Samutaro Addresses Cudi & Cobain's Best-Dressed Dress Moments
Mr. Rager channels the Nirvana frontman in multiple ways.
This article is a guest post by Samuel Trotman, aka @samutaro. Let me know in the comments if you enjoy collabs like this!
Last Saturday, Kid Cudi made his musical guest debut on Saturday Night Live to perform songs from his 2020 album Man on the Moon III: The Chosen. While taking to the stage to deliver “Sad People,” the 37-year-old rapper surprised guests by appearing in a floral-print dress. Viewers were quick to pick up the similarities between Cudi’s floral frock and that of the one the late Kurt Cobain wore when he appeared on the cover of "The Face'' magazine in 1993. Cudi’s performance on the show fell on the same week as the anniversary of Cobain's death at age 27. The singer and songwriter, was found dead on April 5, 1994.
On Sunday afternoon, Cudi confirmed in a tweet that the dress was in fact a tribute to the Nirvana frontman and detailed that Off-White™ CEO and Louis Vuitton artistic director Virgil Abloh created the dress for him with a tribute to Cobain in mind.
Anyone who's a long time fan of Cudi will know this isn’t his first tribute to Cobain. The rapper has been vocal about his admiration for the singer and songwriter and the references run deep. “Kurt has always been an inspiration. I try to use him as my muse whenever I can,” Cudi said in a GQ interview. A look back on his Twitter reveals various other shoutouts to Cobain with Tweets like the pretty straightforward tweet: “Never not thinkin’ about Kurt Cobain.”
Cudi has been so inspired by Cobain that he even got a tattoo commemorating the singer last year. And then there’s the music: Cudi’s Montage from Kids See Ghosts, his 2018 collaborative album with Kanye West, includes a sample of Cobain’s posthumous solo track Burn The Rain, while the tracks Wedding Tux and Judgemental Cunt from Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven have a strong Cobain influence — so much so they got the approval from Cobain’s widow Courtney Love Cobain, who commented that she adores Cudi and called him a genius.
In 2011, Cudi even made a pilgrimage to Seattle to pay respects to the fallen legend by visiting the park adjacent to the home where he allegedly killed himself. In the video Cudi and his entourage read messages scrawled on a bench in Viretta Park in Washington. Cudi — whose initials are also KC — grabs a marker and searches for a space to write his own memorial, as Cobain’s former residence looms in the background.
Cudi’s dress was later revealed to be part of an Off-White™ x Kid Cudi capsule collection, which Virgil Abloh teased on his IG stories. It includes selvedge light-washed denim and vintaged graphic tees, both indelible parts of Cudi and Cobain’s personal style. But the parallels between the two run deeper than dressing, considering both artists' openness to discussing mental health and substance abuse on their previous albums.
Suicide is certainly an ongoing issue for young men, especially as suicide rates grow in the United States.
“Perhaps suicide, as ugly as it feels to consider, adds an inescapability to a person’s legacy,” DJ Booth editor Elliott Sang explains in an article on Cobain’s influence in rap. "Watching a person be present, in a video or a picture or a record, and knowing they’ve killed themselves is gripping to us. We are forced to confront the dark places which social cues and conventional wisdom advise us to avoid, often at great costs."
Twenty-seven years after his death, Kurt Cobain seems more embedded in global culture than ever.
“Nirvana’s influence on fashion and style might be even more enduring than its sonic output,” suggested The Hollywood Reporter on the eve of the band’s induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. “Singer Kurt Cobain’s holey grandpa cardigans, ripped jeans, striped ’70s T-shirts and bleached ravaged locks – along with Jackie O-style sunglasses, feather boas and cheetah-print coats – were appropriated by every disaffected youth in existence in the early 1990s.”
The dress wasn't the only homage to the grunge icon. Later on SNL, Cudi performed "Tequila Shots” in a fuzzy olive-green mohair cardigan from Cactus Plant Flea Market that bore a striking resemblance to the one Cobain famously wore during Nirvana's MTV Unplugged in New York live performance that first aired in December 1993, months before his death. Cobain’s T-shirt was merch from the defunct San Franciscan all-female punk band Frightwig, who experienced a brief popularity boost from the co-sign, but ended up disbanding in 1994. Meanwhile, Cudi’s tee paid homage to Chris Farley, the late comedian and SNL alumni who died in 1997.
Ironically, Cobain’s legacy as a fashion icon would perhaps be the hardest for him to stomach if he was here to see it. Although he was privately conscious of his image, the singer’s suburban thrift store aesthetic was in fact the antithesis of fashion. Often choosing baggy and tattered looks because they were the only things available, rather than out of an intentional style choice.
“Kurt Cobain was the antithesis of the macho American man,” culture writer Alex Frank told Vogue in 2014. “At a time when a body-conscious silhouette was the defining look, he made it cooler to look slouchy and loose, no matter if you were a boy or a girl.”
But what seems to get lost in this cultural exchange is that Cobain’s legacy runs deeper than substance abuse, vintage jawns, and suicide. Cobain was vocal about his leftist political stances and liberal, pro-feminist thinking. Throughout the ‘90s, Cobain was advocating teaching young men not to rape and dissembling gender binaries; as he once told NME: “The problem with groups who deal with rape is that they try to educate women about how to defend themselves. What really needs to be done is teaching men not to rape. Go to the source and start there”.
Given the prolific amount of rappers facing heavy sexual assault charges and rappers homaging his style while often rapping misogynistic lyrics, it’s highly likely Cobain wouldn’t approve of the message this new generation is sending to its audience. Cobain was in fact a fan of hip-hop during its golden era but had issues with some of the lyrical content. “I totally respect [rap] and love it because it’s one of the only original forms of music that’s been introduced,” he once told an Ontario radio show. “I’m a fan of rap music, but most of it is so misogynist that I can’t even deal with it. I’m really not that much of a fan.”
It wasn’t just hip-hop that Cobain took aim at, early rock stars got hit with the infrared too. Together with members of Nirvana, he refused to tour with Guns-N-Roses after their controversial “One in a Million” lyrics, calling frontman Axl Rose “a fucking sexist and a racist and a homophobe.” He supported the riot grrrl movement and, in the notes of Nirvana’s third and final studio album, In Utero, where he wrote: “If you’re a sexist, racist, homophobe or basically an asshole, don’t buy this CD. I don’t care if you like me, I hate you.”
Cobain tackled subjects like sexual assault on his records with Nirvana. “Rape Me” was Cobain’s attempt to write an anti-rape anthem. He explained the meaning behind the track to Spin: “It’s like she’s saying, ‘Rape me, go ahead, rape me, beat me. You’ll never kill me. I’ll survive this and I’m gonna fucking rape you one of these days and you won’t even know it.”
American musician Tori Amos commented on the song in a 1994 interview with the NME, saying that she “thought it was very clear what it was about....It's a defiant song. But the scariest thing to a rape victim are the words 'rape me.' When I first heard it I broke out in a cold sweat, but when you get over that you realize he's turning it back on people.”
In a 1993 interview, Cobain delved deeper into where his passion about equality for women came from: “I couldn’t find any friends (at school), male friends that I felt compatible with, I ended up hanging out with the girls a lot. I just always felt that they weren’t treated with respect. Especially because women are totally oppressed.”
But Cobain’s influence on equality extended beyond the explicitly political, and well into the domain of fashion. Much like icons like David Bowie and Iggy Pop, who came before him, Cobain was man enough to sometimes be feminine. This is why we got him in a buttoned-up tea dress and chipped red nail polish on the cover of 1993’s September issue of The Face, as well as various other on stage performances in the early ‘90s.
Cobain and his bandmates would later appear in Dries Van Noten parachute pants in a Stéphane Sednaoui shoot for the November 1993 issue of Mademoiselle magazine. He even went as far as as saying he wished he were gay just to piss off the homophobes, a bold stance to take in the early ‘90s when popular musicians and politics didn’t mix to the extent they do now. It was also a testament to Cobain’s forward-thinking nihilism.
In 1993, while on tour in NYC, Nirvana would take time out to do a photoshoot with Stephen Sweet. The images were photographed in front of Jenny Holzer's “Men Don't Protect You Anymore” which was broadcasted across New York’s Liberty Theater marquee 42nd Street, Manhattan, 1993. The band dressed in their distressed jeans and vintage tees might seem like an unlikely poster boys for a new kind of male thinking — but they certainly represent one of Holzer’s other -isms: RAISE BOYS AND GIRLS THE SAME WAY.
Indeed, this way of thinking aligns with Cudi and Cobain’s respective reasons for donning a dress. It isn’t about being a rebel for rebellion’s sake, but a reminder that style should always be an authentic form of self-expression.
“If I said we do it to be subversive then that would be a load of shit, because men in bands wearing dresses isn’t controversial anymore,” he told Melody Maker in 1992. “I like to wear dresses because they’re comfortable....It may be subversive as far as a very small amount of people go, who’ve never seen men in dresses before or who aren't comfortable with the concept, but I don't give a shit about those people, anyway.”