No, Nirvana didn’t totally kill the hair bands
Now that the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s groundbreaking Nevermind album is upon us, a lot is being said about how the grunge group killed off the dreaded hair bands of the 80s.
However, I don’t feel Nirvana and the Seattle bands can totally take the credit alone, because there were definitely other factors that, while not totally killing off hair metal, certainly set the stage for the genre to go by the wayside.
Whatever anyone thinks of how Metallica has conducted itself since it became the biggest metal band in the world, (they’ve actually endured cries of "sell out" since Kill ‘Em All), you’ve got to give them a lot of credit for bringing metal down to earth.
Back in the 80s, it was all about custom made costumes, big hair, so many bands really tried to put on a show, and that was fine for a while until it just got ridiculous.
Metallica really did buck the trend by just wearing their regular clothes onstage, which was actually considered somewhat revolutionary at the time in metal. Of course, Anthrax also broke the leather and spandex dress code by wearing shorts, again, nothing groundbreaking by today’s standards, but back then the metal look was very regimented.
The whole point of it was "who cares what you look like, let the music do the talking," and a lot of bands considerably dressed down once Metallica got bigger. They also always pushed the angle of being as honest as you could be with the music and who you are, whereas previously, quite a number of bands used to make the big distinction of being larger than life on stage - which I think was an outgrowth of Kiss with their alter make-up personas and huge stage productions.
With all the reports of Nirvana’s anniversary, it’s also surprising that there hasn’t been a lot of coverage about the original Lollapalooza tour which kicked off 20 years ago. For artistically ethical reasons, as well as drug problems, it was officially Jane’s Addiction’s last hurrah (like all final tours, they of course returned again down the road), and they took Nine Inch Nails, Fishbone, Ice T, and others with them. There were many Lollapaloozas that followed, but from what people have told me, the first one was really special, and subsequent tours didn’t quite capture the same spirit.
There were tons of big rock festivals like Cal Jam back in the ‘70s, the Monsters of Rock shows from England tried a US tour in ’88 that largely failed, but this was the first big alternative tour, and it absolutely set the stage for other alternative bands to get to the arena and stadium levels.
The Lollapalooza tour ended on August 28, 1991 and Nevermind came out a month later on September 24 - also right after Metallica’s Black album on August 12, and Guns N’ Roses’s Use Your Illusions albums on September 17.
Yes, Nirvana was a big explosion, but I do think Metallica and Perry Ferrell did a lot to help light the fuse