Is Pearl Jam Bigger Than Nirvana?

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Nirvana and Pearl Jam are two of the most renowned names in the grunge scene. While both bands have strong fan followings, I wonder, is Pearl Jam bigger than Nirvana?

Here is what I found out:

Pearl Jam is bigger than Nirvana in terms of commercial success, selling millions of records. But Pearl Jam has also had decades longer to generate those sales. Despite their short tenure, Nirvana is unbeatable in terms of popularity.  

Pearl Jam appeared on the scene in 1990 and have remained active to this day.

On the contrary, Nirvana which was formed in 1987, fell apart in 1994, soon after the death of vocalist Kurt Cobain. There is no doubt that Pearl Jam has enjoyed more opportunities and time than Nirvana, producing and selling more albums.

Nirvana’s former manager and author of Cobain’s biography Serving the Servant, Danny Goldberg, appeared for an interview in 2019.

Goldberg stated:  

“Pearl Jam became bigger than Nirvana with the band’s Vs. album arriving a month after Nirvana’s In Utero. It set a record for first-week album sales. Kurt was not crazy about it.”   

You would think that the ambassadors of the grunge scene would’ve gotten along quite well, but as it turns out, the two professionals shared some bad blood.

Let us find out what was the real reason Kurt Cobain didn’t like Pearl Jam.

Why did Nirvana hate Pearl Jam?

Nirvana did not hate Pearl Jam but felt competitive. The idea of a Pearl Jam vs. Nirvana rivalry was the result of a handful of negative comments that Kurt Cobain made to deflect the media’s attention away from his drug addiction.

Writer and author of the book “Heavier than Heaven”, a biography of Cobain, Charles R. Cross, appeared for an interview with KNKX and talked about the Pearl Jam vs. Nirvana dispute.

Cross said: 

“At the time Cobain was fielding a lot of questions about his drug addiction. He wanted to talk about anything other than that. To deflect the attention, he would talk about why he didn’t like other bands. He referred to Pearl Jam as ‘Careerists’. But since Nirvana and Pearl Jam were both from Seattle, Pearl Jam had the tendency to stick out and sting a little bit more.” 

Cross added that the Nirvana and Pearl Jam rivalry was almost entirely a result of the media.

As opposed to the allegations, Cobain liked Vedder personally. And that made him feel guilty about the comments he had made.

In an interview in 1992, Cobain said: “I’m not going to do that anymore. It hurts Eddie, and he’s a good guy.” 

Pearl Jam eventually won over the audience, and even Cobain ended the feud to support charitable activities in the region.

Who sold more records, Pearl Jam or Nirvana?

Pearl Jam sold significantly more records than Nirvana with five #1 albums and 10 platinum-selling albums. Nirvana, by comparison, had two #1 albums, and all 3 of their studio albums were platinum.

But if we go by Spotify since most people stream these days instead of buying albums, Nirvana gets 21 million monthly streams, and Pearl Jam gets only 11 million.

Dave Grohl, one of the surviving members of Nirvana, started a new band called the Foo Fighters after Cobain’s death taking Pat Smear, a latter Nirvana member, with him.

Pearl Jam, as opposed to Nirvana, hasn’t had many changes in their line-up or morphed into any other new groups. They continue to make music and make new albums till the present.

And amazingly, the only members to change in Pearl Jam since their inception have been the drummers (ala Spinal Tap). They’re on their 5th drummer. But Matt Cameron, original drummer for Soundgarden, has been with Pearl Jam since 1998. So he’s hardly new.

Entertainment website published an article attempting to find out which band has had more success.

This is what it concluded: 

“Not everyone is on Nirvana’s bandwagon as the most influential or greatest grunge band. Pearl Jam holds greater significance for many music critics, though Nirvana had a more popular following in the ’90s. Still—Pearl Jam also sold records and had a lasting impact on both grunge and rock.”

Want to find out if Dave Grohl got along well with the band members after morphing into Foo Fighters?

Read my recent article where I have discussed the band’s journey to the top and some of the clashes that have happened. After all, almost everyone from the original Foo line-up is long gone.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Who came first, Nirvana or Pearl Jam?

Nirvana started before Pearl Jam. Nirvana was formed in 1987, and Pearl Jam formed 3 years later in 1990. But both bands found their first success in 1991 when both Pearl Jam’s Ten and Nirvana’s Nevermind were released, with Ten coming out 1 month before Nevermind.

Grunge was a term that was used to describe different ‘alternative’ bands arising from Seattle in the 1980s and 1990s.

Through the 1990s, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, and many more rose to prominence with their distorted sound with fuzz guitars.

While all of the bands differed from one another a lot, what they had in common was heavy music, a fusion of metal and punk influences, and raw sound quality.

It’s important to remember the context of the time too. This happened right as hair metal was at its peak. Polished sounds with over-the-top production.

All of these bands were making great music.

Much of the success of the scene was credited to Nirvana’s unique talents and Kurt Cobain’s reluctant star persona. Historically, Green River were arguably the first grunge band to release a record that kickstarted the Seattle music label.

They appeared in 1985, germinating the seed for Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

Who was bigger in the 1990s, Pearl Jam or Nirvana?

Nirvana was a bigger band up until the release of Pearl Jam’s second album Vs. which was released in 1993. The release of Vs. brought Pearl Jam more commercial success, registering more sales. But the death of Kurt Cobain added a mystique to Nirvana that has helped them endure decades after their breakup.

Nirvana found their competition in Pearl Jam, who exploded on the scene with their 1991 debut album ‘Ten’ and fought for the same audience as Nirvana.

However, this competition soon irked Nirvana’s lead vocalist Kurt Cobain who was sure that Pearl Jam didn’t go out of their way to challenge their audience as much as they did with their records.

Pearl Jam also differentiated from Nirvana in that Pearl Jam got to stick up all the way until autotune penetrated into the music industry.

And artists began exploiting autotune, for better or for worse.

In contrast, Nirvana’s lead vocalist had already died even before the technology was invented. Want to find out to what extent Pearl Jam uses autotune? Check out my recent article.

Just click on that link to read it on my site.

Who are the big 5 grunge bands?

The biggest grunge bands are Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden. But some consider San Diego’s Stone Temple Pilots to be grunge as well. But truer grunge bands such as Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, or Mother Love Bone often round out most people’s top 5.

The music of these bands, many of which had recorded with Seattle’s independent record label Sub Pop, became labeled as “grunge”.

The term grunge stems out of the vibrant scene and environment that was used to describe Seattle becoming the musical capital of the world.

Before the Grunge scene exploded, Seattle entertained minuscule crowds or even rented halls where bands sometimes came and played.

Other lesser-known grunge bands include Temple of the Dog (containing members of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Mother Love Bone), and Candlebox.

And some of them did have moderate commercial popularity. But others like TAD, Seaweed, Pond, Satchel failed to make their breakthrough.

Industry experts believe that the grunge scene caused the premature death of a number of bands. In fact, the argument goes that Seattle Grunge killed more bands than it raised.

But if you haven’t seen it, my favorite film that goes into the grunge scene is Cameron Crowe’s 1992 film “Singles”.

It’s a must-watch for anyone into that scene.

Pearl Jam vs Nirvana | Marty vs Marty


Pearl Jam and Nirvana are arguably the most well-recognized pioneers of the grunge movement whose songs touched a nerve in millions of fans.

Both the bands had different musical textures and musical enthusiasm.

In addition, with Cobain gone, Vedder stood the chance of developing more music and experiencing more success leading his band to become a bigger name than Nirvana.

Photos that require attribution:

Pearl Jam 01 by GabboT is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped, edited, merged, and had a text and graphic overlay added. Image by Kayl Mejarito from Pixabay

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