The Humorous Truth Behind Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”


Nearly every song in existence, whether or not it’s intended message is obvious, is up for personal interpretation. That’s one of the innumerable aspects that makes art such a empirical and authentic form of expression. However, it’s funny when a song so anthemized and adored is thought to have such depth, when in all actuality it’s based on something seriously insignificant — like “Teen Spirit” feminine deodorant, for example.

NETHERLANDS – NOVEMBER 25: HILVERSUM Photo of Kurt COBAIN and NIRVANA, Kurt Cobain recording in Hilversum Studios, playing Takamine acoustic guitar (Photo by Michel Linssen/Redferns)

Hold your horses! Grunge pioneer and Rock legend Kurt Cobain did not knowingly base the generation-defining anthem on a brand of deodorant.

The hilarious┬áreality of┬áthe song “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

It was born from a misunderstood joke! In the summer of 1990, Bikini Kill member Kathleen Hanna and Cobain spent time rebelling against the status-quo idea of “fun.” In other words, they were vandalizing an anti-abortion clinic in Washington. Following the friendly trip to the clinic, the two rebellious rock stars returned to Cobain’s apartment. Being that vandalism is such a draining act of service, Cobain decided to take a nap.

At the time, the Nirvana frontman was in a relationship with the drummer of Bikini Kill, Tobi Vail. The drummer, like a lot of women, wore “Teen Spirit” deodorant. Hanna wrote “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” on one of the walls in Cobain’s apartment in an attempt to joke around. However, rather than getting a laugh out of it, Cobain became a legend off of it – talk about irony!

When Cobain woke and saw the words on his wall, he assumed they referenced a conversation he had shared with Hanna. The singer didn’t end up incorporating the words “Teen Spirit” into a song until a year later. The perceived depth of “Teen spirit” stuck with Cobain, and ultimately turned into a grunge legend.

I read this story in Time Life’s recent “Rock Legends” magazine. The special issue delves into the stories which served as the inspiration for so many classics tunes. The story behind Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is indescribably adorable and personal. However, it also shows just how artistic and complex the singer’s mind was. He took something so simple and interpreted it as something so full of depth. The reality Cobain must have lived in daily was surely drenched with immense emotion and philosophical thought.



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