Nirvana's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame collaborations: why they worked

At the grunge band's induction last night, remaining members reunited for performances with Joan Jett, St Vincent, Lorde and Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon. Here's why each choice provided a masterful stroke of musicianship

Last night was a significant event in Nirvana's legacy – not only did it reconcile the long, tormented friendship of Dave Grohl and Courtney Love – but it also saw one of the most iconic bands in music history inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What made this occasion truly brilliant, however, was that the remaining members reunited for a special performance fronted by four female rock'n'roll stars at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn, New York – with Joan Jett, St Vincent, Lorde and Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon interpreting Kurt Cobain's iconic vocals in their own, unique way. With some choices more obvious than others, here’s why each singer was a great replacement for the frontman.

Joan Jett – Smells Like Teen Spirit

Jett has previously worked with Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, performing live with Foo Fighters in 2011 and working with Grohl on her 2013 album Unvarnished. But you only need to listen to the first 30 seconds of their performance to hear why she was the perfect choice to take on Smells Like Teen Spirit. Kurt Cobain was famously inspired by the early stages of the Riot Grrrl movement, and Joan Jett’s no-nonsense output in the 80s that blended punk guitars with catchy stadium melodies was an inspiration to many people who were part of the feminist wave. Jett’s hoarse, throaty performance with Nirvana brings all the snarling attack that a song like Teen Spirit needs.

Reading on mobile? Click here to watch Nirvana with Joan Jett video

Lorde - All Apologies

Seventeen year-old Kiwi pop star Lorde might not seem like an immediate choice to front a Nirvana reunion, but then Ella Yelich-O’Connor is not your typical chart-topper: a pop outsider, Lorde champions unconventional beauty and creates songs that make a typically punk-like point of calling out the unattainable materialism of her peers. Also, as much as Nirvana were always purveyors of noise, peek behind the curtain of all that distortion and you find big, glossy pop melodies, something both artists share a fondness for.

Reading on mobile? Click here to view Nirvana with Lorde video

St Vincent – Lithium

St Vincent's incredible fretwork and razor-sharp artistic sensibilities have already established her as a fiercely original musician, and there are hints of Nirvana in her own music, however she decides to unleash the noise. Here, Annie Clarke does a brilliant job with Lithium, which she also performed at a concert in Chicago earlier this week in tribute to Kurt Cobain on the 20th anniversary of his death. Clark joined forces with Nirvana once again at an after-party, performing Heart-Shaped Box.

Kim Gordon – Aneurysm

Sonic Youth and Nirvana were both key players in the 90s alternative-rock scene in the US, with Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and company bearing a major influence on the creation of grunge. Gordon and Kurt Cobain were longtime friends, and in 1991 Nirvana supported Sonic Youth on their European tour, so it’s fitting to see Gordon return to the stage backed by a wall of thrashing guitars for a raucous performance of B-side Aneurysm. Of all the guest stars who appeared in the reunion, you sense that Kurt would have been particularly happy with Kim’s inclusion.

What do you make of the performances? Are there any other artists you think would have been a good fit? Let us know in the comments below.

Ben Travis

The GuardianTramp

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