Smells Like Teen Spirit was based on the concept of a school concert which ends in anarchy and riot. Inspiration was taken from Jonathan Kaplan's 1979 movie Over the Edge, as well as the Ramones film Rock 'n' Roll High School. Filmed on a soundstage in Culver City, the video features the band playing at a pep rally in a high school gym to an audience of apathetic students on bleachers, and cheerleaders wearing black dresses with the anarchist symbol. The video ends with the assembled students destroying the set and the band's gear. The demolition of the set captured in the video's conclusion was the result of genuine discontent. The extras that filled the bleachers had been forced to stay seated through numerous replays of the song for an entire afternoon of filming. Cobain convinced Bayer to allow the extras to mosh, and the set became a scene of chaos. Cobain disliked Bayer's final edit and personally oversaw a re-edit of the video that resulted in the version finally aired. One of Cobain's major additions was the next-to-last shot of the video, which was a close-up of his own face after it had been obscured for most of the video.
The video has been parodied at least twice: in "Weird Al" Yankovic's music video for "Smells Like Nirvana" and in Bob Sinclar's 2006 music video for "Rock This Party (Everybody Dance Now). In 2007, the song was voted #1 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the 90s.