Here we are now, entertain us! And for a good portion of the '90s, the grunge era certainly kept us entertained. With most pointing to Nirvana's Nevermind album release as the moment that broke grunge, the genre is turning 30 this year. To reflect on some of the great music provided during grunge's dominance, we're serving up this collection of 50 Essential Grunge Videos.
As you might expect, the list is heavy on Seattle's "Big 4" of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, who did more to advance the sound than arguably any other act within the era. You'll also find classic clips from Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, Hole and later era grunge-inspired rockers Bush.
So break out that flannel and take this trip down memory's grungy lane as we reflect on 50 Essential Grunge Videos below. And if you're hungry for more grunge history, check out the first episode of our "30 Years of Grunge" series, which focuses on who invented the "Seattle sound" here.
"Loud Love" (1989)Soundgarden
While most point to 1991 as the birth of grunge, it’s important to note that there were several bands already pushing the sound before it hit the mainstream. Here Soundgarden delivers one of their first videos for “Loud Love,” a performance-centric piece off the album of the same name.
"Stardog Champion" (1990)Mother Love Bone
What could have been is often overlooked by what came after. Mother Love Bone appeared primed for success, but singer Andrew Wood died just days before the band’s debut album Apple arrived. The band had shot a primarily performance based clip for “Stardog Champion” and are often credited as one of grunge’s pioneering acts. The band also featured future Pearl Jam members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, and Wood’s death inspired the union formed on Temple of the Dog’s sole album.
"Man in the Box" (1991)Alice in Chains
Another Seattle band, Alice in Chains, also got out ahead of grunge’s breaking point, delivering one of the genre’s first radio hits with “Man in the Box.” The barn-set video also earned significant airplay, receiving a nomination for Best Heavy Metal / Hard Rock video at MTV’s 1991 ceremony.
While Nirvana are often credited with the arrival of grunge, Pearl Jam were right there with them. “Alive” even offered the official siren call at the beginning of the song while a massive wave crescendos and starts to crash in the clip. The video captured the imaginations of viewers with its raw and energetic performance. The revolution had arrived!
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" (1991)Nirvana
Ultimately, Nirvana’s “Smells LIke Teen Spirit” was the song that not only broke down doors at rock radio, but helped put grunge on the mainstream radar as well. The video, his directorial debut, became Samuel Bayer’s calling card. It finds the group playing a dingy auditorium pep rally that turns chaotic, connecting with the unrest permeating within their newfound and growing fanbase. The clip won two MTV VMAs (for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Group) and became MTV Europe’s most played video of all-time. In 2019, the hugely successful clip surpassed 1 billion views on YouTube.
"Jesus Christ Pose" (1991)Soundgarden
Soundgarden were about to ride the wave of grunge success as well, but not with the first single from their Badmotorfinger album. “Jesus Christ Pose” had trouble garnering airplay on both radio and with MTV (who banned the clip) due to its religious connotations. In particular, one shot in the video featured a girl on a cross that didn’t sit well with the network powers that be. They would eventually find their audience on the next single, but “Jesus Christ Pose” was met with a few inherited obstacles.
"Come as You Are" (1992)Nirvana
Nirvana were no one-hit wonders as “Come as You Are” also started to take off at radio. The band turned to Kevin Kerslake to direct the video for the song, which takes on a water-y theme. Video of the group’s performance is distorted by falling water, while many of the other visuals are also water-related including a baby swimming (a nod to their album cover) and a pistol floating.
"Rusty Cage" (1992)Soundgarden
Reuniting with “Jesus Christ Pose” director Eric Zimmerman, Soundgarden gave viewers an unsettling clip for “Rusty Cage.” In a post-Twin Peaks world, the woods of the Pacific Northwest could easily be considered spooky if nothing else, and a man fleeing a series of flashlights at night with dogs and vehicles hot on his trail let us know something foul was afoot.
"Even Flow" (1992)Pearl Jam
Poor Josh! It’s NOT a TV studio! There was no doubt by the end of “Even Flow” that their video was a rock concert in the purest form. Eddie Vedder stumbles across the stage from a powerful headbang and later climbs to get a closer look at the upper deck audience before dropping back into the waiting arms of the crowd below. Two videos in and Pearl Jam were selling themselves well as a live show you had to see.
"Pretend We're Dead" (1992)L7
Grunge is not just for the guys, and it’s not all based out of Seattle. United with Nirvana producer Butch Vig, the Los Angeles-based four-piece L7 emerged in the spring of 1992 with the incredibly catchy lead single “Pretend We’re Dead” from their Bricks Are Heavy album. Offering a mix of performance footage with Los Angeles street scenes, the video gave the band their first breakthrough.
"Hunger Strike" (1992)Temple of the Dog
The Seattle grunge supergroup Temple of the Dog featured members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam uniting for music inspired by the death of Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood. Keeping things Seattle-based, the video was shot at Seattle’s Discovery Park with the group singing amidst the ocean shores and neighboring brush with the West Point Lighthouse also serving as a set piece. Chris Cornell is joined on the song by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, who laid down his first recorded vocals on the track.
"Would?" (1992)Alice in Chains
Andrew Wood’s death would also inspire another Seattle band, Alice in Chains, who recorded their hit song “Would?” as a tribute to the late Mother Love Bone singer. The track was picked up as the lead single for the Cameron Crowe-directed film Singles and won the Best Video From a Film honor at the 1993 MTV VMAs. Crowe and Josh Taft co-directed the video that featured the band performing amidst a blend of quick black-and-white video snapshots featuring scenes that mirrored the look of the young grunge experience during the period.
"Nearly Lost You" (1992)Screaming Trees
Screaming Trees had already released five albums when their grunge breakthrough came in 1992. The band’s sixth album Sweet Oblivion got a boost when “Nearly Lost You” was included on the Singles soundtrack and was eventually released as a single. The driving song had a performance-based video of the group playing in front of the grandstand at their hometown Ellensburg Rodeo while other shots in the clip centered on the destruction of a dilapidated home in the woods.
Now onto the third single from Nirvana’s Nevermind album. The group had intended to shoot an animated video for “Lithium.” But with the band enjoying monstrous success in 1992 and the need for a new video and single imminent, there simply wasn’t time to wait for the clip to be constructed. So instead, the band and director Kevin Kerslake served up their first performance-centric video showcasing some of their more chaotic stage moments, including the smashing of instruments and Kurt Cobain diving head first into Dave Grohl’s drum kit.
Where Pearl Jam’s first two videos primarily centered on their live show, “Jeremy” was the band’s first conceptual clip. Director Mark Pellington was brought in to shoot the video and used still images, graphics and text to help create a storyline about a bullied young boy’s shocking and violent turn in front of his classmates. The clip won four MTV Video Music Awards in 1993, including one for Video of the Year, with the video remaining in heavy rotation for the network. However, the overwhelming success led the group to step away from making videos for six years, fearful that their music would only be remembered as videos.
"Suck You Dry" (1992)Mudhoney
Another band long considered one of the pioneers of Seattle’s grunge scene, Mudhoney took their shot at the growing popularity of the genre in their “Suck You Dry” video. Predicting the future, the clip featured the band playing a “10 Years of Grunge” show in 1998 in which the club’s crowd was a few disinterested spectators and one overly enthusiastic mosher who had never really grown out of the passion of the early ‘90s scene.
Finishing out the Nevermind cycle, Nirvana played upon the mania surrounding their past year with a clip that parodied Ed Sullivan’s breaking of the Beatles in the ‘60s. These “fine young men” from Seattle were clean cut and picture perfect against the TV backdrop, but there’s no boxing in these boys who would ultimately don dresses and turn destructive. The clip won the Best Alternative Music Video at MTV’s 1993 VMAs ceremony.
"Sex Type Thing" (1993)Stone Temple Pilots
Though Seattle’s Big 4 are thought of as the grunge forefathers, 1993 served up the first band that could potentially match their success. After releasing their debut album Core in 1992, the band enjoyed their MTV breakout in early 1993 with the video for “Sex Type Thing.” The dungeon-set video served up darker imagery with a bleach-blonde and shirtless Scott Weiland dangling and dancing alongside a chain. The video would earn significant airplay and put STP at the front of grunge’s second wave of acts.
"Rooster" (1993)Alice in Chains
Director Mark Pellington, who also shot Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy,” brought an authenticity to Alice in Chains video for “Rooster,” a song that was penned about Jerry Cantrell’s military veteran father. Jerry Cantrell Sr. even appears in the clip as an older man reflecting on his experiences with younger actors bringing his Vietnam days to life.
While grunge had no doubt taken over the music landscape, not every band was destined for huge success. Los Angeles rockers Dig were one of the era’s one-hit wonders with their single “Believe” being an MTV “Buzz Bin” video off their self-titled 1993 album and receiving considerable airplay by the network. Subsequent singles and albums never matched the success of this moment in the sun.
"Plush" (1993)Stone Temple Pilots
STP really became MTV superstars with their second video for the song “Plush” off their 1992 Core album. The Josh Taft-directed video had the band performing in a lounge while the action focused on a young woman checking into a motel where she reflects on her mirror image that is sometimes distorted. The video would remain in heavy rotation through the summer of 1993.
"Far Behind" (1993)Candlebox
Another breakout act from grunge’s second wave, Seattle rockers Candlebox emerged in 1993 enjoying their biggest success with the single “Far Behind.” Like several of the songs in this feature, it was penned as a tribute to Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood, reflecting on the loss of a friend gone too soon from an overdose. Shot at a Renton, Washington farm, the clip features singer Kevin Martin wandering through the halls of a home primarily reflecting on a series of memories with others who are no longer around.
"Heart-Shaped Box" (1993)Nirvana
One of Nirvana’s more stylish looking videos was the Anton Corbijn-directed “Heart-Shaped Box.” With a treatment created by Kurt Cobain, the clip appears to be the fever dream of a hospital patient. Images include a Christ-like figure in a Santa hat taking a spot on a cross, a young white-robed girl reaching for fetuses and the band themselves playing amid a darkened forest. The video received two MTV Video Music Awards, including one for Best Alternative Video.
"Honey Bucket" (1993)Melvins
With their sludgy metal sounds fueling some of Nirvana’s and Soundgarden’s music, Melvins are often pointed to as one of the originators of grunge. Though they didn’t enjoy the commercial breakout of those bands, the group did graduate to becoming a major label band and released a video for the blistering performance of “Honey Bucket” in 1993. The clip had them performing amid a group of farm animals and assorted farm workers.
"Today" (1993)Smashing Pumpkins
Though “Cherub Rock” was Siamese Dream’s first song and video, Smashing Pumpkins truly enjoyed a video breakout with the Stephane Sednaoui-directed clip for “Today,” the album’s second single. The video features Billy Corgan as an ice cream truck worker frequently daydreaming about amorous couples as he drives along. He eventually decides to go with the moment and join others in painting his van before being kicked out of his vehicle by others at the end of the clip.
"No Excuses" (1994)Alice in Chains
Alice in Chains’ Jar of Flies EP got off on the right foot with the stylish Matt Mahurin-directed video for “No Excuses.” Shot in earthy hues with plenty of silhouetted lighting, the clip centers on a man (actor Max Perlich) who stumbles into a theater where he discovers a number of circus-like performers before eventually joining the troupe.
"All Apologies" (1994)Nirvana
Probably the most enduring image people have of Kurt Cobain after the Nirvana singer’s death is the “All Apologies” video that was released from their MTV Unplugged performance. Cobain in his fuzzy green cardigan and white T-shirt, at the front of the diamond formation of performers, flanked by Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear, with a pony-tailed Dave Grohl tapping out the beat on drums behind. Cobain’s 1994 death perhaps marked the tipping point for grunge, with some of the remaining acts starting to evolve their sound and the genre starting to be challenged by other styles of music.
To kick off promotion of their Superunknown album, Soundgarden put the spotlight elsewhere with the video for “Spoonman.” The song was inspired by street performer Artis the Spoonman, and the band gave the musician the spotlight, barely appearing themselves in the clip and only through photos.
"Disarm" (1994)Smashing Pumpkins
Smashing Pumpkins earned their first MTV VMA nominations with the Jake Scott-directed video for “Disarm” off the Siamese Dream album. The clip, shot primarily in black and white, finds the band members floating over the top of a home below in the video. Other action centers on a young boy playing in the driveway and yard and an elderly man walking through a tunnel.
"I Stay Away" (1994)Alice in Chains
The beautifully haunting “I Stay Away” remains one of Alice in Chains’ best songs and luckily it comes with an equally memorable video. Director Nick Donkin used stop-motion animation showing multiple characters, including puppet members of the band, to tell the story of the chaos unleashed when a young boy lets loose a jar of flies upon the performers of a circus.
"Seether' (1994)Veruca Salt
Veruca Salt made an immediate impact in 1994 with their breakout single “Seether” from the American Thighs album. The song’s video was shot in Chicago with the group playing in front of a red-hued building while letting cats from a local shelter provide some of the animalistic action.
Though they earned positive reviews with their debut album, Hole’s breakout came with their sophomore set Live Through This. The Courtney Love-led band hit the MTV airwaves with the Sophie Muller-directed “Miss World” video in 1994, which featured Love as a beauty queen being bestowed with plenty of adulation from the adoring crowd.
"Black Hole Sun" (1994)Soundgarden
Soundgarden turned heads in the summer of 1994 with their surreal and equally spooky video for “Black Hole Sun.” The Howard Greenhalgh-directed clip found the band performing in a cloud-covered field while the action centered on an idyllic neighborhood with the inhabitants all sporting happy exaggerated grins before being swallowed whole by the sun’s powerful pull. The video received both an MTV Video Music Award for Best Metal / Hard Rock Video and a Clio Award for Alternative Music Video.
Sponge’s instantly recognizable breakout hit “Plowed” had a video that featured the group and various other characters all seemingly calm indoors while a tornado appeared in the distance ready to leave their safe environment, well, plowed.
"Possum Kingdom" (1994)Toadies
Is something sinister afoot in Toadies’ “Possum Kingdom” video? It would certainly seem so as the video opens on a filled body bag being dragged from a neighboring river. But be careful with first impressions and watch all the way through to get the real story in this Thomas Mignone-directed video. “Possum Kingdom” became Toadies’ first radio hit in 1994, hitting Top 10 on both the Alternative Airplay and Mainstream Rock charts.
"Interstate Love Song" (1994)Stone Temple Pilots
Stone Temple Pilots’ rooftop hangout gets interrupted by a pointy-nosed Pinnochio on the run after a split from his love in the Kevin Kerslake-directed video for “Interstate Love Song.” One of the band’s biggest hits, the corresponding video got plenty of screen time in late 1994.
Grunge’s influence started hitting other countries as well, with one of the first grunge imports being Australian upstarts Silverchair. The band’s breakthrough came on the 1994 single “Tomorrow,” which got a second video treatment by director Mark Pellington when it came time to present it to U.S. audiences. The clip, which played in heavy rotation at MTV, was shot using earthy tones (common in videos of the time), using a variety of imagery including a central pig-snouted character sitting upon a throne who eats and spits out coins.
Hole singer Courtney Love is the centerpiece of the Samuel Bayer-directed video for “Doll Parts.” The clip finds Love performing upon a bed in an otherwise empty room and strolling through a decaying garden where an abandoned tea party set remains that she eventually destroys. The video did receive an MTV VMA nomination for Best Alternative Video in 1995.
"Everything Zen" (1995)Bush
Bush emerged as one of the bright new bands in what could be considered the third wave of grunge acts. The British band kicked off 1995 with the song “Everything Zen” as the lead single from the Sixteen Stone album. Matt Mahurin directed the video, which was shot with earthy tones and occasionally blurred imagery while the band plays in a smokey, dimly lit industrial looking room. Picked up by MTV, the video’s success played a huge role in breaking the band in the U.S.
"River of Deceit" (1995)Mad Season
Here’s another of those Seattle supergroups, this one fronted by Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley with members of Pearl Jam and Screaming Trees also taking part. The group only issued one album but did yield a radio hit with “River of Deceit.” The Josh Taft-directed video was their only video offering, intertwining band performance with a variety of slice of life activity shots.
Sponge enjoyed a second big single off their Rotting Pinata album with “Molly,” a track often more recognizable by its subtitle “Sixteen Candles Down the Drain.” The band’s colorful performance is accentuated with shots featuring a storyline of a young woman’s metamorphosis.
"Sweet '69" (1995)Babes in Toyland
The female trio’s third studio album Nemesisters spawned one of their bigger videos. “Sweet ‘69” may open like a scene out of ‘60s Ed Sullivan Beatlemania with screaming adoring fans, but it quickly evolves into a psychedelic trip with the band performing against a trippy, colorful backdrop. The look and the dress screams ‘60s, but the sound is definitely fuzzed-out ‘90s riffage.
"Lump" (1995)Presidents of the U.S.A.
Why so serious, grunge? Presidents of the United States of America may have hailed from Seattle, but their aesthetic was far from what was presented by the city’s reigning grunge Big 4. The group’s arrival came in the spring of 1995 with a quirky little song about a woman floating in a swamp titled “Lump.” Taking a note from the lyrical content, director Roman Coppola has the band playing in a “boggy marsh.” That’ll make you reconsider that lyrical content, won’t it?
"I'll Stick Around" (1995)Foo Fighters
Fresh off Nirvana, Dave Grohl debuted his new band Foo Fighters in 1995 with a song that is arguably the “grungiest” Foo Fighters have ever been. “I’ll Stick Around” proved to be a perfect stepping stone from his old life as the drummer in one of grunge’s biggest bands to fronting his own project. The corresponding video, directed by Devo’s Jerry Casale, is more of a surreal performance piece with the band members dressed in white against an orange backdrop, with Grohl spitting out chess pieces during the performance as a giant Foo ball hovers in the video’s orbit.
Now with some momentum behind them, Bush turned to director Jake Scott to direct the video for what would prove to be the band’s biggest song off Sixteen Stone. The “Comedown” clip makes use of bright colors and a fish-eye lens to give viewers imagery that suggests they’re viewing the action via a peephole.
"Bullet With Butterfly Wings" (1995)Smashing Pumpkins
Smashing Pumpkins finally ruled the roost as grunge’s biggest band with the arrival of their ambitious double album, Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. The record’s epic run kicked off with arguably the grungiest song of their career, the aggressive “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” The corresponding Samuel Bayer-directed clip featured the mud-encrusted inhabitants of a work camp taking in the arrival of the shiny, glammed out look of the Pumpkins before having the hose turned on them for a full on dousing.
"1979" (1996)Smashing Pumpkins
Though coming up through the grunge scene, Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie set also showed a band in transition, starting to evolve their sound with “1979” taking one of the first steps forward away from grunge. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris captured the youthful exuberance reflected in the song’s reflective lyrics. Billy Corgan pitched the concept, which showcased bored teens looking for thrills in their suburban existence. The video was named MTV’s Best Alternative Video at the 1996 VMAs.
"Big Bang Baby" (1996)Stone Temple Pilots
Following in their desire to deconstruct and go low tech with their Tiny Music album, Stone Temple Pilots also went back to the basics for their “Big Bang Baby” video. The clip found the group performing amidst a brightly lit white room, mirroring the look of performance videos from MTV’s early days that were primarily shot on videotape.
"Tonight Tonight" (1996)Smashing Pumpkins
Reuniting with “1979” directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Smashing Pumpkins released one of their most heralded videos with “Tonight Tonight.” Taking inspiration from George Meilies groundbreaking silent film classic A Trip to the Moon, the band appear in turn-of-the-century wardrobe, using theater-styled backdrops and primitive special effects to achieve the look of old silent films. After heavy airplay, the video was rewarded with six MTV video music awards, including the 1996 Video of the Year honor.
"Blow Up the Outside World" (1996)Soundgarden
We end this list right where we began ... with Soundgarden. The band’s 1997 split is largely considered to be the end of the grunge era, with most of the remaining bands in the genre evolving their sound in new directions. There would still be the occasional grunge-infused track from artists in the years to come, but the genre as a whole appeared ready to pass the baton after Soundgarden’s split. We leave you with the band’s final first-era video, fittingly titled “Blow Up the Outside World.” Devo’s Jerry Casale directed the clip that finds a confined Chris Cornell strapped to a chair and being forced to watch the band’s performance and other emotional stimuli while scientists monitor his reaction.