How did Kurt Cobain come up with the song title “Smells Like Teen Spirit”?
Kathleen Hanna, the lead singer of punk band Bikini Kill, spray painted “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on his wall. Kurt Cobain and Kathleen used to be good friends and often discussed anarchism and punk rock, so Kurt interpreted the slogan as having a revolutionary meaning.
What Hanna actually meant was that Cobain smelled like the deodorant Teen Spirit, which his then-girlfriend Tobi Vail wore. The Nirvana frontman later claimed he was unaware it was a brand of deodorant until months after the single was released.
Kurt Cobain was rather upset that the song had apparently been named after a line of deodorant.
Kurt Cobain and Tobi Vail spent most of their time together as a couple discussing political and philosophical issues. Cobain’s relationship with Vail inspired the lyrical content of many of the songs on Nevermind.
Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain revealed in a 1994 Rolling Stones interview that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was an attempt to write a song in the style of The Pixies, a band he greatly admired. He explained:
“I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily that I should have been in that band—or at least a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.”
The music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is still widely regarded as one of the best and most influential music videos of all time.
In 2000, the Guinness World Records named “Smells Like Teen Spirit” the Most Played Video on MTV Europe.