Grunge (sometimes referred to as the Seattle sound) is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged during the mid-1980s in the American state of Washington, particularly in the Seattle area. Inspired by hardcore punk, heavy metal, and indie rock, grunge is generally characterized by heavily distorted electric guitars, contrasting song dynamics, and apathetic or angst-filled lyrics. Thegrunge aesthetic is stripped-down compared to other forms of rock music, and many grunge musicians were noted for their unkempt appearances and rejection of theatrics.
By the end of the 1980's the music scene in the United States had gradually become dominated by two major genres. In addition to the pop sounds of Michael Jackson and Madonna, there was hair metal, a form of heavy metalmusic personified by bands like Poison, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and Motley Crue.
There were, however, a large demographic of people that this type of music just didn't connect with. In the mid-1980's, young musicians and artists who were inspired by other, heavier genres of metal and the do-it-yourself aesthetic of punk began to form their own unique form of music that combined loud guitars withemotionally introspective lyrics far removed from the polish and sequins of popular metal. A large concentration of bands representing this sound congregated in the Seattle area, and by the end of the 80's, a record label named Sub Pop, managed by Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitof, was regularly releasing records that captured these new artists.
The pioneering Seattle bands, Mudhoney, the Melvinsand Green River, had a huge local following but had difficulty breaking out of the region to attract a more national audience. It was around this time that several of the most well-known groups of what would later be termed the 'grunge' movement began to release their first successful records, notably Soundgarden, who by this time had several early releases behind them and Nirvana, who's initialrecord 'Bleach' would come out in 1989. However, it would take Nirvana's 1991 album 'Nevermind,' given a glossy sheen by producer Butch Vig to breakthrough to the mainstream, catapulting band leader Kurt Cobain into international stardom and focusing an enormously bright media spotlight on Seattle itself. It was at this point that record labels began to frantically sign any bands that hailed fromthe Pacific Northwest.
The intense scrutiny from the musical press regarding what was termed the 'Seattle sound' or 'grunge' music caused several bands to be swept up in the genre despite the significant differences in their musical styles. While groups like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden found enormous success in the early 1990's, their musical output ranged from drug-addled melodicmetal to sludgy Sabbath-era Pearl Jam riffing to straight-forward pop songs. However, to mainstream radio and MTV it didn't matter, and if it could be packaged as grunge it could be sold to millions of musically starved teens who had suddenly found an outlet for the angst that had been building up inside of them for years.
The grunge movement's legs weren't quite as long as most record executiveswould have liked. Nirvana released a stark, noisy and abrasive record named 'In Utero'. Mudhoney and the Melvins were left behind, as their music was deemed to inaccessible for widespread acceptance. Cobain's suicide in 1994 a few months after Nirvana's seminal appearance on 'MTV: Unplugged' would signal the beginning of the end of grunge's popularity. Alice in Chains and Soundgarden would go on torelease two of the most popular albums of the 1990's, 'Grind' and 'Superunknown,' but each band would dissolve a few short years later, leaving Seattle bereft of its original Blind Melon musical leadership. Modern alternative rock can trace its roots back to these formative grunge bands, which almost single-handedly changed the face of popular music forever.
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