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Willow and Jaden Smith
Willow and Jaden Smithvia

Is Jaden Smith the next Nirvana?

Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz has pegged Smith as Nirvana’s modern-day equivalent – but we’re not so sure

Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy, the emo punk band you remember shouting along to as you retraced your guyliner in 2006, recently did an interview where he discussed the current state of rock music. It’s on life support, he concluded, put on “the back-burner” to make way for hip hop – a newfangled genre that all the kids are listening to and putting on the Snap.

“Over here in the US, hip hop is super exciting for kids,” Wentz told NME. “I’ll be looking at my Snapchat on Coachella and that is rock n’ roll right now – it’s hip hop. I think that if rock music wants to be culturally relevant on a mass level you have to be open to updating it and changing it and making it a little weird. If you don’t it becomes quaint. That’s not what we’ve ever really been into.”

“The interesting thing is that when I talk to like my rock friends, they’re like, ‘The next Nirvana is coming, the next Nirvana is coming’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, but the next Nirvana probably is coming, but not in the form of Nirvana. It might be like Jaden Smith or, I dunno. The reason Nirvana was a genre-killer is that it was a wave that came from nowhere. Looking for something that sounds like that is not gonna work.”

Jaden. Smith. Wentz suggested Jaden Smith, a name that couldn’t sound less like ‘Nirvana’. And yet, here we are, soaking this in as a legitimate suggestion of who, musically, might be the millennial successor to one of the most influential grunge bands to ever live. Smith has hardly made any music apart from his two self-released mixtapes – 2012’s The Cool Cafe and 2014’s CTV2, which stands for Cool Tape Vol. 2. His three-track EP, 2015’s This Is The Album, was borderline impressive. But the new Nirvana? Most definitely not. Smith shows promise, but the parallels end there.

Perhaps Wentz is referring to Smith’s sartorial risks, and how that could somehow echo the grunge trend that Nirvana helped kickstart in the early 90s. At the Met Gala this year, Jaden Smith walked down the red carpet with a fistful of his shorn dreadlocks. Brave, maybe, but not very trend-inspiring. Toting around your dead hair tinder leaves you with only one free hand.

Nirvana stand on their own. They are immune to comparisons with contemporary acts trying to recreate their heyday. Still, Wentz’s slip-up begs the question: who’s making good rock music these days? Not only that, but, as Nirvana once did, who is questioning identity and charging ahead with uncompromising suggestions of what we should be wearing? Several rockers, who are also not the new Nirvana, come to mind. These four acts are more in line with Nirvana’s message than their sound. They are the young, front-loaded bands cartwheeling into the rock scene that we think Nirvana might listen to if they were all still with us.


Happy Meal Ltd., changed to HMLTD after a McDonald’s lawsuit, are a London outfit pairing unrelenting hard rock with genderqueer attitudes. Achilleas, Duke, Henry, James, Nico, and Zack are dead set on confusing conventional ideas of what a rock band should be. And they defy any one influence. “We’re a band of six different personalities,” singer Henry Spychalski told us. “There are a thousand different influences, from post-punk to trap to techno – but there's an intentional refusal to be (labelled), to dispute categorisations.” Their updated New Romantics look and aggressive bacchanalia in the Westworld-inspired video for “To The Door” make them intensely exciting.


Rex Orange County, real name Alex O’Connor, self-released his debut EP bcos u will never b free on Bandcamp in 2015. It was recorded in his Surrey bedroom, and has garnered comparisons to King Krule. He has an endless pool of references, citing Frank Ocean, Toro Y Moi, Mayer Hawthorne and Benny Sings as inspiration. With his debut album, Apricot Princess, the 18-year-old is forging his own path with searingly honest lyrics (“My immaturity and habits getting in the way / Cause I can barely breathe and I don't know how I'll explain myself this time,” he sings on his popular track “Untitled”) and a gun-shy personality that aligns perfectly with his laid-back tunes.


Brothers Brian (20) and Michael D’Addario (18) are making suburban Long Island ground zero for DIY cool with their mollifying pop rock and vintage outfits. The boys are legitimate Beatles obsessives, growing up steeped in old rock ‘n’ roll thanks to their musician dad. “Once I was into Nirvana and grunge stuff, (and) I was washing my hair with a bar of soap once a week,” Michael told us last year. (“It was gross,” confirms Brian.) “What we do is very much a show,” says Brian. “It wouldn’t make sense for us to wear something very basic. So right now I’m wearing the same stuff I’d wear on stage.” The brothers will be supporting Phoenix on a handful of dates in June, spreading their infectious brand of rock ‘n’ roll all over America.


Fucked-up, charged performances put Starcrawler on the map well before they even had an official release. Frontwoman Arrow de Wilde – the daughter of photographer Autumn de Wilde and drummer Aaron Sperske – contorts on stage, fake blood dripping from her mouth in a possesed fit of moxie. It’s that energy that Starcrawler metes out that has won them a cult following. “I play every show as if it’s the last show I’ll ever get to play. I play from my heart and every inch of my body every time I pick up an instrument or put a pen to paper,” guitarist Henry Cash told us. “Ants”, their just-released debut single, is a scuzzy headbanger that harkens back to irresistible jukebox rock.