Smells Like Teen Spirit, an iconic song

A song thatwas able to speak to a generation. Indeed, it embodied a generation and passed on a certain philosophy of life and thought from that day forward.
On the occasion of such an important anniversary for the world of music (and not only), we want to tell you everything about this song. From the origin to the video to the influence on subsequent generations, we will discover together many interesting aspects and some curiosities, just keep reading!

How Smells Like Teen Spirit was born

Today’s song, Smells Like Teen Spirit, was composed by Kurt Cobain in 1991. By his own claim, the song mimicked a bit the style of The Pixies, which Cobain particularly admired. And so far, nothing strange.

The bizarre thing is instead the title of the song, which would seem to praise the youth rebellion, but which actually reserves a simpler and perhaps a bit mushy story. The name Smells Like Teen Spirit comes from a graffiti that Kathleen Hanna of the band Bikini Kill once wrote on the wall of Cobain’s hotel room. She literally wrote “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit”, referring to the brand of deodorant she was wearing at the time.

Sure the deodorant formulation must have changed after 30 years, but if you want to know what Kurt Cobain’s girlfriend smelled like, you can click here and order the product directly from abroad.

Anyway Cobain, who didn’t know Teen Spirit was the name of a deodorant, was said to have interpreted it as a revolutionary slogan enough to use it as a song title.

Smells Like Teen Spirit was then used to open the Nirvana album Nevermind, and became a resounding success, along with the equally famous Come as You Are. Cobain, as mentioned earlier, began writing it in 1991, and it was ready before the other tracks on the record. When he introduced the song to his bandmates, it included only the main guitar riff and vocals in the chorus. Chris Novoselic, the band’s guitarist, began playing the riff more slowly, inspiring drummer Dave Grohl to create the rhythm of the drums.

Eventually Smells Like Teen Spirit became the only Nevermind song to credit all three band members as composers.

Smells Like Teen Spirit – lyrics and meaning

The pages that you can see below are extracted from Kurt Cobain’s Diaries and show a broken, almost erratic writing and composition.

The text of Smells Like Teen Spirit in 1991 was difficult for listeners to decipher, for two reasons. For the absurdity of the composition, as mentioned above, but also for Cobain’s guttural and confused voice. In addition, at its release, the Nevermind album booklet did not include the song lyrics other than selected pieces. Dark times for those “without Google”!

Teen Spirit: The Stories Behind Every Nirvana Song book describes “Teen Spirit” as “a typical Cobain’s dark exploration of meaning and meaninglessness”.

The answer to our dilemmas is given to us by the singer of Nirvana himself. In fact, Cobain was often asked to explain the meaning of the song and he recognized that Smells Like Teen Spirit was a sort of a call to arms. “It has revolutionary themes, but I don’t really mean it in a militant [light],” he reported in an interview from autumn 1991. “The apathy of this generation is getting out of hand. [I’m] pleading with the children,” Wake up. ! “

Dave Grohl’s opinion is different. Grohl in fact said he didn’t believe the song contained any message, and said: “Just seeing Kurt write the lyrics for a song five minutes before singing it for the first time, I find it a little hard to believe that the song has a lot of to say about something. “

However, at the end of the debates and the lack of univocal explanations, it remains that “Teen Spirit” is widely interpreted as an anthem of the adolescent revolution. A revolution strengthened by the musical video.

And what a video! Keep on reading!

Musical video

I would have given everything to be there on the 17 August 1991 in front of this post: Nirvana needs YOU to appear in their upcoming music video, Smells Like Teen Spirit. You should be between 18 and 25 years old and adapt a high school personna, i.e. preppy, punk, nerd, jock … No clothing with name brands or logos please! You will need to be at GMT Studios, Stage 6 on Saturday 17th August at 11.30am. Be prepared to stay for several hours! Come support Nirvana and have a great time!

Do you realize? Make an appearance in the Nirvana video!

The concept

Smells Like Teen Spirit is director Samuel Bayer‘s first video and is based on the concept of a school concert that ends in anarchy and revolt, inspired by Jonathan Kaplan’s 1979 film Over the Edge and by the film by Ramones Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.

In fact, the video shows Nirvana playing at a gathering in a high school gym in front of an audience of apathetic students in the stands and cheerleaders wearing black suits with the circled A, the anarchist symbol par excellence. From time to time, the scene stops with a janitor wearing a dark blue jumpsuit and dancing with a broomstick. The video finally ends with the students destroying the band’s set and equipment.

Discontent was genuine; the extras filling the bleachers sat through numerous replays of the song for an entire afternoon of filming. Cobain convinced Bayer to allow extras to pog, and the set became a scene of chaos. Despite the concessions, Cobain disliked Bayer’s final edit and oversaw a new edit of the video, creating the final version. Despite Cobain’s changes, Bayer claimed that unlike the later artists he worked with, Cobain was not vain, and was more interested in whether the video really represented what the song was about.


Like the song itself, the music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” received positive reviews. And it had Nirvana win Best New Artist and Best Alternative Group awards at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards.

Indeed, in 2000 the Guinness World Records named Smells Like Teen Spirit the most played video on MTV Europe. Rolling Stone placed it at number two on its 1993 “100 Best Music Videos” list while MTV ranked it third on its “100 Best Music Videos Ever Made” list.

From a former employee of MTV’s programming department, Amy Finnerty, comes the claim that video “changed the whole aspect of MTV” by giving them “a whole new generation to sell to.”

Released on YouTube in 2009 at the debut of the music video streaming site Vevo, the Smells Like Teen Spirit video has over 1.1 billion views as of August 2020.

Covers and parodies

And besides the awards and views, how do you know a song or video is really famous? Because it enters the collective imagination through the covers, but above all the parodies.

As for the covers we can mention that of Tori Amos in the album Crucify, released a year after Nevermind.

We cannot forget Patti Smith who inserted today’s song in her 2007 album Twelve. Or again in 2010 we remember David Garrett, who performed a version on the violin, included in the Rock Symphonies album. The following year 2Cellos arranged a cover using the cello as the main instrument.

In 2016 the Rocking ‘1000 performed the song during a concert consisting of 17 rock pieces by different artists … a crazy effect!

As for the video we can say that it has been parodied at least twice: by “Weird Al” Yankovic in “Smells Like Nirvana” and by Bob Sinclar in 2006 with “Rock This Party (Everybody Dance Now)”.

The legacy of Smells Like Teen Spirit

In the years following Cobain’s 1994 suicide and Nirvana’s breakup, Smells Like Teen Spirit has not ceased to garner critical acclaim. So much so that it is often regarded as one of the greatest songs of all time. We can only agree!

The song was in fact included in 1997 in the list of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame of “The Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”. And there has been no shortage of awards in subsequent years and up to now.

One of the best comments came in 2004 from Rolling Stone which ranked Smells Like Teen Spirit ninth on its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. It described its impact as “a shockwave of great purity” , noting that it “erased the lingering eighties jive from the pop map overnight.”

In 2015, Smells Like Teen Spirit was named the most iconic song of all time according to a study from Goldsmith’s College, which analyzed various songs from numerous ‘best of all time’ lists. By using analytical software to compare their key, BPM, chord variety, lyrical content, tonal variety and sonic variance – the result designated this song as a winner.

The audience says it, the critics say it and the science says it too, Smells Like Teen Spirit is the best song of all time. and as Sweet Dreams says, another song that I think is fantastic, Who am I to disagree?




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