When Did Grunge Die?

Many scholars have asked, when did Grunge die? Or is it even dead? Or hell, is Grunge even a thing? How do I play in Drop D?  For your viewing pleasure, our expert staff brings you all (or none of) of the answers with this new roundtable discussion. We invite readers to post their thoughts in the comments section.

Brett Buchanan: First off, I’d like to point out the irony that we were watching Rugrats and Power Rangers when Grunge was actually a thing. But anyways, so when did Grunge die?

Mike Mazzarone: Die? It’s still alive.

Doug McCausland: When Bill Clinton ate that chick out.

Mike Mazzarone: We have STP, AIC, Pearl Jam, Jane’s, SP and multiple acts touring on the regular

Brett Buchanan:
But they’re old enough to be our fathers.

Riley Rowe: But none of em make “grunge-sounding” albums anymore.

templeofthedog

Doug McCausland: It never died because it was never really a thing to begin with, honestly. Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam sound nothing alike. But when it comes to the change in the music industry, after Kurt Cobain died guitar rock in general for some reason just had a negative stigma attached to it if it wasn’t garage rock style stuff.

Brett Buchanan:
I think Grunge, or whatever word you want to use to describe it, was 100% dead by 1997.

Riley Rowe:
Why that year?

Brett Buchanan: By that point, rock was moving towards nu metal and fully entrenched in post Grunge.

Doug McCausland: Soundgarden bit the dust around that time.

Brett Buchanan: I mean you can’t pinpoint it, it’s subjective. But I’d say by the time Soundgarden broke up, it was toast.

Riley Rowe:
To me, “grunge” is the dirty, muddy fusion of punk and rock. Sure it was a movement and fashion, but true “grunge” is bands like Mudhoney and Melvins.

Doug McCausland:
Look, the way I see it, real “grunge” died with Mother Love Bone.

Brett Buchanan: Hipster.

Doug McCausland: No. What I’m saying is that grunge in the truest sense of the word reached its evolution point with Mother Love Bone, and bands started moving into the mainstream with classic rock-punk fusions.

Doug McCausland: But Grunge, if you’re just objectively talking about the core group of bands that we cover on the site, died in 1994. You had the death of Kurt Cobain and Vitalogy, which was Pearl Jam’s last real mainstream album before No Code. No Code pretty much trimmed the bandwagoner fans. Soundgarden broke up soon after, Alice in Chains hardly did anything. STP moved on from that grunge sound after Purple.

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Mike Mazzarone: The same principle though can be applied with punk. Punk is everchanging. The genre is different now. Does that make 70s punk less relevant? No. But rock music evolves.

Brett Buchanan: I think 1994 is a valid point, I think its evolution stopped. But Mellon Collie came out in 1995 and its hype continued into 1996.

Doug McCausland: Mellon Collie I think kind of represented the burst of the grunge era into diverse sounds.

Brett Buchanan: Not really, it was the Pumpkins’ epic last big rock statement. Corgan poured all the big rock he had into that album, so he could then scale it down on Adore.

Doug McCausland: But its still not really a “grunge” album, just something that came out in that era.

Brett Buchanan: It is a Grunge era album. Probably the last massive hit from the era.

Mike Mazzarone: Well. You can’t really put all the blame on 1994. This just happens. Or used to. Eruptions of primitive rock (garage band, punk/new wave. grunge, etc) used to occur at seven year intervals, would grow to dominate music and die overnight. The new centralized radio ownership model prevents primitive rock, or any new rock for that matter, from seeing the light of day. Again from the everchanging landscape of the music industry – in the case the rock industry.

Brett Buchanan: You copied and pasted that from somewhere I’ll bet.

Doug McCausland: “Seven year intervals?”

Brett Buchanan: To me it died somewhere around 1995-1997, 1994 dealt it the blow that would kill it (Kurt’s death) but those bands still made some great music a bit after that. The reunions don’t count, as they’re after that era.

Mike Mazzarone: The reunions are good though. They preserve relevancy.

Brett Buchanan: I enjoy getting to see the bands live, but their prime work is from 20 years ago. They are now legacy acts.

Mike Mazzarone: You’re asking when Grunge died. It didn’t “die,” the music world just moved on.

Doug McCausland: So, if I were to give a specific year, it’s 1994. 1994 was pretty much the final year of doing whatever you always wanted to do before you die and having your kids take over.

Brett Buchanan: To me the prime work of those bands is around 1991-1996. Still some great stuff came after, but that was the creative prime, and also when it was most popular.

Mike Mazzarone: But it’s not as if those bands just disappeared off the face of the earth. There is a reason why Soundgarden still sells out venues.

Brett Buchanan: Right, but Soundgarden did not exist from 1997-2010. Now is a reunion period, their main run ended in 1997.

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Doug McCausland: I’m just saying, if we’re talking the traditional definition of “grunge” by most people I would just say that Mellon Collie, Tiny Music, No Code, were all kind of in a post-grunge era.

Riley Rowe:
Similar to the “Rock is Dead” debate, I don’t think a genre can die. Sure it may fall out of mainstream, but the sound is still present in either underground acts or on the albums of some of the main artists. For example, Melvins most recent album is hella grunge sounding. Alice in Chains last album had quite a few of sludgy, grunge songs. Mudhoney’s albums still sound like the same punk-driven grunge songs. Foo Fighters and Soundgarden had a couple grunge-y songs on Wasting Light and King Animal. I’d say “grunge” definitely had a falling out during the mid 90’s but it never died. It just was dormant.

Mike Mazzarone: Well said.

Brett Buchanan: Sure but its prime ended back then, we talked about those guys reuniting and some continuing. Trust me there’s been great material since then, like Pearl Jam’s Yield and Riot Act. STP’s Shangri LA DEE DA, or even something as recent as Alice In Chains’ Black Gives Way to Blue. But overall all of these guys were in their prime regularly putting out music back then, now they’re at a later stage of their career. That’s why Grunge died in the 90’s, that rebellious spirit and desperation was there back then and those bands were all writing some of the greatest songs of all time. Now they’re legacy acts, but their prime runs that everybody will remember is back then, along with some of the original lineups. I mean, will there be a 20th anniversary tour of the 20th anniversary of Superunknown tour? Superunknown is their Dark Side of the Moon, or The Wall, and it came out in 1994. That was Grunge’s run, and it ended somewhere in the mid 90’s. A lot of these guys have remained fortunately, but that was the hey day.

Brett Buchanan:
But in all seriousness, we all know that Grunge really died when Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament sold out and quit Green River to chase rock stardom. (/sarcasm)

Riley Rowe: So if the big 4 continued releasing successful albums with no hiatuses, yet their albums strayed from their original sound, would it be still alive to you?

Layne Staley Alice in Chains

Brett Buchanan: No, it still would have died because nothing lasts forever. I think if Kurt had stayed alive and Layne could have gotten clean and lived, Grunge could have had a slightly longer run. Like Led Zeppelin had a 10 year run in the spotlight with lots of albums, or Pink Floyd. I think a band like Alice In Chains could have had a run closer to that in length. Pearl Jam are the only ones that stuck it out the entire time with the full non drummer lineup, Nine Inch Nails are another from that era that stayed relevant for a long time.

Brett Buchanan: If the originals had stuck it out a bit longer there would have been slightly less post Grunge acts at the time, labels created them since the real ones were falling apart. But it still would have died out by like 2000 or something, everything ends. We’ll never really know, what we do know is most of the bands original lineups were done by 1997. But it was a great run as short as it was, and hopefully someday we’ll see somebody come out with fresh sounds like they did and shake everything up. Either that, or we can all rock out at the Purple 50th Anniversary tour where Eric Kretz is the only original STP member, with Chester Bennington and Doug Grean’s grandchildren rounding out the lineup.

  • liberalBS

    This is so dumb! Who would sit around and discuss this?! Seriously?

  • — J —

    1997.

    Korn was playing the final touring Lollapalooza, Ozzfest became a national tour that ushered in the rise of nu metal, Soundgarden broke up, The Smashing Pumpkins went electronic, Failure broke up, Daft Punk released their first album, the Spice Girls had their first #1 single, U2 released their electronic/samples heavy “Pop” album, Hanson released Mmmbop and ushers in the new boyband era, Shania Twain releases her “Com on Over” album which sells 34 million copies and starts the pop country fad.

  • matt-8

    I lived through those years – I was 16 in 1994 and it was
    the rise of grunge and all those bands that pulled me in and got me hooked on
    music. There were a splattering of other decent bands that were around before them but when these bands came along and they were fresh and new there was something about their sound and their integrity that just blew everything else away.
    Anyway having been in my formative years throughout that time I can tell you first
    hand that it died after 94 and was well and truly dead by 97. When In Utero and
    Vitalogy came out that scene and those bands were still all conquering and dominating.
    Take a look at the MTV awards – by 96/97 all you could see that resembled ‘grunge’
    was the post grunge bands that emerged to fill the vacuum. Obviously Kurt’s
    death was the catalyst. Others could have stepped up but Alice In Chains (or at
    least Layne Staley) and Screaming Tress were burnt out and just faded away and those that continued to make music like Pearl Jam and STP branched off in other musical directions.
    The release of No Code was the real the nail in the coffin – that album
    represented Pearl Jam’s intentional step away and circling of the wagons (or at
    least Vedders – there were others in the band that wanted to carry on as they
    were). Vedder made that decision for personal and artistic reasons (and had he not they may not have survived to still be around delivering the amazing live performances that we enjoy today) but whether he knew it or not he actually really had his finger on the pulse as ‘grunge’ was nolonger in demand like it had been in 94 – by the time No code was released the media and mainstream interest in the ‘grunge phenomenon’ has already cooled and most mainstream critics took the opportunity to bury it. They just weren’t interested anymore.
    The industry tried to milk what ever interest was left by pushing the post grung imitators but the zeitgeist had moved on to Nu Metal in the States and ‘Britpop’ (bands like Oasis) in the UK. I remember Grunge dying because I lived through it and lamented its passing. It’s ending began in 94 and was done by 96. By the time Soundgarden released their ‘final’ (pre comeback) album in 97 nobody other than the die hard fans really cared anymore.

  • amy

    I have to agree with around ’96/’97 “post grunge”/wanna be bands, were making a big scene (creed, bush, etc) and the nu metal stuff really made a change.. also by than stuff like Britney spears & boy bands in the pop world were amazingly annoying to us grunge fans. I think it was taken over by crappy music somewhere around that time.
    I blame the media mostly though. Grunge was better back when it was underground, once it started going mainstream the media transformed it until they destroyed all that was great about it to begin with. Mainstream media can GTFO! IMO.

  • CraigPW1984

    I will have to agree with those that say 96/97. The rise of Nu-metal grew in the late 90s and popularity declined for that around 03 but post-grunge bands were still big. I still listen to a lot of rock today even though I enjoy 90s alternative the most. However, what is the this supposed crap they call rock today on a site like Billboard? I still enjoy bands like Chevelle, Three Days Grace, Godsmack, etc… but take a look at this http://www.billboard.com/charts/rock-songs
    What? Lorde? Bastille? American Authors? This is what they call rock these days?

  • Skelington

    It didn’t die, it just got pushed out by what society calls “alternative” today. Those shitty bands at Warped Tour dominate the alternative tag nowadays. Yes, a lot of post grunge fucked it up too, but at least they didn’t go up to the mic and start whining about stupid high school bullshit. I want there to be a new Nirvana, a new fuck you to the rock scene of today, because most of it is shit.

  • Oskar Augustsson

    this whole topic is just stupid. but i guess it gets people talking.

  • Dave Brookes

    Alternative rock music was always the rebellious nature of mainstream corporate pop culture in America and around the world. In the 1990s, that type of social establishment gave rise to rock n roll bands, metal bands, punk rock bands and independant style new wave bands who wanted to express a collective “FUCK YOU” to the mass media, to parents, to teachers, to the rest of the world deemed Generation X. Grunge was really an anti-social, anti-pop culture statement that rock bands like Nirvana, Janes Addiction, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Faith No More, Stone Temple Pilots, Smashing Pumpkins and Weezer wanted to express at the time. If anyone has really listened to the style of the music, the singing, the songwriting, the guitar playing, the drumming, the basswork, you can hear an undeniable sense of generational angst, distrust, jadedness and a real determined cultural attitude towards individuality and distrust and general discontent with life. If anything is clear about when grunge ended or if the grunge music scene / fashion scene / artistic scene ever even existed, one just has to look around at their peers who grew up during that time. Was anyone really happy with the way the world was in 1991??? The first Iraq war, President Bush? Racism and the Police Riots and the whole Rodney King beating trial? The slow economic recession and mess out there in the world ?? I mean, these rock bands felt like they had a reason for writing their songs and expressing what it felt like to experience “youth” in such sad, mellon collie, carefree but also stressful times. I think both Nirvana’s music video Smells Like Teen Spirit and Pearl Jam’s Jeremy really brought out that vision, that ideal of what it was like to be a kid or teenager living under those frustrating 90’s. Grunge wasnt just about music purely, it was about substance, it was about escape, and in my honest opinion, grunge never ended, the music might of changed, the bands might of continued, break up or lost members, but the spirit, the ideas, the artistic politics expressed back then, still live on today in 2014.

    • darren green

      Do you really think that middle to upper middle class kids gave a toss about geo-politics and domestic politics for that matter??
      That is such an adult way to look back at a certain period in western pop culture.

      Come on, I lived through the whole damn thing (grunge) and in my experience, the popularity of the music was largely down to a herd mentality taking place.
      Sure there were some “disaffected” youth that were truly moved by the music, but for the most part it was monkey see, monkey do.

      “Grunge” was what you were SUPPOSED to be listening to if you were in your teens and even early 20’s at the time. If you didn’t then you’d be left behind, and non of the dudes (sheep) I knew wanted to be left by the wayside.

      Hell, all the kids who were wearing Nirvana, Pear Jam, Alice, Soundgarden shirts were only a few months earlier wearing Poison and Warrant t shirts. Some even listened to Amy Grant. Well, they were mostly the females, but of course they all soon fell in love with Kurt and Eddie. And Chris, of course.

      Now, on a side note..do you really think that Nirvana or Pear Jam or even Soundgarden would have had the impact that they had if their respective lead singers were..lets say… balding and overweight???

      It really was a major factor that these singers were good looking..plus cool looking of course.
      The music alone is never enough to start a revolution.
      Of course no one wants to admit these facts as it is a major indictment on the shallow nature of the human race.
      We’d all like to think we’re above these trivial things and look back on those times as if they really meant something.
      Sadly..they just disappeared like every other fashion movement.
      True.

  • Eddie Yarler

    “Its better to burn out than to fade away”. Ironically Grunge is the truest example of this statement but not in the way you’d think so. Grunge faded away. However, that is FAR from a bad thing. Look at hair metal. Grunge did not kill that genre. It chopped it into tiny pieces and fed them to stray dogs. Aside from Steel Panther I cannot think of a single band today that puts that style of rock into their sound aside from the bands of that era (obviously). To make things funnier I think Steel Panther is being ironic, but I don’t know for sure. Yes Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and Foo Fighters don’t sound remotely similar to how they did in the 90s BUT many new bands are inspired by Grunge and incorporate its sound into their music. When a genre dies it becomes a joke. Just like hair metal, disco, and soon to be dubstep, and Deathcore. It is something people look back on and think “What the fuck was I thinking?” and Grunge is NOT that. Grunge has aged extremely well. Even the later non-Seattle bands that everyone hated at the time like Creed, Bush, Stone Temple Pilots, Smashing Pumpkins, Collective Soul, Third Eye Blind and Silverchair still have their fans, and even sell out well sized venues TODAY. Yes everyone moved on to Nu-Metal after Grunge but Nu-metal aged like milk, and now its the “Deathcore” genre. The six mainstream Seattle bands may no longer be active or utilizing their alternative sound anymore but regardless Grunge, (and even Post-Grunge) continues to inspire people to make music today. And that is why Grunge (or just the 90s sound) is not dead.

  • Will Hendricks

    Grunge is still alive, the grunge popularity in pop culture died when Carson Daly and TRL ushered in boy bands, Britney/Xtina, and Korn/Limp Bizkit took over rock radio in ’98.

  • Hwang Sunghyeop

    In my memories, it took more than 2 years when our country knew it was done. Absolutely Nirvana take their prime time around 1998 worldwide. However I think Nirvana was really popular at 1994 worldwide. I mean before Kurt was dead. Even they went to tour.

  • spiderbucket

    That music holds up a hell of a lot better than 80’s Hair Metal.

  • lilac

    I love this topic because I’ve long thought about this too. I was also 16 in 1994 and I remember by 95 all of this junk music hitting the mainstream. To me this signaled that the chapter had ended and the majority were onto the next things. However, I had also moved to a conservative suburb, so I never knew how it would have been otherwise.

    It just felt like the entire energy of that time lost steam by then. In the ‘good years’ I went to lots of shows both in my hometown and in the city (LA), and lots of meeting cool people everywhere we went it seemed… Maybe it was my age but I remember just being in awe of the amazingly cool vibe of it all. It did help that I was able to get to the city quite a bit, and in my more far away locale we had a good local scene. There was just a special energy about that time. But I know for sure when that Green Day album made it big, it seemed like that energy disappeared. I kinda felt like I had nowhere to take it, though I listened to a good college station and there were still obscure bands to focus on, alternative stuff, etc.

    I wonder what this discussion would be like from a Seattle perspective. I now live in the NW and wish I had been able to come up and catch the scene at that time.

  • FlySpaghettiMonsterFly!

    it was over EXACTLY at the end of the summer of ’94…kurt cobain was
    buried, soundgarden’s “black hole sun” playing ALL summer long was
    grunge’s last hurrah…green day’s wacky antics had arrived to put a
    smile on everybody’s mopey faces after the long nuclear winter of our
    grungecontent.

    (everyone forgot the GD/offspring/rancid/nofx
    Punk2.0 years filled the ’94-’98 gap between the death of grunge and the
    ’98/99 ew-metal takeover…anything else you experienced during ’94-’98
    was an alt-rock hangover-induced hallucination)