Last month, Nirvana entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time in nearly two decades — only their fifth time in history — thanks to a comic-book movie. The band’s 1991 track “Something in the Way” was heavily featured in The Batman, whose director, Matt Reeves, said Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain inspired Robert Pattinson’s brooding performance as the caped crusader. Plus, Cobain’s music influenced the film’s score: Michael Giacchino references the dirgelike chords of “Something in the Way,” borrowed from Chopin’s famous funeral march, throughout The Batman’s soundtrack. While these musical motifs obviously pair well with the inner turmoil of a fledgling Batman, the sound is part of a larger revival of “alternative” music.
The DIY aesthetic of ’90s alternative, heard in the music of young stars like Olivia Rodrigo and Willow, is a pendulum swing from electronic-laden sounds of the last decade. And the genre’s anti-corporate perspective, which developed out of the excesses of the ’80s, is a fitting backdrop to contemporary activist attitudes. From the nostalgia of Beabadoobee, to the post-rock sounds of Wet Leg, to the industrial sonics of Halsey’s latest project, new artists are using alternative’s old sounds to shape the sound of contemporary pop. On the latest episode of Switched on Pop, Nate and Charlie scan the alternative radio and streaming charts for standout songs that trace this umbrella genre’s myriad sounds and influences.