What was Grunge and where did it come from?
“There’s a feeling of burnout in the culture at large. Kids are depressed about the future.”
— Music critic Simon Reynolds, 1992, about Generation X
The pre-Grunge era of the early 1980s was a time of media saturation, but many young people did not see themselves or their concerns accurately reflected in the slick music videos offered by MTV or in other mass media. The resulting alienation and apathy helped pave the way for the emergence of a new sound that became known, simply, as Grunge.
Sometimes called the “Seattle Sound,” Grunge began in the Pacific Northwest in the late 1980s and early 90s. The Grunge generation grew up on Heavy Metal, Punk, and Hardcore, drawing on elements of each to define its sound. The resulting aesthetic combined the droning, distorted guitar tones of Metal, the alienation and anti-authority attitude of Punk, and the edgy, physical stage shows of Hardcore. Like Punk, Grunge was full of anger, but with a dose of angst, self-deprecation, and depression added to the mix. And though the intimacy and spontaneity of live performances often gave it a similar feel to Punk, Grunge was more musically complex. More varied instrumentally, Grunge also accentuated dynamic shifts that evoked the frustrations of youth. Grunge musicians tended to reject the latest fashions and projected a feeling of indifference that was reflected in everything from their lyrics to their disheveled appearance. Adopting a thrift-store look, artists embraced lumberjack-style apparel — most notably flannel shirts — while pushing back against the exaggerated masculinity it often implied.
In its early years, Grunge was largely a localized phenomenon, emerging out of the club scene in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle had been deeply affected by the economic recession of the early 1990s, when unemployment was at a high and Starbucks did not yet have the ubiquitous presence it does today. Grunge, with its dour visuals and indifferent lyrics, seemed to encapsulate the grey and depressed mood of the region at the time. As the 90s progressed, the commercial success of groups such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam catapulted the Grunge sound into a national spotlight for which its creators and adherents were largely unprepared.
Upon completion of this lesson, students will:
- Know (knowledge):
- The influence of earlier musical forms, particularly Heavy Metal and Punk, on Grunge
- The social, cultural, economic, and geographic influences that led to the rise of Grunge
- The musical contributions of such Grunge artists as Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Pearl Jam
- Be able to (skills):
- Connect music to the historical context in which it emerged
- Common Core: Students will analyze primary source documents, including videos, photographs, and newspaper/magazine articles in order to make inferences and cite specific textual evidence (CCSS Reading 1; CCSS Reading 7; CCSS Writing 9; CCSS Speaking and Listening 2)
- Common Core: Students will work collaboratively to write a three-paragraph review of early Grunge music (CCSS Writing 1; CCSS Speaking and Listening 1)
Common Core State Standards
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
- Reading 1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
- Reading 7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
- Writing 1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
- Writing 9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12
- Speaking and Listening 1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
- Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)
- Theme 1: Culture
- Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
- Theme 3: People, Places, and Environments
- Theme 4: Individual Development and Identity
National Standards for Music Education
Core Music Standard: Responding
- Select: Choose music appropriate for a specific purpose or context.
- Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
- Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators’ and/or performers’ expressive intent.
- Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
- Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.