Music’s history is generally created by movements. The birth of new genres developing into entire music scenes, all capable of defining an entire generation. Here’s a look at two institutes of music that happened simultaneously in different parts of the world.

Grunge

Origins:  Late 80s, early 90s. Seattle, Washington.

Affiliated Bands: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden

Sound: Punk, heavy metal, indie and alternative rock influences

Attitude: Apathetic

Grunge music was all the rage in the U.S. during the early 90s, when it made its way into the mainstream. Its heavily distorted, static noise sound became recognizable anywhere, and it started to take over the music charts,. Grunge music deals with feelings of discontent: with the ways of the world, with society, and with appearances. Thematically speaking, grunge gave voice to issues like social prejudices and unpopularity, apprehension, depression and carried over punk music’s notions of anarchy and revolution. No sugar plums and fairy tales here. They were not in it for the fame or the glamour. Their shows did not have fancy lighting or pyrotechnics; it was just a group of friends, dressed in ripped jeans, with long unkempt hair, headbanging and playing music together.

Nirvana went on about reality vs. expectations in “Come As You Are;” Pearl Jam discussed social outcasts in “Jeremy;” Soundgarden spoke up about depression on “Fell on Black Days.” There was no way they could predict  the number of people who shared their angst and would respond to their lyrics. They approached real issues and it struck a chord with more people than anyone could have imagined: they were the classic tortured soul. Teenagers and young adults related the most – as we all know, high school can be a very dark and difficult time. These kids finally had someone who understood them, who represented them, who made them feel less alone. Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain, unwilling poster boy for grunge, committed suicide on April 5th, 1994. That single event would be the start of the demise of grunge music. Post-grunge (think Bush) developed in the mid 90s, but did not have the same foundation as grunge, as it only springboarded off of it, and catered more to the radio-friendly crowd. In the late 90s, grunge faded out and was replaced by the unfortunate comeback of boy bands.

Britpop

Origins: Late 80s, early 90s. England.

Affiliated Bands: Blur, Pulp, Oasis

Sound: Punk, pop, indie and alternative rock influences

Attitude: Optimistic

The roots of Britpop began with the Madchester scene in England in the 80s. Bands like The Stone Roses and New Order fused dance music and rock ‘n roll, paving the way for a more uplifting sound compared to moodier bands of the time, like The Smiths. In the early 90s, England was finally looking to a brighter future:  Margaret Thatcher and her radical conservatism were on the brink of being ousted, multiculturalism was on the rise, and England seemed to be opening up. The British were finally in a good mood. However, once American grunge music started crossing over and invading the British music scene, they wanted to dispel all that angst and negativity, and prevent it from poisoning their country. Britpop started in an effort to defeat grunge music by being the exact opposite: spreading cheerfulness, positivity and promise. Their sound had heavy elements of guitar pop, and infused British pride throughout their music.

Blur basked in the glory of “Park Life;” Oasis wanted to “Live Forever;” Pulp wanted to see the world through the eyes of “Common People.” Their music was fun, lively, and likely to cause a dance party wherever it went. When anyone reaches a certain amount of success, however, their demise is usually self-inflicted. Once Britpop was well established, Blur and Oasis took it upon themselves to get into a bitter battle. They each released a single – Oasis’ “Roll With It” and Blur’s “Country House” – on the same day to see which one would sell more copies. Blur won that battle, but Oasis was overall much more successful commercially. In 1997, Oasis’ third album Be Here Now was released and poorly received for its unpleasant sound.  Blur released their self-titled fifth album, with a sound far deviated from their previous albums. British fans eventually lost interest and turned their attentions to Spice Girls and the more mystic sounds of Radiohead. Britpop disappeared into the background.

Keep in mind folks, this is just a brief insight into the histories of these genres. But what’s most interesting is the idea that one movement was created out of the disdain for the other movement. Britpop would not have existed without Grunge. Who knew?

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Comments
  1. Sweet, I never would have thought that grunge spawned Britpop, and you sprinkled in some international history there, too. Great post!

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