Cobain wrote it to be the "ultimate pop song," though its anti-materialistic, anti-establishment lyrical content was anything but. "It was such a cliched riff," Cobain told Rolling Stone in 1994. "It was so close to a Boston riff or 'Louie, Louie.' When I came up with the guitar part, Krist [Novoselic] looked at me and said, 'That is so ridiculous.'"
The song became an uncontrollable cultural phenomenon anyway. It launched Nirvana's album Nevermind to the top of the charts, unseating Michael Jackson and moving so many copies the label couldn't keep up with demand. Every industry sought to capitalize off the grunge aesthetic. "Flannel shirts and torn jeans found their way onto Manhattan fashion runways," Jamie Allen wrote for Salon. "Movies like 'Wayne's World' mocked slackers while taking their money. Commercials used the word "dude" far too often." And major labels started investing in a lot of astronomically shitty "grunge" bands trying to duplicate Nirvana's irresistibly rebellious sound.
To his eternal credit, Cobain saw the influence his music was having on mainstream culture and tried to stem the spread. He began refusing to play "Smells Like Teen Spirit" live, or "purposefully performing it sloppily, just to mess with the audiences he cynically saw as flocking to Nirvana shows just to hear that song while it was flavour of the month," Al Horner wrote for NME.ii
Nirvana's next and final record, In Utero, was far more dissonant and inaccessible than its predecessor, a likely attempt to shake the pop audiences they'd gathered. As former NME writer Keith Cameron put it: "Kurt didn't want to sell records to cunts." But that was fine with the majors, because other bands would.
After Cobain's death, major labels began desperately searching for the "next Nirvana." They minediii the hell out of the Seattle scene looking for another hit band, signing underground acts left and right. Pearl Jam, which Cobain once described as "pioneering a corporate, alternative and cock-rock fusion," became the new grunge. "Knock-off bands," like Candlebox, Stone Temple Pilots and Silverchair, as Kyle Anderson described them in his book Accidental Revolution: The Story of Grunge, "stormed the barricades."
The lameness multiplied as labels worked to promote scores of corporatized rock bands content with writing sterile pop-rock anthems, bands like Nickelback, Godsmack, Staind, Creed and Limp Bizkit, whose lead singer Fred Durst described Cobain as an "inspiration."
"They sold millions," Anderson wroteiv. "But were as empty as the hairmetal bands their forefathers fought so hard to vanquish."
Nirvana's surviving members are well aware of their sins. In an interview with the Guardian, Krist Novoselic claimed: "We had punk-rock values, but we signed those papers," referring to their band's major label deal. He nodded to alternative acts at the time that remained independent, Fugazi and Pavement, saying "I could never face them again."
Dave Grohl, Nirvana's drummer, admitted the same in a previous interview hosted by Spinner. "We fucked up an awesome underground scene 20 years ago," he said, according to Ultimate Guitar. "Maybe we shouldn't fuck up the next one." Grohl placed his comments within a hopeful context. "20 years ago, everything was ruled by these major labels, but there was this really cool underground scene flourishing in its independence," he added.
I would propose the moral is pretty clear. All the piece says, insistently, on a dozen voices plus three choruses, is that it's not ok to be successful.
A hollow simulacra of success of the kind described by Ballas may perhaps be attempted, if the people involved are greedy and altogether morally unsound. Lamers and business majors do that sort of thing. Actually cool people are not supposed to be successful, period and full stop.
Somehow the question as to why exactly is it that they shouldn't be truly successful, and especially so successful as to in fact take control of the "majors" rather than let them continue to exist is not posed. The controversy is painted as "be unsuccessful or else be successful in this stupid way". Failure is signalled as the correct solution of this nonsensical false dilemma, which just happens to be entirely designed to distract from the actual correct solution : to actually - ie not metaphorically - burn the majors, and everything else, to the ground.
Now let's turn the clock forward a quarter century, and let's look at the exact same machinery packaging an entirely similar success :
At the very moment when Donald Trump is making an unprecedented attack on our democracy, millions of people are registering to vote early and volunteer in this campaign.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Coconut Creek, Florida, The Banana Republic.
Donald Trump, domestic terrorist : The man who tried to kill democracy - and why we had it coming.
Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com
Donald Trump can't be just defeated. He must be humiliated. Donald Trump is running against democracy itself.
Dana Millbank, Chicago Tribune
The Party of Lincoln's nominee returned to the site of his greatest speech to attack the faith in democratic government that Lincoln so carefully fostered.
Yoni Appelbaum, The Atlantic
Donald Trump, the Anti-Democratic Candidate
Benjamin Wallace-Wells, The New Yorker
I will spare you the rest - pretty much every jew with a "mainstream" media account is out in force, and vituperations abound.
Why exactly is Kurt Cobain not the anti-democratic musician, that must not just be defeated but humiliated for his sinful attempt to kill democracy ? Why isn't he a domestic terrorist ?
Why is it that when it comes to Nirvana, a strict rejection of the embrace of the public is not merely expected, not merely required, but outright a religious obligation, surrounded by all the verbiage of sin and taboo ?
Back in 1990 the imperative was still to stick it to the majority. Why ? What exactly changed in these intervening 25 years ?
Clinton can explain this to you, if you haven't figured it out on your own. Back in 1990, the majority was still white.
That's all it is. "Our" democracy very strictly looks like an unhappy white man who married a monkey and spawned a coupla whatever those are.
Before, back when "our" democracy meant Reagan got elected, the job of everyone was to stick it to the democracy. Back then it was no good, you see. Back then it was too white.
Now that it's brown enough, "our" democracy is a sort of chest of the covenant, come from heavens beyond the ocean to be forever right and forever perfect and never rightfully attacked.
Why is Trump not an uncontrollable cultural phenomenon ? It tops the charts, doesn't it ? Oh, that's right - the man behind it lacks a "healthy" dose of self-deprecation. Healthy enough to kill him, ideally.
White racism is real. It is another name for self hatred.———
- By one Tom Barnes in something called Music.Mic. There's no serious reason to believe either of these actually exist, in no small part because the piece is actually researched, and the sources linked. [↩]
- Bullshit, a 2014 article I have to go spelunking for ? Fuck "NME" with a Xerox machine, whatever the fuck it is, and who the fuck is this Al Whorer anyway. [↩]
- Reference given as Rock'n America: A Social and Cultural History. Deena Weinstein. University of Toronto Press. [↩]
- Accidental Revolution: The Story of Grunge. Kyle Anderson. Macmillan. [↩]