When Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," hit the airwaves in 1991, no one, least of all the singer of the song, Kurt Cobain, could have anticipated that it would now be scientifically proven to be the most iconic song of all time. But that's exactly what happened.
Released on September 10, 1991 as the lead single off of Nevermind, the song was never intended to be anything more than a "base building", radio-friendly intro to the band, which was half heartedly trying to gain a bigger following after their debut album, Bleach came out on Sub Pop in 1989, failing to chart in the U.S. at all.
Nirvana's video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" debuted on MTV's 120 Minutes on September 29, 1991 and went on to win them the "Best New Artist" award in 1992, beating out Tori Amos, Arrested Development, and Cracker.
The award was presented to a visibly "WTF" band by Boyz II Men, and Wilson Phillips. Later in the band's career, Cobain commented that their most famous track is "just making fun of the thought of having a revolution" and "the entire song is made up of contradictory ideas."
Flash forward 24 years later, Cobain has long since passed, the other band members have started their own things, and yet still, no one can let loose of their grip on "Smells Like Teen Spirit." But there's a reason for that ...
According to Spin, computer scientist and musician Dr. Mick Grierson examined songs featured in seven ‘all-time best’ lists from sources like Rolling Stone and NME, and ran them through analytical software to compare their key, BPM, chord variety, lyrical content, timbral variety, and sonic variance.
John Lennon’s “Imagine” took second place. U2’s “One,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” rounded out the top five. And Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" claimed first place.
“We found the most significant thing these songs have in common is that most of them use sound in a very varied, dynamic way when compared to other records,” Grierson explained. “This makes the sound of the record exciting, holding the listeners attention. By the same token, the sounds these songs use and the way they are combined is highly unique in each case.”
A bit vague, and gleaned from a very small sampling of songs, but we'll take it.
With the lights out, it's iconic
Here we are now, iconic
I feel stupid and iconic
Here we are now, iconic