About a Girl (Nirvana song)

"About a Girl" is a song by American rock band Nirvana, written by vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain. It is the third song on their debut album, Bleach, released in June 1989.

"About a Girl"
Nirvana about a girl.png
Single by Nirvana
from the album MTV Unplugged in New York
B-side"Something in the Way" (live)
ReleasedOctober 24, 1994 (1994-10-24)
RecordedNovember 18, 1993 (1993-11-18)
Songwriter(s)Kurt Cobain
Producer(s)Nirvana and Scott Litt
Nirvana singles chronology
"Pennyroyal Tea"
"About a Girl"
MTV Unplugged in New York track listing
Music video
"About a Girl" on YouTube
"About a Girl"
Song by Nirvana
from the album Bleach
ReleasedJune 15, 1989
RecordedDecember 1988
GenreAlternative rock, grunge
LabelSub Pop
Songwriter(s)Kurt Cobain
Producer(s)Jack Endino
Bleach track listing
11 tracks
  1. "Blew"
  2. "Floyd the Barber"
  3. "About a Girl"
  4. "School"
  5. "Love Buzz"
  6. "Paper Cuts"
  7. "Negative Creep"
  8. "Scoff"
  9. "Swap Meet"
  10. "Mr. Moustache"
  11. "Sifting"

A live, acoustic version, recorded during Nirvana's MTV Unplugged appearance in November 1993, was released as a single in October 1994, to promote the album, MTV Unplugged in New York. It was the first single released since Cobain's death in April 1994, reaching number one on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart and number 22 on Billboard's Hot 100 Airplay chart.

Origin and recordingEdit

Early historyEdit

"About a Girl" was written in 1988, reportedly after Cobain spent an afternoon repeatedly listening to Meet the Beatles!, the 1964 second American release by English rock band the Beatles.[1] The earliest known recording is a solo electric home demo that was posthumously released on the band's rarities box set, With the Lights Out, in November 2004. Featuring alternate lyrics, it was recorded at Cobain's home in Olympia, Washington in 1988.

The song was debuted live at a dorm party at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington in February 1989.


"About a Girl" was first recorded in the studio in December 1988 by Jack Endino at Reciprocal Recording in Seattle, Washington. This version appeared on the band's debut album, Bleach, in June 1989.

According to Cobain, he had been attempting to conceal his pop songwriting at this time, and was apprehensive about including the song on Bleach, knowing that it risked alienating the band's then-largely grunge fan base. In a 1993 Rolling Stone interview with David Fricke, he explained:

"Even to put 'About a Girl' on Bleach was a risk. I was heavily into pop, I really liked R.E.M., and I was into all kinds of old ‘60s stuff. But there was a lot of pressure within that social scene, the underground — like the kind of thing you get in high school. And to put a jangly R.E.M. type of pop song on a grunge record, in that scene, was risky."[2]

However, Endino was excited about the song, and even saw it as a potential single.[3] In a 1997 interview with Gillian G. Gaar for Goldmine, he recalled Cobain's initial trepidation about including the song on Bleach.

"I think Kurt felt nervous about putting 'About a Girl' on there, but he was very insistent on it. He said, 'I've got a song that's totally different from the others, Jack, you've gotta just humour me here, because we're gonna do this real pop tune.' The question was raised at some point, gee, I wonder if Sub Pop's going to like this, and we decided, 'Who cares?' Sub Pop said nothing. In fact, I think they liked it a lot."[4]

In 2004, Butch Vig, who produced Nirvana's 1991 breakthrough album Nevermind, cited "About a Girl" as the first hint that there was more to Nirvana than grunge. "Everyone talks about Kurt's love affair with... the whole punk scene, but he was also a huge Beatles fan, and the more time we spent together the more obvious their influence on his songwriting became," Vig told the NME.[5]


On October 26, 1989, a version of the song was recorded by Ted de Bono at Maida Vale Studios in London, England, during Nirvana's first BBC Peel Session. The full session was first broadcast on November 22, 1989.[6] Another version was recorded on November 1, 1989 at Villa 65 in Hilversum, Netherlands for the VPRO radio show, Nozems-a-Gogo.

A live version of the song, recorded at the Pine Street Theatre in Portland, Oregon on February 9, 1990, appeared on the British 12-inch and CD versions of the "Sliver" single in 1991.

On November 18, 1993, "About a Girl" was performed as the opening song on the band's MTV Unplugged appearance at Sony Music Studios in New York City. This version of the song featured Pat Smear on second guitar.

"About a Girl" was performed for the final time live at Nirvana's last concert, at Terminal Einz in Munich, Germany on March 1, 1994.

The studio version of "About a Girl" was re-released on the band's first "best of" compilation, Nirvana, in October 2002. The MTV Unplugged version was re-released on a second hits compilation, Icon, in August 2010.

Composition and lyricsEdit


"About a Girl" is an alternative rock song that runs for a duration of two minutes and forty-eight seconds.[7] According to the sheet music published at Musicnotes.com by BMG Rights Management, it is written in the time signature of common time, with a moderately fast rock tempo of 130 beats per minute.[7] "About a Girl" is composed in the key of E minor, while Kurt Cobain's vocal range spans one octave and six notes, from the low-note of B3 to the high-note of A4.[7] The song primarily alternates between the open chords of Em and G in the verses and follows a chord progression of C5–G5–F5–C5–G5–F5–E5–A5–C5 during the refrain.[7] During the verses, Cobain repeats the same two chords as Krist Novoselic's bass line continuously ascends while a vocal harmony and tambourines appear in the background. The song's chorus features slight key modulation, where chords land slightly away from the place expected.[8] "About a Girl" has an aching, wistful melody which Cobain sings over simple chord progressions. His electric guitar playing grows rawer and noisier over the course of the track.[8]


According to Chad Channing, Nirvana's Bleach-era drummer, Cobain didn't have a title for the song when he first brought it into the studio. When asked what it was about, Cobain replied, "It's about a girl."[9]

The "girl" was Tracy Marander, Cobain's then-girlfriend, with whom he lived at the time. The lyrics address the couple's fractured relationship, caused by Cobain's refusal to get a job, or to share cleaning duties at their apartment, which housed many of his pets. During arguments on the subject, Cobain would occasionally threaten to move into his car, at which point Marander would usually relent.[10] Cobain never told Marander that he had written "About a Girl" for her. In the 1998 Nick Broomfield documentary Kurt and Courtney, Marander revealed that she only found out after reading Michael Azerrad's 1993 Nirvana biography, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana.


"About a Girl" has frequently been cited as early evidence of Cobain's talent as a pop songwriter. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic wrote that the song "illustrated signs of [Cobain's] considerable songcraft."[11] Evan Rytlewskia of Pitchfork called it "a glimpse at the melodic impulses that would make [Cobain] one of the defining rock musicians of the ’90s."[12] According to Will Bryant of Pitchfork, it was "curious, based on the clean guitars and tinny cymbals that dominate ["About a Girl"], how Nirvana ever came to be identified with grunge, the genuinely dirty and moody sound more readily associated with contemporaries Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Tad than the punk-metal hybrid Nirvana favored."[13] The NME described it as "Kurt's first true masterpiece," which "showed Nirvana's soft underbelly could be just as arresting as their ear-splitting thrashes."[14]

In 2004, the NME ranked "About a Girl" second on their list of the 20 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever.[15] The same year, Q ranked it second on their list of the 10 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever.[16] In 2015, it was placed at number eight on Rolling Stone's ranking of 102 Nirvana songs.[17] It was ranked at number 112 on Pitchfork's 2015 list of The 200 Best Songs of the 1980s, with Raymond Cummings calling it a "sharp, perceptive, well-constructed, and almost Beatles-esque" song "that demonstrated a potential beyond grunge's ghetto."[18] In 2019, it was ranked eighth on The Guardian's list of Nirvana's 20 greatest songs.[19]

"About a Girl" is a BMI award-winning song.[20]

On April 24, 2020, the song was performed by American musician Post Malone as part of his 15-song Nirvana tribute concert livestreamed on YouTube, which raised more than $4 million for the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.[21][22]

MTV Unplugged versionEdit

The MTV Unplugged version of "About a Girl" was released as a single in October 1994, to promote the album MTV Unplugged in New York, released the following month. It was the only commercial single released from the album, and featured the Unplugged version of "Something in the Way" as the b-side. Cobain opened the song by saying, "This is off our first record. Most people don't own it."


Reviewing MTV Unplugged in New York for the NME, John Harris wrote that the song's "musical backdrop suggests The Beatles in 1964, at their lovelorn best: minor-key introspection gives way to regular traces of lightened-up calm, only to regain the upper hand within bars. ... For that reason, encapsulated in the fact that it rides on a divinely simple verse/ chorus/ verse undertow, it may be the most beautiful song here."[23]

Track listingsEdit

Chart positionsEdit


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[57] Silver 200,000 

  Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


Year Publication Country Accolade Rank
1998 Kerrang! United Kingdom 20 Great Nirvana Songs Picked by the Stars[58] 8
2004 Q High Spirits: 10 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever[16] 2
2011 NME Nirvana: Their 10 Best Tracks[59] 2
2019 The Guardian Nirvana's 20 greatest songs - ranked![60] 8

Other releasesEdit

  • A solo home demo which first appeared on With the Lights Out was re-released on the compilation album, Sliver: The Best of the Box in November 2005.
  • A full-band rehearsal demo appeared on the DVD of With the Lights Out, along with several other songs from the same session. It was filmed in December 1988 by Krist's brother, Robert Novoselic, above a hair salon in Aberdeen, Washington owned their mother, Maria Novoselic. Reviewing the box set in November 2004, Mark Richardson of Pitchfork wrote, "It's a huge kick to see Cobain and Novoselic so young and goofy [at the session], hanging out with a few neighborhood dudes and jamming like any other local band ... but then they bust out 'About a Girl' and we remember that this is not your everyday garage band."[61]
  • The full Pine Street concert, including "About a Girl," was re-released on the 20th anniversary "Deluxe" edition of Bleach in November 2009.
  • A live version, recorded at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on November 25, 1991, appeared as bonus material on Live! Tonight!! Sold Out!! when it was released on DVD in November 2009. The full show was released on CD, vinyl and Blu-Ray in November 2021, on the 30th anniversary edition of Nevermind
  • A live version, recorded on December 13, 1993 at Pier 48 in Seattle, Washington for MTV, was released on the live video Live and Loud in September 2013.

Unreleased studio versionsEdit

  • The versions of the song recorded for the BBC in London on October 26, 1989, and for VPRO in Hilversum on November 1, 1989, both remain unreleased.

In popular cultureEdit

  • The song inspired the title of the 1998 novel About a Boy, by British author, Nick Hornby.[62]
  • In November 2019, Puddle of Mudd performed a rendition of the song's Unplugged version for a session at SiriusXM.[63] The cover has been widely criticised and ridiculed, with most of the focus being placed upon singer Wes Scantlin's strained, uncomfortable and off-key vocals.[64][65]



MTV Unplugged in New York

  • Kurt Cobain - vocals, guitar
  • Krist Novoselic - bass
  • Dave Grohl - drums, backing vocals
  • Pat Smear - guitar


  • About a Girl discography information at sliver.it
  • Azerrad, Michael. Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, Doubleday, New York: 1993, ISBN 0-86369-746-1


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External linksEdit