The countdown begins as Nirvana’s video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is about to hit one billion views on YouTube. Widely-regarded as the band’s signature song, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ opened Nirvana’s break-through release Nevermind (Geffen/UMe) which hit No. 1 around the world, selling more than 30 million copies worldwide.
Nevermind would come to be much more than one of the most successful and influential albums of all time. It returned rock ’n’ roll integrity and passion to the top of the charts and continues to be a singular inspiration to fans and musicians alike over the last three decades – and generations to come.
The iconic ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video saw Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic perform amongst a throng of head-banging high-school teens. Bathed in yellow with dry ice aplenty, the Samuel Bayer-directed promo features cheerleaders donning the anarchy symbol, disaffected teens sitting on bleachers and kids head-banging and moshing to their heart’s content.
But despite its gritty depiction of rebellious a high-school rally, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ wasn’t shot in a place of education. In fact it was filmed on a soundstage on Stage 6 at GMT Studios in Culver City, California on Saturday, 17 August 1991.
The video was set up to look like a high school gymnasium – with Bayer taking inspiration from Jonathan Kaplan’s 1979 film Over the Edge and Ramones’ film Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.
And although there may have been real high-school students on set, a lot of the extras may have been young adults who were merely pretending. Nirvana’s casting call flyer asked that fans willing to appear in the video should be “18 to 25 years old and adapt a high-school persona” such as “preppy, punk, nerd [and] jock”.
Much like the title of the song itself, which was inspired by a deodorant called Teen Spirit and a friend of the Nirvana frontman writing “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” on Cobain’s wall, the video may have started out quite conventionally – but it went on to represent something far more rebellious.