Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Alamy)


Remembering Nirvana's TV debut performing 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' in 1991

It’s safe to say that every iconic band or artist has one or two moments in their career that establish the foundations for their stardom and provide stable ground to launch from. For Nirvana, this came in the form of a ropey ‘youth’ TV show in the UK called The Word.

Without their performance of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in 1991 on this show going the way it did, it’s quite likely you would never have heard of Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl. Or, at the very least, would have relegated them in Britain to much of the other riff-raff of America’s alt-rock scene.

The Word was a TV show in the early-nineties which, like its predecessor Tube, was designed to engage with a new and emerging youth movement that refused to believe anything that didn’t come through the small screen. Hosted by radio personality and all-around shit-smirker and TV personality, Terry Christian, the show got moved from a 6pm slot to a new late-night slot that allowed the show to truly flourish and their guests to do pretty much whatever they wanted.

The magazine format of the show allowed for interviews, live music, features and even game shows to be conducted within its tight timeframe. The new flexible late-night format meant that guests could do just about anything to be controversial. There was also an ‘I’ll do anything to be on television’ section called “The Hopefuls” in which people ate worms, bathed in maggots, licked the sweat off fat people, intimately kissed old people, and did generally repulsive things in order to get featured on the programme.

Enter Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl. Nirvana were ready to tear it up.

The band took to the TV studio to give the first televised performance of the iconic ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Their raw energy, the fury of performance, and undoubted star power that emanated from every strum or thrash meant that the band left an indelible mark on the youth of Britain.

Nirvana, after this, would never be the same band, instead, they would be the hope of a disenfranchised generation. Their clothes, their sound and their ethos would be emulated up and down the country for years to come.

Not only was the performance the first televised showing of Nirvana, but it was the first time that the world was formally introduced to Cobain’s girlfriend and future mother of his child, Courtney Love. “I’d like all of you people in this room to know that Courtney Love, the lead singer of the sensational pop group Hole, is the best fucking the world.”

So, sit back, and take a look at one of the seminal moments of a band that would go on to change so much of the musical world.