Kurt Cobain Considered His Most Famous ‘Nirvana’ Song ‘An Embarrassment’

Kurt Cobain was not a fan of his most famous song from Nirvana. The song, of course, is “Smells Like Team Spirit,” which became outstandingly popular in 1991. And according to Cobain, he believed that the track was an “embarrassment.”

Nirvana, Kurt Cobain recording in Hilversum Studios smoking cigarette
Nirvana, Kurt Cobain recording in Hilversum Studios smoking cigarette | Michel Linssen/Redferns

Kurt Cobain didn’t want the fame that came from ‘Nirvana’

According to Time Magazine, Cobain was deeply uncomfortable with the fame that came from Nirvana. As the magazine reports, the band’s frontman “wished he could quit that gig and be a sideman in his wife’s band, Hole.”

American rock group Nirvana, backstage in Frankfurt, Germany, 12th November 1991. Left to right: drummer Dave Grohl, singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain (1967 - 1994) and bassist Krist Novoselic
American rock group Nirvana, backstage in Frankfurt, Germany, 12th November 1991. Left to right: drummer Dave Grohl, singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain (1967 – 1994) and bassist Krist Novoselic | Paul Bergen/Redferns/Getty Images

“I never wanted to sing,” Cobain admitted to Rolling Stone. “I just wanted to play rhythm guitar — hide in the back and just play. But during those high-school years when I was playing guitar in my bedroom, I at least had the intuition that I had to write my own songs.”

The ‘Nirvana’ singer thinks ‘Smelled Like Teen Spirit’ is ‘an embarrassment’

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana during Nirvana in New York, New York
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana during Nirvana in New York, New York | Kevin Mazur/WireImage

While speaking to Rolling Stone in 1994 (not long before his tragic death), he discussed the song that contributed to the band’s fame.

“It’s almost an embarrassment to play it,” Cobain admits of their most popular track. “Everyone has focused on that song so much. The reason it gets a big reaction is people have seen it on MTV a million times. It’s been pounded into their brains. But I think there are so many other songs that I’ve written that are as good, if not better, than that song, like ‘Drain You.’ That’s definitely as good as ‘Teen Spirit.’ I love the lyrics, and I never get tired of playing it. Maybe if it were as big as ‘Teen Spirit,’ I wouldn’t like it as much.

“But I can barely, especially on a bad night like tonight, get through ‘Teen Spirit,'” Cobain continued. “I literally want to throw my guitar down and walk away. I can’t pretend to have a good time playing it.”

“Once it got into the mainstream, it was over,” he said. “I’m just tired of being embarrassed by it.”

Kurt Cobain says his most famous song is a ripoff of ‘the Pixies’

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana | Kevin Mazur Archive 1/WireImage

According to the lead singer of the grunge band, “Smells Like Team Spirit” is just a ripoff of the music from the Pixies. And as Cobain has revealed, he believes that his most famous song has “such a cliched riff.”

“I was trying to write the ultimate pop song,” he said. “I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band — or at least in a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.”

“‘Teen Spirit’ was such a clichéd riff,” he continued. “It was so close to a Boston riff or ‘Louie, Louie.’ When I came up with the guitar part, Krist looked at me and said, ‘That is so ridiculous.’ I made the band play it for an hour and a half.”