For a brief moment, Nirvana seemed to change everything. They weren’t the first grunge band nor were they the longest lasting, but they were arguably the band with the greatest impact. Though they ceased to be after the suicide of lead singer Kurt Cobain, the band’s legacy has lived on. Highly commercialized, the Nirvana logo can be found on everything from t-shirts to guitar cases. Looking at this simple logo can give you a bit of insight into the band and what it represented during its brief period at the top.
Nirvana Logo Design Elements
The Nirvana logo, affectionately known as the Nirvana Smiley Face, is fairly simple but still meaningful. The primary shape is a circle, as one might expect, but not in a perfect shape. Instead, it’s deliberately misshapen, with a hand-drawn appeal. The inside of the circle is likewise off-kilter, with two Xs for eyes and a smile accompanied by a tongue. The logo is generally joined by the name of the band, usually with the band’s name written on top of the logo.
Nirvana’s color is yellow, but it’s not one that you’d necessarily associate with the band. After all, yellow is the color of happiness and energy – two elements that seem at odds with the band’s laconic style and dreary lyrics. The font used is strong and striking, helping to ensure that anyone who actually looks at the logo will be able to read the band’s name. It stands in stark contrast not only to the less formal logo but also to the difficult-to-understand lyrics of most of the band’s music.
Changes and Evolution
When you’re looking at shape, it’s a good idea to try to figure out where it comes from. The smiley face has been around since at least the 1960s, and Nirvana’s co-opting of the symbol is meaningful. It’s a baby-boomer symbol, the group against which the grunge movement was perhaps not lashing out, but that it was definitely in opposition against. The band, which was defined by songs that eschewed happy, poppy lyrics, made use of this symbol in an incredibly ironic manner.
Yellow, as discussed, is a color of happiness and energy. It is also a color that stands out against a black background – something that’s very useful if you’re looking at a group that primarily uses dark colors. It’s a great color for the grunge movement because it stands out against all the muted colors used by other bands and most people who dressed in that fashion – the color not so much mocking the culture that Nirvana helped to popularize as a color that sticks its tongue out a bit at the self-seriousness of both musicians and their fans.
The font choice is interesting because of how corporate it seems. It’s the polar opposite of the rest of the logo, so it’s hard to suss out its meaning. Perhaps the logo font was chosen because of its ease of printing on CD cases, or perhaps because it was just easy to read. It is certainly the only element of the logo that seems like it’s made to make the life of consumers any easier.
Who influenced the Nirvana logo? It’s honestly hard to say. While the band might not admit to it, there’s definitely some influence from other bands that actually had logos like The Grateful Dead or The Rolling Stones. The logo itself doesn’t really bear many similarities to those older logos, but the fact that a band has an identifiable mark definitely springs from that same type of thinking.
Quite a few bands likely followed in Nirvana’s footsteps with their logos, especially in the early 90s. As time went by, though, both the popularity of band logos and of the grunge movement began to wane. There are few bands that really embrace the same methods, so it shouldn’t be too surprising to see many bands directly following the same kind of design path as Nirvana.
- The Nirvana logo was first used at the release party for the band’s breakthrough album Nevermind.
- Like many other famous musicians, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain died at the age of 27, making him a member of the infamous 27 Club.
- Future Foo Fighters founder Dave Grohl was the band’s sixth drummer.
- Smells Like Teen Spirit was indeed named after the deodorant.
Looking at the Nirvana logo is a great way of looking at the band. It’s anti-establishment but still easy to copy, whimsical but still pushing back against what came in the past. It’s a great logo for a great band, one that lasted far longer than the band itself. Much like the band’s influence, it’s still possible to see the logo in the musical world today.