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September, 18, 2013

Who’s Better: One Direction or Nirvana?


Name: Jonny Elswood
Member of: Student Panellist
Joined: Aug 13
Jonny's Full Profile

On New Year’s Day 1989, four musicians signed a contract with independent label Sub Pop Records in Seattle. They were Chad Channing, Jason Everman, “Chris” Novoselic and Kurt Cobain. They would later change label, lose two of their number and take a gamble by assimilating a new drummer, Dave Grohl, the rest being history…

That contract, published online for the first time a few weeks back, was worth $600 (equivalent to just over $1,000 in today’s currency), and required the group to produce a full length album in one year. The album that resulted was named Bleach after an AIDS awareness poster slogan that encouraged needle-users to sterilise their equipment. Bleach has sold 1.7 million copies in the United States and around the same amount globally. Let’s round that down to 3 million. In twenty-four years. I’m also guessing that Cobain’s suicide in 1994 added a few to the pile.


Photo by José Luis Merizalde

In 2011, Topman-encased super-cute boy band One Direction signed a record deal with Simon Cowell’s Sony subsidiary label Syco. It had similar terms to Nirvana’s, but this was worth £2,000,000. Following a third-place running in X Factor, their debut album was bound to be a chart success, and we all know it was. In fact that album alone has sold 4.5 million units so far, and has topped music charts in sixteen countries. In two years. And not even one member of 1D has plastered the tabloids with a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head.


Photo by Hinde Ben

Now, before we get down to the heavy duty accounting, let’s take a very quick look at the subject material juxtaposition between Bleach and Up All Night. The former, a grunge album containing nothing more than the work of the aforementioned foursome, is extremely dark. It consists of trade mark psychotic, chaotic riffs and drumming, and lyrically it’s about as heart-warming as a hospital’s aortic transplant freezer. Cobain claimed it was a critique of the corporate music world, but that dimension isn’t very apparent; the track in question contains three lines, repeated for three minutes. It’s headbanging perfection, though.


Photo by Experiment 33

Headbanging isn’t a strong point of Up All Night (and by that title, the band probably mean Up Past Twelve). Musically, the whole pop album is a myriad of clap-tracks, catchy light-electric chord sequences and textbook drumming. It might not be genius, but it permeates every part of your brain, so much so that even hating it is difficult when you’ve got Na Na Na stuck in your head. Overall subject material includes: overcoming self esteem issues, heartbreak, innocent lust. Perhaps due to their time-consuming Microphone Holding Techniques sessions, the team of seventeen writers hired for the album included none of the band’s members. Estimated total weight of hair gel used for album cover photo shoot: eight tonnes.


Photo by Hinde Ben

So get off your ath let’s do some math. Math math math math maaaath.

  1. Nirvana’s Bleach has sold 3 million units in 24 years, originally for $1,000. Units sold per year per dollar invested = 125.
  2. One Direction’s Up All Night has sold 4.5 million units in 2 years, originally for £2,000,000 (roughly $3,117,400) . If that rate of sale stays the same until Up All Night has been available for 24 years, it’ll be 54 million units in 24 years. In that case, units sold per year per dollar invested = 1.125
  3. Meaning, for every dollar put into each band at the very start of their respective careers, Nirvana managed to shift 125 units per year, and One Direction a measly 1.125
  4. 125 divided by 1.125 = 111.1

In summary, Nirvana are one hundred and eleven point one times better than One Direction. In the end, it turns out that people would rather listen to an hour of suicidal mania about drugs, sex and death than an hour of bought lyrics about a love interest that never existed. Substantially so.

Because that’s what success is all about. Cash in hand.

And I don’t just mean music, I mean life.

Right guys?


Photo by

PS – I’m not an economist.

PPS – factors ignored: difference in methods of music purchase between 1989 and 2011; price of television appearances of both bands; the likely death(s) of one or more of One Direction in the next 22 years.


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