14 artists influenced by Nirvana, from Kid Cudi to the Pretty Reckless
It’s pretty much impossible to overstate how much music was changed when Nirvana arrived on the scene. After bands such as R.E.M. and Pixies laid the groundwork for what alternative music could be, Kurt Cobain’s songwriting on Nevermind introduced their signature sound of punk-rock ethos and pop music hooks. The end result would transform the future of modern rock, with a sprawling list of bands following in their footsteps.
That doesn’t mean that the influence of Cobain has been limited to the grunge-rock spectrum. From hip-hop and pop to old-school rock 'n' roll and everything between, these are the artists who got their world turned upside down by Seattle’s native sons.
Seeing how they came out right after the tragic death of Cobain, Weezer were a breath of fresh air for mainstream rock. The band took hard rock and the spirit of Nirvana, transforming it into a unique brand of sunshine-y nerd rock. If you asked Rivers Cuomo, he was one of the biggest Nirvana fans in the world and decided to switch genres from hair metal to alternative rock largely because of Nevermind's influence. If you listen to something such as “Heart Songs” another time, you might be able to figure out what the album with that famous naked baby on the cover really is.
In the years since Nirvana’s time in the spotlight, they really did feel like the best kinds of rock rolled into one. Chester Bennington was one of the few to get in on the ground floor. Before he got his road stripes as the leader of Linkin Park, Bennington was originally part of a post-grunge outfit and credited Nirvana with getting him to look at music as something serious. You’re never going to mistake “One Step Closer” for a Nirvana track musically, but from the standpoint of raw frustration, they’re both coming from the exact same place.
One of the strengths of Nirvana’s music was its ability to break down the boundaries of what rock 'n' roll could be. Considering Nirvana were all about loud and abrasive sounds, the delicate piano pop of Tori Amos seems a thousand miles away if you aren’t listening carefully. Like Cobain, though, Amos always knew the importance of a good melody and even thought enough of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to perform a much darker version of the tune for a covers album. Whereas most singers might cover a rock song to look cool, Amos didn’t need to crank up the distortion to capture inner rage.
Out of the new school of hip-hop, Kid Cudi has never been that far away from rock 'n' roll in the first place. If you were to listen to something like Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven, you can tell that the man at least has respect for the art form that Nirvana had pioneered back in the ‘90s. There is more of an attention to detail with Cudi, though, from sampling Cobain’s guitar on “Cudi Montage” for Kids See Ghosts to wearing a dress onstage on SNL — just like Cobain did on Headbangers Ball back in the day.
Since they all came from Seattle, most of the grunge titans were one big happy family, right? Wrong. In the early days of Pearl Jam’s career, Cobain would go on tangents saying that they weren’t truly alternative. After making nice in the press, Stone Gossard made sure to pay attention to where the band were headed to make sure it would be Cobain-approved. Looking back 20 years later, Stone has said that if Pearl Jam are still a good band these days, it’s partly because of Cobain.
Lana Del Rey
If there’s one thing that Cobain pioneered back in the day, it was the importance of being transparent in your music. And you can really tell that Lana Del Rey was following that model to a tee, refusing to compromise in her vision and trying to put as much honesty into her art as she possibly can. As much as she might fall on the opposite end of the spectrum genre-wise, Del Rey’s careless attitude is the same kind of punk-rock energy that helped kick-start grunge in the first place.
If we’re talking alternative music, though, there’s a long spectrum of artists to lump into one category. At their core, though, Muse’s insane brand of space and art rock has its lineage in Nirvana’s legacy. No matter how much they may have dabbled in different genres, there was no way you were going to see Nirvana make a space-prog epic. Matthew Bellamy’s influences have always been eclectic, and you can find him quoting Nirvana licks and even playing songs such as “Lithium” live in concert alongside the classical pieces that he admires. It makes sense, too. If you were going to make rock music to send into space, Nirvana are a good choice for what perfect alt-rock looks like.
In terms of the punk-rock aesthetic in his music, Denzel Curry’s addiction to ‘90s rock actually makes perfect sense. Outside of the fact that he has a song called “CLOUT COBAIN” and has been known to cover Rage Against The Machine, Curry has seemed to fall in love with what Cobain represented more than anything else. That is, seeing a guy looking to upend the music business and make the kind of music that he wanted to make. Hip-hop might not be the closest relative to alternative music, but real recognizes real when they see it.
As the ‘00s were dawning, most of the big bands of the time moved on from the grunge scene and went in a more garage-rock direction. Those old loves never go away, though, and Arctic Monkeys were never ashamed of their Nirvana worship. When asking drummer Matt Helders, he has fond memories of watching “In Bloom” a lot more when he was a kid, being completely mesmerized by the way that they recorded everything for Nevermind and broke down what made it so magical to begin with. Like all Nirvana fans, though, even he has to admit that picking a favorite Nirvana song is something that’s going to change every single day.
The Pretty Reckless
Out of all the bands on rock radio nowadays, the Pretty Reckless are the one group that feel like a throwback to the glory days of alternative rock. That should come as no surprise for someone like Taylor Momsen, who fell in love with the Seattle brand of rock music at an early age, being inspired by Nirvana and Soundgarden when she first started to sing. In her own words, though, she’s always maintained that she wants to be known more as a Cobain figure than Courtney Love. In the music business, that’s not something you say lightly. For a genre that’s known for a lot of flash in the pans, Momsen seems to be going for the throat.
And now we come to probably the most obvious band influenced by Nirvana, considering the lead singer was actually in the band at the time. Ever since Cobain’s death though, Dave Grohl has carved out his own place in rock music separate from his legacy behind the kit, having the same crunchy foundation with a more positive attitude. We do get to see bits and pieces of him looking back in the Foos’ catalog, though, especially with tribute songs to Cobain such as “Friend of a Friend” and seeing what he could have done differently in “I Should Have Known.”
For fans who only know hits such as “Come As You Are,” you tend to forget just how heavy Nirvana could be on their best day. As far as the devotees are concerned, though, Halestorm have gone back and listened to those deep cuts. In fact, some of their guitar riffs sound like they could have come off the darker parts of Bleach or In Utero. Even if they end up fiddling around with some cover tunes just for fun, Lzzy Hale gives Cobain’s song the swagger that it really deserves.
And from the rock side of Nirvana, we now get to the poppy side of the band that everyone knows them to be. That’s not really fair when talking about Paramore, though, with Hayley Williams being willing to stick up for a lot of her ‘90s rock heroes, whether it’s the boldness of No Doubt or the tortured sounds of Cobain’s songs. If there’s one lesson to take from Cobain’s words, it’s the importance of wearing your heart on your sleeve, and Williams has taken those words to heart, whether it be airing out her frustrations on After Laughter or the more serious turns that happen on her solo records.
Seeing how much alt-rock came out in the ‘90s, it’s easy to miss the non-grunge stuff happening around the same time. Right around the same time Nevermind was storming up the charts, Red Hot Chili Peppers were turning into global megastars, fresh off the singles “Give It Away” and “Under the Bridge.” You have to remember that John Frusciante was just a kid during the Blood Sugar Sex Magik era, and he tended to gravitate toward the more art-rock stylings that Nirvana had in their deep cuts and B-sides. Once he rejoined the band in the back half of the ‘90s, the next few albums he made with the Chili Peppers showed that he took more than a few lessons from Cobain’s songbook in how to write alternative songs that could work just as well on the radio.