Nirvana broke open grunge to the wider world, and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" became the anthem of a generation. Like Lou Reed and James Brown, Kurt Cobain actually changed the direction of popular music. Rolling Stone called him one of the hundred greatest songwriters of all time:
"Nirvana's skull-crushing noise assault would have meant little if not for the deceptively brilliant pop craft underpinning it."
But critics say Cobain owes much of his revered status to his tragic suicide—he wasn't a technically great guitarist, and Nirvana didn't produce very much music. They think his rebel image was bullshit and his fabled lyrics were trite:
I never really bought into Kurt’s retroactive deification, either. From a musical standpoint, Kurt was clearly the least talented of his bandmates, and his faux-philosophical, anti-Guns N Roses, new-new-wave, ultra-liberal shtick more or less opened the floodgates for a million, billion wusses like Trent Reznor and that crybaby from Radiohead to make miserable, woe-is-me alternative the default setting for mainstream rock to this day.
Kurt Cobain's fans argue our entire musical landscape is different (and better) because of him.