A History of Post-Grunge Rock



Post-grunge is a form of hard rock that first flourished in the mid-1990s in response to the popularity of Seattle grunge bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam earlier in the decade. But where grunge took inspiration from darker genres, like punk and metal, post-grunge transformed the thick guitar sounds and candid lyrical themes of the Seattle bands into an accessible, often uplifting mainstream aesthetic. Post-grunge songs tend to be mid-tempo numbers that combine the searching spirit of ballads and the power-chord energy of hard rock anthems.

Post-Grunge Gets Into the Teen Spirit (Mid-1990s)

In the early ‘90s, the four principal Seattle grunge groups – Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains – were storming the charts, ending hair-metal’s reign as the most popular rock genre. Looking for a way to capitalize on the trend, which was jump-started by Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” record labels started signing bands that mimicked these groups’ sonic identity. Three of the most popular of these sound-alike bands were Bush, Candlebox and Collective Soul. (Many people thought Stone Temple Pilots deserved to be included in this category as well, although as their career progressed they managed to explore diverse genres that weren’t associated with grunge.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, because these bands seemed to be merely ripping off a trendy sound, critics dismissed them as bandwagon-jumpers. Tellingly, these bands were labeled almost pejoratively as “post-grunge,” suggesting that rather than being a musical movement in their own right, they were just a calculated, cynical response to a legitimate stylistic shift in rock music.

Post-Grunge Evolves, Grows More Popular (Late 1990s/Early 2000s)

Once this first-generation of post-grunge bands began to lose commercial momentum near the end of the ‘90s, alt-metal and rap-rock swooped in to assert their dominance. But that didn’t mean that post-grunge went away. To the contrary, the genre morphed and, in some ways, grew even more popular.

Creed frontman Scott Stapp mimicked the full-throated sincerity of Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder’s baritone which, aided by his Florida bandmates’ booming mid-tempo songs, propelled them to superstardom. Soon followed Nickelback, who like Creed embraced grunge’s compelling intimacy and discovered that common-man sentiments married to middle-of-the-road guitar songs could find a very receptive (and very large) audience.

As opposed to the first-generation post-grunge groups, Creed and Nickelback espoused a more conventional, almost conservative worldview built around the comforts of community and romantic relationships. Ironically, this attitude was diametrically opposed to the antisocial angst of the original grunge bands, who railed against conformity and instead explored troubling issues such as suicide, societal hypocrisy, and drug addiction.

Post-Grunge in the Creed-Nickelback Era (2000s)

Led by Creed and Nickelback, other post-grunge bands came to prominence at the beginning of the 21st century. 3 Doors Down dominated the charts for weeks thanks to their 2000 hits “Kryptonite” and “Loser.” And in subsequent years, bands like Puddle of Mudd continued to mine the formula to produce hit singles.

By this point, post-grunge was ubiquitous on modern and mainstream radio, confidently competing with alt-metal and rap-rock for listeners. Still, many fans of the original grunge bands detested what they perceived as the macho earnestness of these new groups, particularly Creed and Nickelback, who became emblematic of the genre’s artistic limitations and watered-down approach. Post-grunge was a profitable musical style, but bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were beloved partly because of their perceived integrity in avoiding the mainstream. Post-grunge, by comparison, seemed to exist in order to court that very audience.

The State of Post-Grunge Today

As rock music entered the 2010s, several emerging groups made their name by continuing the post-grunge tradition. The Florida quintet Shinedown catapulted into the mainstream thanks to their strong 2008 album, The Sound of Madness, which they followed up with 2012's Amaryllis and 2015's Threat to Survival. Meanwhile South African band Seether turned anguish into commercial success on 2007’s Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces and their subsequent hit albums 2011's Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Frayand 2014's Isolate and Medicate.

It seems assured that there will always be those who dismiss post-grunge because of its debt to the original Seattle sound of the early ‘90s. But it seems just as likely that there will also always be audiences who crave that particular sound.