Thursday, 7 August 2014

The '90s: Soundtrack to a decade

From grunge to Britpop, Spice Girls to Backstreet Boys, here are the most significant musical moments of the decade.

Girl power

In the 1990s, only one girl group mattered: The Spice Girls. Debut single Wannabe – an anthem celebrating female friendship – was a global hit, hitting No. 1 in 31 countries. The Spice Girls also notched up multi-million dollar merchandising deals with Pepsi, Cadbury and Polaroid; and even had their own film Spice World in 1995. Second album Spiceworld was released in 1997 and the girls continue to achieve phenomenal success.

Smells like grunge spirit

Seattle-based grunge rock outfit Nirvana, led by Kurt Cobain, brought alternative music to mainstream consciousness. Its second album Nevermind hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts, and has sold over 30 million copies worldwide.

Hit single Smells Like Teen Spirit resonated with angst-ridden disillusioned youths everywhere. Soon enough; other bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Rage Against The Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers came forward to make their brand of alternative music known.

The Britpop battles

The biggest story at the height of Britpop’s popularity in the 1990s was the much-publicised rivalry between Oasis and Blur.

When both bands announced that they would be releasing a new single on the same day, it was a fight worthy of being called the British Heavyweight Championship by NME magazine.

In the end, Blur’s Country House won the battle, outselling Oasis’s Roll With It; but it didn’t take long for Oasis to get over it as the band achieved Britpop glory with later singles Wonderwall and Champagne Supernova.

Gangster rappers

The hip-hop scene in the 1990s will be remembered for the intense rivalry between rappers Tupac Shakur  and The Notorious B.I.G (Biggie).

Both rappers were riding on a wave of mainstream and critical success – a rare feat for rappers associated with the notorious gangster lifestyle.

When Biggie released single Who Shot Ya?, Tupac interpreted it as a diss directed at him, and hit back with Hit Em’ Up, alluding that he slept with Biggie’s wife Faith Evans (the lyrics for both singles are not Vanilla Ice enough for this mainstream paper).

The feud between the two ended tragically – in 1996, Tupac was shot by an unknown assailant in Las Vegas; and six months later, Biggie was gunned down in Los Angeles.


Back in the 90s, it seemed that every other month saw the debut of a new boyband. The Backstreet Boys achieved massive success with Millennium, which stayed on top of the Billboard album chart for 16 weeks; while NSync were just starting out with their hit single Tearin’ Up My Heart. 98 Degrees hung out with the Invisible Man, 911 cried Don’t Make Me Wait, Boyzone offered A Different Beat, Take That came Back For Good and Hanson reached No. 1 in 27 countries ... and then with an MMMMbop, they were gone.

Pop princesses

After Geri Halliwell left Spice Girls, the group began to fade slowly into obscurity. It was time for a new wave of girl power, which came in the form of a certain Britney Spears, whose Baby... One More Time propelled her teenage pop music stardom. Soon, the pop scene was awash with pop princesses – Christina Aguilera came on to the scene with Genie In The Bottle; Texas-born beauty Jessica Simpson with I Wanna Love You Forever; and Mandy Moore also crashed the party with debut single Candy.

Girls can rock too

It wasn’t all sugar and spice for the girls though – Alanis Morissette proved through her Jagged Little Pill album that female singer-songwriters can rock too. Her album sold 33 million copies worldwide, and it also took home the Grammy for Album Of The Year in 1996. Later, Sarah McLachlan founded Lilith Fair in 1997, a music festival born out of her frustration with concert promoters who refused to book more than one female artists. The event, which only booked female performers, gave much–needed exposure to singers like Fiona Apple, Sinead O’ Connor and Jewel. 

R&B reigns supreme

With The Bodyguard soundtrack, Whitney Houston brought contemporary R&B to even greater heights. Houston’s I Will Always Love You reigned on top of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for 14 weeks. TLC released CrazySexyCool in 1994 and scored two Grammys with hit single Waterfalls.

Janet Jackson had a historic multi-million dollar deal with Virgin Records, and proved her price with best-selling album janet. In 1998, Lauryn Hill released The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, earning rave reviews and nabbing five Grammys, including Album Of The Year.

One diva to rule them all

Mariah Carey is the only artist to top the Billboard music charts every year in the 1990s. A Grammy for Best New Artist in 1991 was followed by the worldwide success of Music Box in 1993, a best-selling Christmas album in 1994, and One Sweet Day was the longest-running number 1 song in Billboard history. It’s no wonder that Carey is the best–selling artist of the decade.

Related story:
When Cantopop ruled

Tags / Keywords: Nirvana , Tupac , Spice Girls


Most Viewed

Powered by