Nirvana's 10 Greatest TV and Film Moments: 'SNL' Smooching, Muppets & Beyond
Today (Sept. 24) marks 25 years of Nevermind, Nirvana’s accidentally massive album that neither the band nor its management expected to exceed 45,000 sales -- that’s how many records were initially pressed. Here we are 30 million sales later, and the iconic grunge band’s second studio album lives on in pop culture, thanks in part to the commercial success of its lead single “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which introduced grunge and alt-rock to a mainstream audience. By January 1992, Nevermind edged out Michael Jackson’s Dangerous to take the top slot on the Billboard 200 chart, and Nirvana became one of the most popular bands in the world.
Made up of lead vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl, Nirvana’s tenure ended in 1994 with Cobain’s death. Kurt, who is often hailed as one of music’s greats alongside the likes of Bob Dylan and John Lennon, had and continues to have a cult-like following. The band’s legacy is routinely referenced in film and television, and in celebration of Nevermind’s silver anniversary, we’ve compiled 10 of their best appearances, both on the big screen and the small screen.
Saturday Night Live
One of the sketch comedy show's biggest surprise moments came at the end of a 1992 Nirvana performance, when the band performed “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Territorial Pissings” as SNL’s musical guest. But they weren’t done there: in an effort to “piss off the rednecks and homophobes,” the band members french kissed live on television. SNL then refused to air the kiss on future repeats of the episode.
If you check out the soundtrack to 1994 cult classic Pulp Fiction, you’ll notice director Quentin Tarantino thanks Kurt Cobain, even though Nirvana’s music isn’t found in the movie itself. And on 1993’s In Utero, the band thanks Tarantino. Why? Turns out Tarantino asked Cobain to play Lance, the film’s drug dealer, which was taken on by Eric Stoltz instead (who kind of looks like Cobain anyway). Supposedly, both parties greatly admired one another and were friends.
1995’s record store cult film hones in on the world of vinyl, therefore it’s only appropriate that Nirvana surfaces somewhere. Look closely and you’ll spot a Nirvana tour poster from when the band toured with the Meat Puppets at the tail-end of 1993 -- it’s orange and has a pirate skull face.
Football star Frank “Cush” Cushman (intentionally) gives what is perhaps the worst cover ever of “Something in the Way” in 1996’s Jerry Maguire. In a hotel room, Cush disrupts football business talk with a nasally, out-of-tune take on Nirvana’s darkest track off Nevermind.
Even cartoons pay homage to Nirvana. On a 1997 episode of Daria, a satirical animated comedy about high school life, Daria asks her best friend Jane if she’d like to crash cheerleader Brittany’s party. Jane responds, “Oh no, I’d much rather stay home and listen to my brother practice the opening to ‘Come As You Are.’”
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
In the first episode of the groovy, shagadelic Austin Powers trilogy, Seth Green -- who plays Scott Evil, the son of diabolical mastermind Dr. Evil -- walks into a room dressed in a blue Kurt Cobain shirt while “Smells Like Teen Spirit” plays in the background. Dr. Evil then chases Scott in a failed attempt to hug his long-lost son. It’s all super angsty.
In the 2001 musical film, Nirvana gets a French cabaret twist with tuxedo-clad men in top hats singing and dancing in unison to the chorus of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The famously fun and flamboyant medley-dance scene then gives way to burlesque waves of feathers in Fatboy Slim’s can can-inspired “Because We Can.”
2011’s The Muppets features a barbershop quartet scene where four muppets sing in kooky harmony to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” while shaving Jack Black’s beard (and consequently butchering his haircut). Black then cries out, “You’re ruining one of the greatest songs of all time!” Maybe so, but maybe not.
American Horror Story
The 2014 season of American Horror Story: Freak Show had a slew of covers in one of its episodes. Evan Peters (who played the lobster-handed Jimmy Darling) crooned the words to Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” (and did a rather great job), which followed Jessica Lange’s cover of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and Sarah Paulson’s take on Fiona Apple’s “Criminal.” According to AHS creator Ryan Murphy, the season’s music selection focused on artists who identified as feeling like freaks or outcasts.
Loads of people have covered “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but a group of unruly pirates? Unheard of, until 2015’s take on Peter Pan. In this film, we get to see Hugh Jackman (who plays Captain Blackbeard) belting Nirvana at the helm of a pirate ship while a crowd of children below chant along.