Ah, the 90s: Despite that it feels like this golden decade is only a few years removed, it’s actually been almost 20 years. Whether you spent your childhood enjoying the vast amount of cartoons, toys, games, and great music out there or you were older and got to rock out to some of the biggest bands, there’s one thing for certain, this decade produced a lot of beloved music.
Some of these bands and artists have maintained steady careers over the ensuing decades while others have faded away into obscurity. How many of these big 90s names do you recall?
In rock, Guns ‘n’ Roses ruled the roost. Metallica, which had formed a decade prior, continued their reign. Foo Fighters were borne out of the ashes of Nirvana and found their niche in rock very quickly. If you were unhappy with the state of the world, chances are there was a Rage Against the Machine, Tool, or Nine Inch Nails song you could nod your head along to. Marilyn Manson was the shock act and scapegoat of the decade. Rock was rounded out by U2, R.E.M, and Aerosmith, older bands that were also having a moment.
The 90s was the birth of alternative music. These bands were a little less heavy than rockers, but not too much. The genre included acts like the Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead, Oasis, Blur, and Jane’s Addiction.
If you’re more into country, the 90s were quite an expansive decade. We started with “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus (yes, Miley’s dad) and saw the debut of stars like Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, and Shania Twain. These artists wrote the kinds of anthems for getting over breakups, feeling empowered, falling in love, and just enjoying a nice summer weekend.
Pop music had a heyday in the 90s. In the earlier half of the decade, it was all about the women of Lilith Fair: Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crowe, and Fiona Apple. Alanis Morissette was a trailblazer in women’s music as well. By the end of the decade, pop had transformed to the likes of the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Ricky Martin, Christina Aguilera, and N’SYNC.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is grunge. A mix of rock and alternative, these hard rockers put Seattle and flannel on the map. From Pearl Jam to Alice in Chains, Soundgarden to Nirvana, these bands’ disaffected lyrics and viewpoints spoke to the youth in America who felt angry and hopeless.
Punk rock was insanely popular for a while there, heralded by acts like the female-led No Doubt with its singer Gwen Stefani, the infectious Green Day, the Offspring, and Blink-182. Other punk acts to see stardom in the 90s were Reel Big Fish, Rancid, NOFX, Bad Religion, Social Distortion, AFI, and Sum 41.
There’s no way you missed hip-hop mavens Tupac and Biggie Smalls, two of the most influential artists of their generation. They gave way for rap stars like the Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, Missy Elliot, Wu-Tang Clan, Salt-N-Pepa, Public Enemy, Snoop Dog, and countless others to have their moment in the spotlight.
The eccentric 90s was also when techno permeated into the mainstream. The catchy Chemical Brothers and edgy Prodigy easily found homes at the tops of the charts. Women like Bjork and Beth Gibbons of Portishead were smooth as glass while Massive Attack, Moby, and Fatboy Slim produced the kind of danceable tunes we still listen to today.