and how it came to be known as grunge.

The Beginnings of Grunge

Grunge is a subgenre of rock music that emerged in the mid-1980s in the American state of Washington, particularly in the Seattle area. The early grunge movement revolved around Seattle’s independent record label Sub Pop and the region’s grunge bands. Grunge was also influenced by hardcore punk and heavy metal, and the term was initially used to describe these genres.

Seattle’s music scene in the late 1980s

In the late 1980s, Seattle’s music scene was booming. There were a lot of different genres represented, but one that was particularly popular was what came to be known as “grunge.” But where did the term come from?

There are a few different stories about how grunge got its name. One is that it was coined by Mark Arm, the singer of the band Mudhoney. He reportedly used the term to describe the kind of music that Mudhoney was playing: a mix of punk and metal that was dirty and aggressive.

Another story is that it was used by Sleater-Kinney singer Carrie Brownstein to describe her own band’s sound. She has said that she wanted to create a word that encapsulated the feeling of their music, which she described as “raw” and “real.”

Whatever its origins, the term grunge quickly caught on in Seattle and beyond. It came to be associated with a specific style of music: heavy, distorted guitars, angsty lyrics, and a general sense of disaffection. And while it may have started in Seattle, it soon spread to other parts of the country and even internationally.

The term ‘grunge’ is first used in print

The first printed use of the word grunge was in the fanzine Desperate Times, which was published in Seattle in 1981. In the article “A Disgruntled Young Man’s Guide to Grunge Fashion,” Seattle photographer Brian Walsby said that he had coined the term to describe the “loudmouthed metal type kids” who hung out at the Casbah, a local club. Walsby claimed that he had heard the word used by a young man who worked at a local garage. He said that the word sounded like something that you would find on the ground, like dirt or grease.

The Main Characters

As the Seattle music scene began to coalesce in the late 1980s, a number of terms were used to describe it, including “the Seattle sound” and ” Seattle-style rock”. However, it was music critic Everett True – then working for the British magazine Melody Maker – who is credited with coining the now-ubiquitous term “grunge”.

Mark Arm of Mudhoney

In the fall of 1988, Mudhoney’s “Superfuzz Bigmuff” became the first release on Sub Pop, the now-legendary grunge and indie label based in Seattle. The single’s success helped establish Sub Pop and grunge music in general in the public consciousness, and Mudhoney would go on to be one of the most important bands in the Seattle scene.

While Mudhoney never achieved the same level of mainstream success as some of their grunge peers, they were nonetheless a hugely influential band. Their sound – a mix of punk, metal, and classic rock – was a blueprint for many of the Seattle bands that followed in their wake, and their DIY ethic was an inspiration to a generation of independent musicians.

Mark Arm, the band’s singer and guitarist, is widely credited with coining the term “grunge” to describe this new sound that was developing in Seattle. In an interview with MTV News in 1993, Arm said that he came up with the term after reading an article in Time magazine about garage rock revivalists such as Green River (another seminal Seattle band that featured Arm and Mudhoney bassist Matt Lukin).

While some have disputed Arm’s claim to have coined the term “grunge,” there is no doubt that he was a pivotal figure in the development of this vital musical movement.

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana

Kurt Cobain was the singer, guitarist and primary songwriter of American rock band Nirvana. He was born on February 20, 1967, in Aberdeen, Washington. Cobain formed Nirvana in 1988 with bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Chad Channing. The band released its debut album, “Bleach,” in 1989. In 1991, they recorded “Nevermind,” which became a huge commercial success. The first single from the album, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” became an anthem for the 1990s Alternative Rock movement. Nirvana disbanded following Cobain’s death on April 5, 1994.

Jonathan Poneman of Sub Pop Records

Jonathan Poneman is one of the co-founders of Sub Pop Records, the label that first popularized the “Grunge” music genre. Poneman was born in Los Angeles, California, on May 27th, 1966. He is Jewish. Poneman began his music career in the early 1980s as a radio DJ and promoter in the Seattle area. In 1986, he co-founded Sub Pop Records with Bruce Pavitt. He has worked with artists such as Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden.

The Legacy of Grunge

Grunge is a subgenre of rock and roll that emerged in the mid-1980s in the American state of Washington, particularly in the Seattle area. The early grunge movement revolved around Seattle’s independent record label Sub Pop and the region’s grunge bands. The term grunge was first used to describe the music of these bands in a article by Mark Arm, published in the Seattle music zine Desperate Times in May of 1986.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new music genre emerged in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, commonly referred to as grunge. Grunge music is typically characterized by its distorted guitars, angsty lyrics, and overall dark and melancholic tone. The genre quickly gained popularity throughout the country and eventually spread to other parts of the world.

While grunge music is often seen as a reaction against the over-produced and polished sounds of popular music at the time, it actually borrowed heavily from various other genres, including punk, metal, and alternative rock. Grunge bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden helped to popularize alternative rock in the mainstream and cement the genre’s place in popular culture.

Grunge fashion also became popular in the 1990s, characterized by its “DIY” aesthetic and focus on comfort over style. Flannel shirts, ripped jeans, and Doc Martens boots were all common fixtures of grunge fashion. The popularity of grunge fashion led to a boom in sales for many of the brands associated with the style, such as Levi’s jeans and Converse sneakers.

While grunge music is no longer as popular as it once was, its influence can still be felt in many aspects of popular culture today. Many current artists have cited grunge bands as major influences on their own work, and aspects of grunge fashion continue to be appropriated by mainstream fashion designers.

The lasting impact of grunge on music

The early 1990s were a time of great change in the music industry. The popularity of hair metal and pop music was on the decline, and a new genre called grunge was beginning to take over. Grunge is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States in the late 1980s. The genre was defined by its rougher, more guitar-driven sound and its DIY ethic.

Grunge quickly gained popularity in the early 1990s with bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden leading the way. The genre became even more mainstream after Nirvana’s album Nevermind was released in 1991. Nevermind was a huge commercial success, and it helped to make grunge the dominant form of alternative rock in the early 1990s.

Grunge music had a lasting impact on the music industry and popular culture. After grunge faded from the mainstream in the late 1990s, many of its elements became absorbed into other genres of music. For example, Seattle’s Sub Pop Records, which was an important player in the grunge scene, went on to sign acts like indie rock band Death Cab for Cutie and hip-hop artist Macklemore.

The legacy of grunge can also be seen in fashion and film. The fashion style associated with grunge is characterized by plaid shirts, ripped jeans, and Doc Martens shoes. Films like Singles (1992) and Sugar Town (1999) capture some of the essence of Seattle’s grunge scene.

Grunge may no longer be at the forefront of popular culture, but its influence can still be felt today.

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