Gen Z’s Guide to Nirvana

Are you a new fan of Nirvana since The Batman? Here’s your guide to the band’s legendary songs.

In the few weeks since the release of The Batman starring Robert Pattinson and Zoe Kravitz, a surprising song has made its way back up the charts–Nirvana’s 1991 “Something in the Way.” The track appears in the trailer, and also in the film. Many die-hard fans and film critics alike are praising the film’s accuracy to the comics in comparison to previous Batman films. Of course, this has led to much discourse not only about the film, but its music, on TikTok among Gen Z.

Nirvana has long been hailed as one of the most influential rock bands of all time, most notably for their role in the rise of the Seattle grunge scene. They also gave Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters his start in the industry as their drummer–tragically, The Foo Fighters’ talented drummer Taylor Hawkins passed away this week. With grunge rapidly making a comeback amid modern streaming and on social media platforms like TikTok, it’s only fair that we pay tribute to the genre’s giants after they’re gone. Here’s a Gen Z guide to Nirvana for new fans.

“In Bloom” from Nevermind

This track, while less obvious than some of the radio hits from the band, is from their most popular album, Nevermind. Nirvana’s lyrics were intricately woven with critiques of modern society and the music industry, and this track is the perfect example of that. Cobain wrote a purposely catchy chorus (“he’s the one who likes all our pretty songs/and he likes to sing along/and he likes to shoot his gun.”) What seems like a rock banger is really an ahead-of-its-time critique of toxic masculinity in rock music–not taking the art seriously, and having dark tendencies that different greatly from the image and lyrics the band is actually putting out. Step one of your guide to listening to Nirvana–always listen between the lines.

“Heart Shaped Box” from In Utero

This track recently rose to popularity among a new generation when 5 Seconds of Summer’s Ashton Irwin covered it in 2020. This hauntingly unique love song is reportedly about the late Kurt Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love of Hole. It features specific details about their relationship, referencing his Pisces sun sign (Love is reportedly very into astrology), and poetic lines like “I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black.”

Stay Away from Nevermind

This banger is yet another societal critique–one on the mass media and microscope Cobain and his band were put under amid their rapid rise to fame. The fast pace and repeated “I don’t know why” is the perfect representation of the rise of celebrity culture in the 90s, and the boundaries between artist and fans that people are only recently starting to recognize is needed, through cases like the Free Britney movement. An orchestral version of this track was most recently featured in the debut episode of Bridgerton season two, in which it lays the score for a disgruntled Anthony going on a series of bad first dates in hopes of finding a wife. Though it takes place in a different time period, Anthony Bridgerton’s character also wants the pressures of society to stay away from him.

Come as You Are from Nevermind

One of their more well known tracks, this Nirvana song encourages people to present as their true selves, whether they are “doused in mud or sapped in bleach.” Cobain’s lyrics here suggest that no matter who you really are, you need to be authentic––especially to your friends. It’s a message with extra weight in today’s social media centric culture.

Smells Like Teen Spirit from Nevermind

This song is arguably Nirvana’s most popular song of all time, but despite its high volume of radio play, few understood the lyrics. In part, the song’s commentary on teenage fans lacking an understanding of music is present with “here we are now, entertain us”, but also the revolution of grunge and changes in Cobain’s own life, including a reference to his first mature relationship in his 20s with music critic and Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail. The legendary guitar solo is not to be missed with this one.

The Man Who Sold the World from MTV Unplugged in New York

In MTV’s heyday, Unplugged was not to be missed. Nirvana’s episode featured several originals and six covers, most notably this one. Originally by David Bowie, the song details a man who has sold his soul for fame and fortune as he struggles with his identity and looks upon his past self. Though not written by Cobain, the themes are certainly consistent with his style The acoustics of this live performance captivated the audience, and it remains one of the most notable performances in MTV’s history.

About a Girl from Bleach

This track from Nirvana’s debut album details what Gen Z would call a situationship. Each person wants emotional support and the benefits of a relationship, while one party doesn’t want true commitment. Yes, a tale as old as time. This track is a bit of a hidden gem in their catalog, and was released in 1989.

All Apologies from In Utero

Kurt Cobain gets the last laugh on this song, in which he sarcastically apologizes for his controversial views. Notably a feminist and believer in equality for LGBTQ+ people, Cobain was frequently criticized for speaking out against the norms, hence his continued questioning of society and religion throughout many of his band’s songs.

Lithium from Nevermind

This song is about a fictional character turning to religion to cope with their significant other’s death. Cobain equates religion to prescription lithium here, as both serve as a comfort to different types of people in times of trouble, and can help quell intense emotions. Religious themes are present in a lot of Cobain’s work, as he reportedly lived with a childhood friends’ Born-Again Christian family for some of his childhood.

Something in the Way from Nevermind

And of course, we must go back to the start––if you’re here from TikTok or The Batman, this is the song that started it all. If Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne liked this song, surely it’s a good one. The phrase was once spray painted on a bridge in Cobain’s hometown of Aberdeen, Washington, and the song alludes to some of his interesting pets he had over the years, including turtles.

Now that you have a breakdown of the many interesting lyrics Kurt Cobain wrote in his tragically brief but profoundly important career, enjoy Nirvana’s diverse catalog of songs––and remember to listen to the lyrics before posting that TikTok, it’s what Kurt would’ve wanted.

About the Author

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Madison Goldberg

Madison E. Goldberg is a senior at Emerson College majoring in journalism and minoring in publishing and photography. She’s covered numerous topics in news and entertainment as a multimedia journalist.