’90s alternative music set tone for decade

Megan Hix

While modern charts are dominated by pop anthems and rap mixtapes, the alternative sounds of the ‘90s still have a firm hold on today’s youth, even though many weren’t born early enough to remember the heyday of Nirvana or Bikini Kill.

English associate professor Neil Nehring, who teaches a class on popular music and youth subcultures, said while many millennials may not consider grunge artists like Pearl Jam and Nirvana innovative, they were different enough from the hair bands of the ‘80s to interest a new generation in rock music.

“[Nirvana was] so huge that all the people saying [rock was dead] had to shut up — specifically Nirvana shut them up — because here was this vital music that melded metal and punk,” Nehring said. “There were a lot of alienated young people and it really appealed to them.”

Grunge and riot grrrl emerged out of the Pacific Northwest, but riot grrrl set itself apart by focusing on bands with feminist messages, like Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill.

“Young women found a point of injecting themselves into rock music with riot grrrl,” Nehring said. “It’s one of the few subcultures that had people organizing beyond the music.”

Radio-television-film sophomore Yvonne Borrego said she stumbled into ‘90s music on her own through streaming services.

“The music now is more repetition and full of catchy phrases that don’t make sense,” Borrego said. “[In the ‘90s], they used more instruments.” 

Ph.D. candidate Brendan Gaughen hosts “Domesticated,” a KRVX radio show featuring ‘90s indie music. He said grunge and riot grrl have a continuing impact on today’s music. 

“There’s a lot of music out now that really sounds like different periods of the past,” Gaughen said. “Superchunk and Yo La Tengo are still around making music. A lot of them never went away and inspired younger people to create music with a similar sound.”