As millennials relive the ‘90s in all its glory, it’s hard not to celebrate the ups and downs of music over the course of the decade. As technology and the political climate changed so did fans appetite for genres like gangsta rap, grunge, new jack swing, punk, and pop. These different styles of music helped usher in new artists, like Mariah Carey, Nirvana, BoyzIIMen, Spice Girls, and Puff Daddy, that would go on to become mainstays of the ‘90s.
As with any nostalgic music post, things need to be ranked and, in this case, we ranked each year based on selection of music and events to happen over the course of the ‘90s.
With alternative rock producing some of the best albums of the year, Nirvana introduces the first glimpse of grunge and R&B makes a go at the singles charts. The year is a bit all over the place in terms of genre and style.
What happened? Whitney Houston sings “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl and laying the groundwork for every performance of the anthem to follow. Janet Jackson signs a $30 million record deal with Virgin Records and her brother Michael signs a $1 billion contract with Sony. BoyzIIMen makes it so hard to say goodbye to yesterday. Perry Farrell launches the first Lollapalooza festival tour. Metallica releases “The Black Album” — one of the most successful albums of all time. Guns N’ Roses sell 1.3 million copies of their sophomore album in one week. Every major single — “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” “I Like the Way (The Kissing Game),” “Because I Love You (The Postman Song),” “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” — features parentheses in the title. Kenny Rogers launches the restaurant chain, Kenny Roger Roasters.
Notable releases: Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey, Nevermind by Nirvana, Ten by Pearl Jam, Metallica by Metallica, The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest, “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” by Bryan Adams, “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd, “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” by C+C Music Factor, “Rush Rush” Paula Abdul, “One More Try” by Timmy T
The first year of the decade was a transitional year with a number of late-’80s acts spilling over and music seeing a noticeable shift away from ’80s pop and hair metal. Music tastes are a bit all over the place as alternative rock firmly establishes itself as the genre of choice.
What happened? MTV’s Unplugged makes its debut. (Although, it was with the forgettable new wave band, Squeeze.) Public Enemy releases one of the best albums of the year, Fear of a Black Planet. The Go-Go’s reunite — for the first time since breaking up in 1985 — to play a benefit concert. While still named Mookie Blaylock, Pearl Jam plays their first show. Janet Jackson lands atop of both the Billboard Hot 100 and Mainstream Rock chart with “Black Cat”. Two different songs of the same name, “Hold On,” — by Wilson Philips and En Vogue — top the charts. Vanilla Ice samples “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie in “Ice Ice Baby.” Celine Dion makes her English-language debut. Madonna takes her Blond Ambition on tour and gets banned by MTV. Mili Vanili admits to lip-synching and later return their Grammy award for Best New Artist.
Notable releases: Rhythm Nation 1814 by Janet Jackson by Janet Jackson, “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips, “It Must Have Been Love” by Roxette, “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor, “Poison” by Bell Biv DeVoe, “Vogue” by Madonna, Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy, Goo by Sonic Youth, Bossanova by Pixies, Ritual de lo Habitual by Jane’s Addiction
With the start of the Soundscan era, the charts explode with a mix of pop, hip-hop and R&B. Nothing really feels groundbreaking although there’s plenty of fun to be had.
What happened? Whitney Houston spends 14 weeks atop of the charts with her cover of “I Will Always Love You.” Janet Jackson becomes the first female artist to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts in the Soundscan era. Prince changes his name to an unpronounceable symbol becoming The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Natalie Merchant goes solo, leaving 10,000 Maniacs after 12 years with the band. Wu-Tang Clan enters 36 chambers. Ace of Base releases their debut featuring a cover of Tina Tuner, “Don’t Turn Around.” Meat Loaf will do anything for love except for that one thing.
Notable releases: “Whoomp! (There It Is)” by Tag Team, Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins, Debut by Bjork, janet. by Janet Jackson, “Weak” by SWV, “Informer” by Snow, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by Wu-Tang Clan, “The Sign” by Ace of Base
With the grunge movement established, Kurt Cobain becomes the voice and face of a despondent ’90s generation. The year feels cohesive if not slightly serious as acts like Rage Against the Machine, R.E.M., and Sonic Youth follow in Cobain’s shoes.
What happened? Nirvana establishes the grunge movement with the success of Nevermind. Guns N’ Roses releases the world’s longest single, “November Rain,” which clocks in at 8 minutes, 57 seconds — the music video also costs a record $1.5 million to make. Eric Clapton pens the emotional — and chart-topping — tribute, “Tears in Heaven,” to his late son, Conor. Sinead O’Connor rips up the Pope on Saturday Night Live. Queen re-releases “Bohemian Rhapsody” when the song appears in Wayne’s World. Madonna gets erotic on wax. BoyzIIMen spend 12 weeks atop of the Billboard Hot 100 with “End of the Road.” The bee girl becomes the most popular video vixen in Blind Melon’s “No Rain.” Whitney Houston makes her film debut in The Bodyguard and covers Dolly Parton for the soundtrack. Vibe magazine launches. Dr. Dre ain’t nuthin’ but a ‘G’ thang, baby. Mariah Carey covers The Jackson 5.
Notable releases: “End of the Road” by BoyzIIMen, “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Jump” by Kriss Kross, “Save the Best for Last” by Vanessa Williams, “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton, “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred, “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus, The Chronic by Dr. Dre, Automatic for the People by R.E.M., Rage Against the Machine by Rage Against the Machine, 40 Oz. to Freedom by Sublime
Following a directionless ’93, the next year enjoys a revival of punk and witnesses the beginnings of new jack swing.
What happened? Green Day throws dookie everywhere and launches the punk revival of the mid-‘90s. Kurt Cobain is found dead after committing suicide. Weezer introduces themselves to the world with “The Blue Album.” Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes sets fire to her then-boyfriend Andre Rison’s home. Red Hot Chili Peppers perform in light bulb costumes at Woodstock ’94. Alicia Silverstone stars in Aerosmith’s music video for “Cryin’.” Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley awkwardly kiss on stage at the MTV Video Music Awards. TLC creeps on their men.
Notable releases: “Don’t Turn Around” by Ace of Base, “I Swear” by All-4-One, “Hero” by Mariah Carey, Definitely Maybe by Oasis, Illmatic by Nas, Weezer by Weezer, The Lion King Soundtrack featuring Elton John, CrazySexyCool by TLC, “Longview” by Green Day, Ready to Die by The Notorious B.I.G.