Learn New Words FAST with this Lesson’s Vocab Review List

Get this lesson’s key vocab, their translations and pronunciations. Sign up for your Free Lifetime Account Now and get 7 Days of Premium Access including this feature.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Notes

Unlock In-Depth Explanations & Exclusive Takeaways with Printable Lesson Notes

Unlock Lesson Notes and Transcripts for every single lesson. Sign Up for a Free Lifetime Account and Get 7 Days of Premium Access.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Transcript

Top 10 American Songs—"Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana is more than just a song. It was the precursor to the grunge rock movement, which took off big time when this song became a smash hit. Egged on by Generation X, who didn't care about pop or hair metal anymore, it single-handedly changed the atmosphere of the music industry.
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" actually came about when lead singer/songwriter Kurt Cobain was attempting to write a pop song. He had been listening to a lot of The Pixies' music and was impressed by their style. Trying to compose a pop song, he came up with this rock classic that made him a superstar overnight.
Nirvana was in the studio in 1991, working on their second album, Nevermind. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was written a few weeks prior to this recording. The band had sent a demo to their producer Butch Vig, who reportedly "didn't understand a word of it," but felt it had potential, and consequently let the band record it.
Musically, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" uses the same verse-chorus-verse structure featured in most of Nirvana's songs. The lyrics are extremely hard to decipher when listening for the first time. Kurt Cobain sang this song in an unusual style, making the lyrics almost incomprehensible. This led to the song being parodied a number of times, and an infamous decision by MTV to have the lyrics running at the bottom of the screen whenever the video was aired.
Cobain himself commented that he wanted to express the feelings of the youth and the generation he belonged to. Even if you know the lyrics, interpreting them is hard because of Cobain's unusual writing style.
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" was released in September 1991 to promote the band's album, Nevermind. The label and the band itself didn't expect "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to be a hit and were actually banking on the next single, "Come as You Are," to strike a chord. But what happened was the opposite. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" became a smash hit, reaching number 1 on the Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks and number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.