"Load up on drugs and kill your friends," bellowed Cobain.
In the U.K., the Top of the Pops is a highly-influential program because just three minutes can help boost record sales. Yeah, record companies do everything in their power to put their artists in spots when they can maximize their reach. In the early 90s, television was still king and it helped sell millions and millions of records to British teens.
Nirvana made their first appearance on Top of the Pops in 1991. The band was in the middle of a European Tour when Smells Like Teen Spirit rocketed to the top of the American and U.K. charts. Instead of celebrating their success, Nirvana loathed their fame. They were critical of the final mix and didn't really like the "commercial" sound of their second album Nevermind. They also clung to staunch punk rock ideals that it was uncool to make money for the machine, and even uncooler to help the Man sell more units. A conflicted and anguished Nirvana were miserable the last couple of years they were a band. They never really enjoyed the ride and their collective energies created a hurricane-like storm of negativity and gloom, which perpetually hung over them and destroyed everything in their path wherever they went.
When acts appear on Top of the Pops, they agree to lip sync to a pre-recorded track. That's the rules of the gig. Pretty much everyone goes along with the flow. Nirvana didn't want to do it, until they eventually found some middle ground... the music track would be pre-recorded but Cobain would be allowed to perform live vocal track. He did everything he could to deliver a "fuck you to the Man" type of performance including a strange vocal delivery, a slight alteration to the lyrics ("load up on drugs and kill your friends"), and purposely strumming the wrong chords on the guitar. Meanwhile in the background, pranksters Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic pulled off some crazy shit for the cameras. You gotta love Grohl's over-the-top imitation of Keith Moon.
In the end, everyone won (and made tons of money). Cobain and Nirvana maintained their street cred in the punk community with their antics. The stunt got buzz. Everyone in the U.K. under 21 watched the show. The massive music machine sold a million records.
Yep, nothing to see here except a bunch of folks printing oodles and oodles of money on a song that sounds more like a grunge version of Boston's More Than a Feeling.