Milestones, Video — August 17, 2011 at 7:30 am

Milestones: Nirvana films ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ music video 20 years ago today

Twenty years ago today, first-time director Samuel Bayer gathered several dozen fans and three young musicians on a Culver City, Calif., soundstage to film the video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a soon-to-be iconic clip — the infamous high school pep rally from hell — that ultimately would be as era-defining as the song itself.

Posted above, via LA Snark, is the casting call flier seeking Nirvana fans between 18 and 25, who were asked to “adopt a high school persona, i.e. preppy, punk, nerd, jock.” Participants were asked to show up at 11:30 a.m. and “be prepared to stay for several hours” — which turned out to be quite an understatement, as the shoot ended up dragging on for 12 hours.

Below, you can watch Bayer’s final video — as ultimately edited by Kurt Cobain — and here you can see a short “making of” feature in which Bayer discusses how he and the band worked out the concept and endured the grueling shoot, which culminated in the very real set destruction by both exhausted fans and Cobain and his surly bandmates.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” was sent to radio on Aug. 27, 1991, and released as a single on Sept. 10, 1991. Nevermind —  due for a hefty 20th anniversary reissue next month —  arrived on Sept. 24, 1991. And that following weekend, on Sept. 29, 1991, the “Teen Spirit” video premiered on “120 Minutes” — but it wouldn’t be relegated to the Sunday night alternative show for long.







  1. I remember the video of course, but my memory of this song was in late summer 91 when I heard it on the friggin Edge in Dallas. I was getting ready to leave TCJC after class and heard this song. I was already into the “alternative” scene, but it felt like something completely new and brilliant. I stayed up all night listening to that damn station til they played it again at around 3am. Taped it off the radio and ran to my Hyundai to drive around and blare this song for several rounds. Who knew that a little new wave boy would be so drawn to this band and that they would rule the World a few months later. Sorry for the rant and rave! But it’s a nice memory of a great band.

  2. Ray Shackleford

    I got busted smoking pot in my friends house with another friend the night this video aired. He actually used to work in the music industry and has a collection of reel to reel tapes that would be worth THOUSANDS now, but he was none too pleased at the time. Worth every second of getting yelled at.

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