Everyone knows that the “alternative” music of the early and mid-’90s was full of laments about boredom, apathy and self-hatred. But the full force of that zeitgeist doesn’t really hit you until you listen to about 15 such songs and realize that most of them were recorded by enormously popular bands, with many going on to become full-scale hit singles. Now, I’m not making fun of the ’90s here. This music takes a lot of heat for its “slacker” mentality, but to me, the earnest complaints are a sign of life missing from today’s popular (counter-)culture. Though things may suck even more for our generation of 20-somethings than they did for our Gen X counterparts, we tend to cover the boredom, apathy and self-hatred we also suffer from with a heavy dose of irony, thus disguising any real feelings we may need to contend with.
So take this list (part one of two) as a celebration of the ’90s. And maybe we could use a dose of the same harsh self-criticism the musicians of 15 years ago provided.
Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991)
Key lyric: “She’s over-bored and self-assured. Oh no, I know a dirty word”; “Here we are now, entertain us.”
Dinosaur Jr. – “Feel the Pain” (1994)
Key lyric: “I feel the pain of everyone, and then I feel nothing.”
Blind Melon – “No Rain” (1993)
Key lyric: “I don’t understand why I sleep all day.”
Hole – “Plump” (1994)
Key lyric: “They say I’m plump, but I throw up all the time.”
Radiohead – “Creep” (1992)
Key lyric: “You’re so fucking special. I wish I was special.”
The Smashing Pumpkins – “1979” (1995)
Key lyric: “We don’t even care just where our bones will rest. To dust, I guess.”
Nine Inch Nails – “Hurt” (1994)
Key lyric: “I hurt myself today. To see if I still feel.”