Music That Made the 90s

Nirvana: Chances are, if you ask a person to name only one band from the ‘90s, their answer would be Nirvana. The creators and kings of a genre that was born and died in the ‘90s, Nirvana served as a flagship for Gen X’s entire philosophy on life and perfectly encapsulated the restlessness and rebellion of an entire decade. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ captures an entire culture and moment in history in a single song. This band’s legacy remained long after the death of frontman Kurt Cobain. 

Radiohead: Few bands can claim they’ve been called the ‘saviors of contemporary rock’ by seemingly every news publication on Earth, but Radiohead has never been comfortable with following trends. Initially dismissed as a one-hit wonder due to their 1993 Nirvana-esque hit single ‘Creep,’ Radiohead defied expectations throughout the ‘90s with their groundbreaking 1997 album Ok Computer, creating an entirely new sound unlike any heard before–while also spawning an entirely new genre in the early 2000s. 

Pearl Jam: Along with Nirvana, Pearl Jam emerged from the Seattle scene to make its own stamp on ‘90s grunge culture. Although Nirvana is seen as the band of the ‘90s, Pearl Jam’s sheer musical skill and grit arguably makes them more influential pioneers in grunge music–and music from the ‘90s as a whole–than Nirvana could ever have been. Songs like ‘Daughter’ and ‘Alive’ showcased singer Eddie Vetter’s original songwriting as well as vocal tone. 

Beck: Everything that came out of the late ‘90s that can be considered alternative music can be directly traced back to Beck’s influence on the genre. If Radiohead was the ‘new direction’ of Grunge after the ‘90s, Beck was the savior of alternative music. Beck’s influence spans everything from solo R&B artists like Kid Cudi to alternative bands such as The Strokes. 

TLC: We all need a little tender, love, and care. With the perfect blend of funk, hip-hop, and R&B; it’s understandable why the TLC sound became so popular. Top 10 hits like ‘Waterfalls’ and ‘No Scrubs’ were one of the many reasons TLC became the highest-grossing female group in America. Their unique sound continues to influence female musicians and groups such as Destiny’s Child, as well as more recent artists like Kehlani and Tinashe. 

Boyz Ⅱ Men: Inspired by the ‘80s boy band New Edition, this R&B group pulled the heartstrings of many with their impressive harmonies and emotional ballads. Their song ‘End of the Road’ broke a record once held by Elvis Presley for having the longest number 1 song at 13 weeks. They exceeded that record by three weeks with their song ‘One Sweet Day’ featuring Mariah Carey and it still remains the longest running number one song along with ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber.

Mariah Carey: With her impressive voice and use of whistle tones, Mariah Carey was an unbeatable powerhouse in the ‘90s. The R&B/pop singer was one of the most popular female singers of the decade. Her first album Mariah Carey, set the stage for her long and successful career with her first four singles reaching the number one song. Her influence in the music industry is prevalent through artists today like Beyonce, Christina Aguilera and Ariana Grande. 

Whitney Houston: Whitney Houston is one of the most decorated artists of all time. Her famous single “I Will Always Love You” surpassed previous records made by a woman. Houston was influential to many other stars such as Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Hudson. Her ballads touched the hearts of many people and are still some of the most popular love songs today.

Spice Girls: This female pop group took the world by storm with their classic hits like “Wannabe” and “Say You’ll Be There.” The Spice Girls paved the way for the modern pop girl group, a genre still very much relevant today. Along with catchy female anthems, the Spice Girls also influenced ‘90s defining fashion with the  faces of Victoria Beckham and Mel B. 

2Pac: Along with being one of the decades defining acts, Tupac  Shakur became one of the world’s most legendary public figures,  with music that addressed pressing issues for people of color. He was one of the most dominant West Coast rappers during the rise of the genre. His music influencing activism towards racism and hatred.  His 1996 album “All Eyez On Me,” is one of the best selling albums in the United States and solidified his role as the rap game’s Messiah, long surviving his death in 1996.

Backstreet boys: The One Direction of the 90s is the Backstreet Boys. They are the best-selling boy band to ever exist and to have fame after their peak. “Everybody” and “I Want It That Way” are just a few of their best sing-along hits. Not only was their music popular, but their looks became a craze among people everywhere. They embodied a package of looks and talent that increased their rise in the music industry. Their fame and fan dedication is the reason why they are still having sold out tours today. 

Britney Spears: Even though Britney was most known for her early 2000s music, her first widely successful album, “Baby One More Time” was released in 1999. The song “(You Drive Me) Crazy” from the album became a top ten hit worldwide. This album is the best-selling album by a teenage artist and was certified two-times platinum. She ended the 90s with a teen pop revival and carried the genre well into the 2000s.

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Ty Shelton is a freshman music writer majoring in International Studies at the College. Originally from Louisville, KY, (which makes her half yankee) she enjoys reading novels usually set during the Civil War, playing electric guitar, and looking through archived websites from the 90s.


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