Flashback: See Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain defy gender norms by wearing dress onstage for “Dive”
This is Flashback, where we’re reminiscing about some of the most iconic and obscure moments in alt-rock history. This week, we’re homing in on Nirvana’s 1993 performance of “Dive” and the way they embraced gender expression.
In their explosive time together, Nirvana deconstructed and challenged the idea of gender, particularly frontman Kurt Cobain. The vocalist frequently wore dresses onstage (and in their music videos), and members of the band even kissed each other on national TV. Their 1993 performance at Hollywood Rock in Brazil was no exception, with the trio ripping through their early B-side “Dive” while Cobain wore a black dress and tiara onstage.
At a time when the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy — a discriminatory law that allowed gay Americans to serve in the military if they stayed closeted — was only a year away from being enacted, the band’s desire to blur gender boundaries felt more prescient than ever. By tearing up the song while dressing femininely in this clip, which landed in the band’s 1994 concert documentary Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!, Cobain once again rebuffed the increasingly masculine energy that permeated heavier music in the ’90s.
Read more: Nirvana’s 1992 cover captures a band breaking into the mainstream
Nirvana’s embrace of gender expression was groundbreaking, but 20 years on from that incendiary show, it’s being restricted by the government. Earlier this month, Tennessee passed an anti-drag bill that bans performances from “topless, go-go or exotic dancers, strippers, or male or female impersonators” on public property. To comply with the bill, spaces that allow these types of performances need to be designated as “adult cabaret” venues. The new law also makes it illegal in places where minors could watch.
Still, festivals like Bonnaroo denounced the bill, stating that they “have and will always be a place for inclusivity,” and artists like boygenius and Kid Cudi are carrying Nirvana’s torch.
Watch Nirvana play “Dive” below.