Kurt Cobain Said He Took a Risk Writing Nirvana’s R.E.M.-Style Song ‘About a Girl’

Nirvana and R.E.M. were both integral parts of 1990s classic rock. During an interview, Kurt Cobain said Nirvana released a song called “About a Girl” that was similar to R.E.M. songs. Cobain discussed why it was a risk for him to release the song on Nirvana’s debut album, Bleach.

Nirvana's Kurt Cobain holding a guitar
Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain | Michel Linssen/Redferns

Kurt Cobain said his band had a formula and he was getting tired of it

Many of Nirvana’s songs famously have loud choruses and quiet verses. During a 1994 interview with Rolling Stone, Cobain was asked why Nirvana’s songs sounded like that. “I really don’t know,” Cobain said after a long pause.

“I guess I start with the verse and then go into the chorus,” he added. “But I’m getting so tired of that formula. And it is formula. And there’s not much you can do with it. We’ve mastered that — for our band. We’re all growing pretty tired of it.”

Cobain said he wanted to write psychedelic songs moving forward. He noted that style of music was difficult to master. He didn’t know if the members of Nirvana were capable of embracing a psychedelic sound.

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Why Kurt Cobain was worried fans might not like a Nirvana song that sounded like R.E.M.

Nirvana released a song called “About a Girl” on its debut album, Bleach. Cobain noted “About a Girl” did not use Nirvana’s formula. “I wish we could have written a few more songs like those on all the other albums,” Cobain said. “Even to put ‘About a Girl’ on Bleach was a risk.”

Cobain explained why he wrote “About a Girl.” “I was heavily into pop, I really liked R.E.M., and I was into all kinds of old ’60s stuff,” he noted. “But there was a lot of pressure within that social scene, the underground-like the kind of thing you get in high school. And to put a jangly R.E.M. type of pop song on a grunge record, in that scene, was risky.”

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The way the world reacted to Nirvana’s ‘About a Girl’

The original version of “About a Girl” from Bleach was not a single. Bleach reached No. 89 on the Billboard 200. The album stayed on the chart for 20 weeks. 

Nirvana released a live rendition of “About a Girl” on the album MTV Unplugged in New York. MTV Unplugged in New York reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for one week and stayed on the chart for 100 total weeks. Meanwhile, the live version of “About a Girl” hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart and it lasted 19 weeks on the chart. Fans can find an early version of the track in the collection With the Lights Out. “About a Girl” became an alternative rock hit — and it might not be the same without R.E.M.

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