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September, 18, 2013

Who’s Better: One Direction or Nirvana?

September, 18, 2013

Jonny Elswood Student Panel member. Member since Aug 13.
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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.

Nirvana or One Direction... You decide

Photo by
José Manuel Ríos Valiente

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Right guys?

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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  1. sel z
    March 28, 2015 at 1:31 am

    You just can’t compare those two.They are so apart from each other.First of all One Directiion is totally build up to get into the blood of teen girls,it’s concern is “being liked” more than making music.The way they look,speak,dance is all being set up by a big fat guy behind the camera yelling “Smile you stupid morons,you are costing me a lot!”(coughing and holding a cigarette on his hand).On the other hand Nirvana has a message to give in their music.Don’t get me wrong i do listen One Direcion,but they are just a part of a popular culture now and probably will faint away in years,but we all know that it won’t happen to Nirvana.

  2. Paul Darlow
    August 26, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    There is no doubt Nirvana had 100% more influence on the music industry than one direction. The main difference is Nirvana wrote and played there own music where as one direction sing karaoke songs.
    Simon Cowell and X Factor has destroyed the music industry and changed the concept of forming a band and making music for the love of it to basically wanting to get on TV and smiling alot. The music industry would be alot better off with out X factor style music.

  3. luke link
    May 1, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Neither. Both are just as irritating in their own rights.

  4. Lauren Priestley
    January 31, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    Nirvana 100% no doubt about it!

  5. Shorifa Begum
    January 30, 2014 at 10:41 am

    Nirvana! They were so real it killed one of them. Whereas with one direction, they’re a manufactured pop with no substance. Mania over their producers spoon fed stuff any day.

  6. Thomas Marsh
    January 28, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    Nirvana by a mile! There a band that I grew up with through my life so far. They worked so hard to get to where they were, They made history they made a part of evolution in music, As for one direction yes they have their own day of the year now which I find highly unamused by but Nirvana have Kurt Cobain’s anniversary every year also and to do with music they just steal others put it this way with One Direction song – Midnight Memories had the same key and rift as a Death Leopard song and One Direction tried to sew death leopard for a song they real released years before they got together and obviously One Direction did not win they copy other people’s music and change the lyrics that for me isn’t talent. It’s Plagiarism in a un-noticed way

  7. Sofia Hill
    January 28, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Nirvana by a clear mile! They worked tirelessly for their fame and like Dave Grohl has said, they didn’t expect their music to become famous they were just a bunch of guys jamming in their garages. Whereas 1D searched for their fame through a competition, Nirvana’s fame was through their sheer talent and dedication. Nirvana.

  8. Meghan Hartrick
    January 27, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    one direction are mainly about the merchandise its a lot easier to earn more and be more popular through merchandise attracting teenage girls to listen to them

  9. Rebecca Rees
    January 25, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    I’m more towards One Direction myself.

  10. Rachel Haxton
    January 22, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    Nirvana were brought together in a time where it was harder to get “platnum” album status and harder to reach number one, and the band members themselves were more creative with their image and sound. One Direction, however, were brought together in a time when it became easy for anyone to produce 1 song and have it sky rocket the group to fame in a heart beat. Nirvana worked for their glory and timelessness. One Direction has not.

  11. Libby Durose
    January 22, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    Not even hard to answer, Nirvana.

  12. kirsty gardiner
    January 22, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Deffinetly nirvana

  13. Stephanie Bushby
    January 22, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Nirvana. They wrote their own music and their lyrics are a lot more interesting. I think the only reason one direction are so popular is because teenage girls find them attractive.

  14. arthur caulfield
    January 21, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    nirvana created their own genre of music whereas one direction have jumped on the “pretty boy band” wagon, yes they are both artists with large fan basses, but one direction only have a fan base because people write songs for them (therefor they are metaphorical parrots, chirping away with other peoples words). This “parrot syndrome” that one direction seem to have contracted is one of the most forward reasons nirvana are a better band, the sound of the instruments, the sound of the voices, they are both an opinion based argument so cannot be won overall, but the fact nirvana had songs written by nirvana, to express kurt, dave and krist. One direction are squawking opinions of others without understanding or reasoning.

    All in all, nirvana are better artists, because they are artists, not primary 1 students with paint and sponges.

  15. Rachael Lloyd
    January 14, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    Nirvana all the way.

  16. Dylan Hanner
    January 14, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Both bands create music that people want to listen to. But Nirvana actually tackled issues that matter so Nirvana all the way.

    • arthur caulfield
      January 21, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      I agree, but just to inform you, one direction do not create music, they simply play it, saying they create music is like saying marcus collins created seven nation army.
      Not arguing, just pointing out.

  17. kristina urbanaite
    November 27, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    definitely Nirvana

  18. Jasmine Rider
    November 20, 2013 at 11:57 am

    I’m going for One Direction because they depict a light-hearted side of life

    • Arthur Caulfield
      January 23, 2014 at 11:20 am

      Nirvana-Son Of A Gun

  19. Valentina Traettino
    November 19, 2013 at 9:44 pm


  20. Sebastian Kettley
    November 11, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    The reason why 1D sold so well, is because the album was tailored to be so sold int he millions. Not made to be good music. Just made to sell.

  21. kim hargreaves
    October 30, 2013 at 8:59 pm


  22. Fabian Ziegler
    October 29, 2013 at 5:53 pm


  23. Matthew Willis
    October 24, 2013 at 9:57 am

    Respect to 1D for their lifestyle (I’m jealous) but they lack the sheer musical talent of Nirvana (…and I’m not even a proper Nirvanan fan!)

  24. Julline L
    October 18, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    I don’t care that I didn’t go out, tonight – my Friday night was well spent, reading this. Really funny, keep writing 😀

  25. Paul Burney
    October 16, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    It’s more because Nirvana put thought and depth into their songs (which are about so much more than drugs, sex and death – that makes them sound like a stereotype metal band) and provided a type of music that was accessible to the majority of people, but at the same time had enough substance to fascinate and satisfy people looking for more than just catchy tunes. One Direction can only manage the former (and need a load of people to help them with that alone).

    • arthur caulfield
      January 21, 2014 at 2:01 pm

      Sorry, not arguing, just educating, nirvana are a grunge band, they could be classed as metal i suppose but to be fair they are the reason the grunge scene became large and without them there really wouldn’t have been a grunge scene at all. Simply put, nirvana aren’t metal, they are the owners of grunge.

    • Jonny
      October 16, 2013 at 7:46 pm

      I hope the slightly less serious tone of the article makes it clear that the statements within it are purposely flippant – of course Nirvana’s songs are about much more. But I reduced it to drugs, sex and death so as to contrast it with One Direction’s lyrics. Nirvana have just been nominated for entry to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hope you vote for them as I have.