In the late 1980s Nirvana established itself as part of the Seattle grunge scene, releasing its first album Bleach for the independent record label Sub Pop in 1989. The band eventually came to develop a sound that relied on dynamic contrasts, often between quiet verses and loud, heavy choruses. After signing to major label DGC Records, Nirvana found unexpected success with "Smells Like Teen Spirit", the first single from the band's second album Nevermind (1991). Nirvana's sudden success widely popularized alternative rock as a whole, and the band's frontman Cobain found himself referred to in the media as the "spokesman of a generation", with Nirvana being considered the "flagship band" of Generation X. Nirvana's third and final studio album, In Utero (1993), featured an abrasive, less-mainstream sound and challenged the group's audience. The album did not match the sales figures of Nevermind but was still a critical and commercial success. Nirvana's brief run ended following the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994, but various posthumous releases have been issued since, overseen by Novoselic, Grohl, and Cobain's widow Courtney Love.
Since its debut, the band has sold over 25 million records in the United States alone, and over 75 million records worldwide, making them one of the best-selling music artists in history. Four of their albums, two studio and two live, have reached the number one spot on the Billboard 200 chart. In the years since the band's breakup, Nirvana has been ranked highly on several lists by various publications as one of the greatest artists of all time. Rolling Stone described Nirvana's influence as having "kicked in" the 1990s as a musical era, adding that their music "guaranteed the nineties would not suck," and claimed that the band "transformed rock for a generation." According to the magazine, "few bands in rock history have had a more immediate and tangible impact on their contemporary pop musical landscape than Nirvana did in the early Nineties."
In 2013, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced Nirvana as a nominee for inclusion, in the band's first year of eligibility; the museum's biography of the band states that Nirvana "start[ed] a rock revolution" and "remain an enduring influence and challenge", before declaring them "proof that the right band with the right noise can change the world."
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