“Come as You Are” is a song by American grunge band Nirvana, written by frontman Kurt Cobain and released as the second single from the band’s second studio album Nevermind in March 1992. It was the band’s second American Top 40 hit, and second UK top 10 hit, reaching number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100, and number nine on the UK Singles Chart.
The unexpected success of the album’s lead single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” drew Nirvana to mainstream success, with Nevermind being released two weeks after the single’s release. Following the album’s release, the band and its management company debated whether to release “Come as You Are” or “In Bloom” as the next single from the album due to Cobain’s concerns over the similarity of the former with the Killing Joke song “Eighties” (1984). After some persuasion by the management company, Cobain agreed to release “Come as You Are” as the second single because of its commercial potential. Killing Joke was upset over the song, and there were rumors that a lawsuit had been filed over the song, though the suit never materialized. Killing Joke guitarist Geordie Walker was said to be upset about the whole situation, and he felt that Nirvana (which according to Walker denied the connection between the songs) handled the matter poorly.
The song begins with Cobain playing an unaccompanied guitar riff for eight seconds. Cobain used an Electro-Harmonix Small Clone guitar chorus pedal to give his instrument a “watery” tone during the verses and pre-choruses. He is joined by the rest of the band for the first verse, which is moody and subdued. Once the band reaches the chorus, the song reaches full volume. The shift in dynamics is a technique Nirvana used on many of its songs. The song features one of Cobain’s longest guitar solos. “Kurt really did not play a lot of solos,” Vig said. “This one is more of a melodic part based on the vocal melody. It’s not trying to show off pyrotechnics. It complements the melody of the song.”
Cobain described the lyrics of “Come as You Are” as contradictory, and said the song was about “people and what they’re expected to act like”. Pointing to the line “Take your time, hurry up, the choice is yours, don’t be late”, essayist Catherine J. Creswell writes that in Cobain’s lyrics, “[p]hrases clump into strings of empty clichés whose own ostensible meaning is forced into contradictions or simple rhyme sound”. In light of Cobain’s suicide in 1994, Allmusic’s Mark Deming suggests that hearing “Cobain sing ‘and I swear that I don’t have a gun’ gives ‘Come as You Are’ an edge it was never meant to have when [Nevermind] was first released in 1991.” Deming reasons that the “I don’t have a gun” lyric is Cobain’s “attempt to reassure listeners that … his target is the world at large rather than the individuals in it and that there was still room in this damaged world for everyone”.
The music video for “Come as You Are” was directed by Kevin Kerslake, who drew inspiration for it from the cover artwork of Nevermind. Rolling Stone ranked “Come as You Are” 445th on its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, and it placed 452nd on the 2010 edition of the list.
The music video was directed by Kevin Kerslake, who later directed the videos for “Lithium“, “In Bloom“, and “Sliver“, as well as Pantera‘s music video for This Love. After the unsatisfactory experience filming the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video with Samuel Bayer, Cobain selected Kerslake due to his impressionistic style. Cobain was unable to formulate any ideas beyond homaging the Nevermind album cover and including “a lot of purples and reds”, so he let Kerslake conceptualize the clip. The band shot outdoor footage in a park in Hollywood Hills a few days prior to the main video shoot. Kerslake projected this footage in the background of many shots in the main part of the video.
The video features the band in a dark room, where the appearance of falling water in front of the band distorts and blurs the band members’ faces (an idea suggested by Cobain). Throughout the video, clips such as cells multiplying at an incredible rate, to a living organism in its embryonic stages are shown. The video clip also features Kurt Cobain swinging away on a chandelier throughout the room, and water begins to flow into the room. In addition, the video shows parts involving a dog wearing a cone collar. Images of a baby swimming underwater (a reference to the cover of Nevermind) and a pistol floating appear. Towards the end, a clip of the band appears, with Cobain in the front, lying on the ground and kissing the camera.