How Kurt Cobain Reacted to ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s Spoof of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’

Nirvana’s classic rock song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” inspired “Weird Al” Yankovic‘s parody “Smells Like Nirvana.” During an interview, Yankovic discussed obtaining Cobain’s permission to spoof “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Subsequently, he revealed what Cobain said to him the only time they met in person.

Nirvana's Kurt Cobain wearing a sweater
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana | Frank Micelotta Archive / Contributor

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s spoofed Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ because Michael Jackson didn’t want him to spoof ‘Black or White’

In a 2012 interview with Spin, Yankovic said he wrote a satire of Michael Jackson‘s “Black or White” titled “Snack All Night.” Jackson did not give Yankovic permission to release “Snack All Night.” Jackson was uncomfortable with “Snack All Night” because it was based on a song with a political message.

Yankovic decided to do his version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” instead. His manager was unable to reach Cobain to ask for his blessing. Fortunately, Yankovic was friends with Saturday Night Live‘s Victoria Jackson. She managed to get Cobain on the phone so Yankovic could talk to him.

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What happened when ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic interacted with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain

Yankovic’s phone call with Cobain went well. “He was sweet and he got it in like five seconds and said, ‘Of course, you can do a parody,'” Yankovic recalled. “The famous quote from him was, ‘Is it going to be a song about food?’ because at that point that’s primarily what I was known for.” For context, Yankovic previously released food-themed songs like “Eat It,” “Lasagna,” and “I Love Rocky Road.”

Yankovic explained the idea for his “Smells Like Teen Spirit” satire. “I said, ‘Well, no, it’s going to be a song about how nobody can understand your lyrics,'” Yankovic remembered. “And he said, ‘Oh, sure, of course, that’s funny.’ That’s one of those phone conversations I wish I had recorded. I’d love to hear that myself.”

Subsequently, the “Fat” singer met Cobain once. “He just happened to be eating at an adjoining table with his friends,” Yankovic said. “This was after the parody had come out, so I got to go over and thank him in person. I just profusely thanked him and said, ‘Anything I can do for you, let me know.’ Kurt extended his hand to me and said, ‘Polish my nails.'”

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How audiences reacted to ‘Smells Like Nirvana’

“Smells Like Nirvana” became one of Yankovic’s biggest hits in the United States. It reached No. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100. Yankovic’s only songs to be more successful were “Amish Paradise,” “Like a Surgeon,” “Eat It,” and “White & Nerdy.”

“Smells Like Nirvana” was a minor hit in the United Kingdom. According to The Official Charts Company, the tune hit No. 58 there, staying on the chart for one week. The song’s parent album, Off the Deep End, did not chart in the U.K. Regardless, “Smells Like Nirvana” was referenced in “That ’90s Show,” an episode of The Simpsons.

“Smells Like Nirvana” was one of the commercial highlights of Yankovic’s career and Cobain did not have any issue with him spoofing “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

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