From Nirvana to Twenty-One Pilots: a decade after the Tumblr grunge scene


Zioni Moore and Rochelle James on Tumblr

While in recent times people look toward 2010s Tumblr fondly, the era consists of a labyrinth of layers than gaunt teens in American Apparel skinny jeans and their obsession with space. The movement, while starting its roots within the mid-’90s Grunge Revolution, has morphed and collided with a myriad of counterculture phenomena; this includes the good, the bad and the devilishly ugly.

Zioni Moore, Copy Editor

Tattoo chokers, empty Mexican Coke bottles, space buns and American Apparel–all staples of one of the massively iconic eras in internet history. Similar to fashion and other media trends, once old almost always becomes new again, and this law stands true for Tumblr grunge. Even down to the emphasis on baggy eyes, this aesthetic perfectly fits into 2023’s atmosphere, serving as the darker older sister to the bright, bubbly and flashy Y2K craze. 

Like the bulk of cultural phenomena, no pioneer single-handedly creates trends, but rather a collection of outstanding circumstances and outspoken—or in the case of Tumblr, out-blogged—individuals. Namely, Lana Del Rey, Alison Harvard—better known as Creepy Chan—and Troye Sulivan dominated the movement. While honorable mentions include Grimes, Marina and the Diamonds and Lorde, all of these people and groups explored one main concept: teen angst. The jean jackets, fishnet stockings and black mini dresses did not become the staple fashion statement overnight, with the seeds for rebellion first taking root during the mid-’90s from the resulting alternative subgenre that quickly spread out of Seattle, Washington.

‘Convoluted’ perfectly describes the ‘90s in a single word. The fall of the Berlin Wall, a symbolic release of the decades-old tension in millions of people worldwide’s backs, happened simultaneously with the LA riots, the Oklahoma City bombing and The Bosnian Genocide. These contradicting events created a disillusionment further than the one already established—at least in the American public—after the Watergate scandal. The same children forced to become adults earlier as a result of their neglectful Baby Boomer parents began to align themselves with concepts of independence and hopeful foraging for stability, rather than believing in authority and that their future waited for them with open arms. These latchkey kids, better known as Gen X, created the foundations of rebellion. Insert all the themes of said rebellion into the mainstream, and one has prepared society for an infamous decade. 

But time continued to tick far beyond this stage of incredible, and sometimes uncomfortable, change. Incredibly notably, the aggression of which the economy and the social sphere of society began to dwindle, collapsing into itself after the housing bubble popped in 2008. Suddenly, the younger siblings and children of the latchkey kids did not even own a future to rebel against, no status quo; everything fell to the ground as rubble as far as their future was concerned. This new environment created the tried and true pendulum of philosophy that sparks whenever the economy finds itself in a recession: regression to the ‘good old days’. Enter Mitski screaming “Mama” in her hit ‘Class of 2013’ single, kids using forks to rip their fishnet stockings and all the chaos that follows from the resurgence of nostalgic teenage angst. While all well and good, the important fact to remember remains that Gen Z—at least the bulk of the new adults, anyway—witnessed it all. So, nothing should surprise anyone that these kids looked to better days as forms of coping through nostalgia, even if they did not exactly live through it in the typical sense.

“The ‘90s and 2000s have definitely impacted my personal style and taste in culture. Some of my music artists are Fiona Apple, Lauryn Hill, and Amy Winehouse. I think a lot of 90s and 00s influence can be seen in micro trends and fast fashion. Especially, like, handkerchief tops and cargo pants. Personally, I love low rise and baggy jeans and mini troops,” magnet senior Claire Scafidi said. 

Nevertheless, this resurgence in a once-died-out alternative scene only scratches the surface of the creativity that Gen Z has brought to the table. Flying in the face of the establishment now means holding a reverence for education and embracing literature, the arts and culture. Now, it means to stand proud in loving introspection and intellectual thought. Unfortunately, it now can also stand for the romanticization of mental illness, nihilism, and devastating eating disorders

“I think the resurgence of these trends can definitely cause harm. The 90s and 00s definitely weren’t as tolerant as today —we still have a lot of work to do— so a lot of these trends in the 90s were harmful back then too. For example, in the 90s being skinny was beyond glamorized, so when you search 90s inspo all you see are tall skinny celebrities. or when you watch a tv show as you get older you catch a lot of discriminatory jokes…the lack of inclusivity can be really detrimental. However, I think there’s value in connecting with the past through fashion,” Scafidi said.

Regardless of the controversy, the resurgence of Tumblr grunge showcases that Western culture always craves its shadow counterculture. The importance of revolutionary thought continues to shape how people live their lives, even if that revolution lies in low-rise jeans, flannel shirts and band tees; the spirit of rebellion and excitement lives on with each stroke of thick, black eyeliner.