What is Grunge Subculture?

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson you'll learn the definition of the grunge subculture, where grunge came from, and who first coined the term 'grunge.' You'll also learn the origins of the grunge subculture and go over some of its music. Following the lesson will be a brief quiz to test your new knowledge.

What Is Grunge?

Guitars. Heavy rock. Heroin. Plaid shirts and ripped jeans. Doc Martens and Converse. Guys with long, messy hair. Do any of these words and images sound familiar to you? If so, then you might already be aware of 'grunge.' The grunge subculture is a subculture that began in the 1980s and exploded in the early 1990s; it is comprised of alternative-rock music fans that concede on their cynicism of societal norms, materialism, and conformity to the masses. Often grunge music is depressing or sad; for instance, many lyrics center around problems in relationships or dealing with mental illness.

The grunge subculture has a very distinct fashion sense.
Grunge kids

The grunge subculture is largely associated with and basically started in Seattle, Washington; grunge is often called the 'Seattle sound.' The attitude of the grunge subculture is largely one of burnout with society. Often people in the grunge subculture seem cool and indifferent. They typically have a lack of concern for their appearance and tend to focus their time and effort on music or fighting for social rights.

To the motivated American trying to make money to live according to the 'American dream' (two kids and a white picket fence), the grunge subculture might not make sense. To these people, the teens and 20-somethings living the grunge lifestyle may come across as irresponsible, lazy, and apathetic. In the late 80s and early 90s, grunge was sometimes associated with delinquent kids who listened to rock.

The grunge subculture was born in Seattle, Washington.
Seattle, WA

Origins of the Grunge Subculture

The word, 'grunge,' actually means 'dirt.' The distorted and dirty guitars and vocals -- as well as the sloppy appearance of the band members -- in this style of alternative rock could be one reason for the use of this word. The actual first person known to coin the term 'grunge' was a writer, Paul Ramball. He wrote for the NME (New Musical Express -- a British music magazine), and he used the term in his 1978 article to describe popular guitar rock music. But many people attribute the term 'grunge' to Mark Arm, the lead singer for the Seattle band Green River.

Mark Arm, first a singer for band, Green River, and then Mudhoney, was one of the first to use the term, grunge.
Mark Arm

Music of the Grunge Subculture

Think loud, and sometimes sloppy, distorted guitars, heavy drums, and (sometimes) screaming vocals. The lyrics are often dark and sad, and can be about discontent with life, relationship problems, depression, suicide, etc. Some of the first bands in the grunge music genre in the late 80s and early 90s were Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Stone Temple Pilots.

Nirvana is one of the most popular first bands of the alternative rock/grunge music genre.

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