Compared to other eras, the concept of 90s music is quite difficult to pin down. Eccentric and wide-ranging, the decade challenges easy labeling. The cross-pollination of music in the 1990s has left a boundary-breaking legacy that remains today. Teen pop and dance-pop trends, which started in the 1970s and 1980s, continued in the 1990s. In addition to that, hip hop also grew and continued to be very successful in the decade.
What’s great about the 1990s is that you could be a rocker, an R&B fan, a country fan, a mod, or a hop-hop explorer, all at the same time. This is due to the fact that what popular music was had changed completely. If you grew up in the 90s and want to reminisce about the music back then, or if you’re from the new generation and wondering what music was like back in that decade, you’re in the right place. Today, we are giving you a guide to 90s music.
The Popular Musical Genres in the 1990s
Here are some of the most popular genres when it comes to music in the 1990s:
The biggest thing that the 90s gave to the music industry was grunge music. With this, guitar-based music was roughly categorized into three, which are classic-rock standbys, alternative rock, and an already fading hair metal scene. But in the 1990s, the impact of MTV as the mediator of youth culture still could not be understated.
Grunge music was from the Pacific Northwest American states of Washington and Oregon in the 1980s. Artists like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Soundgarden made alternative rock popular in 1991. However, there were lots of bands that were uncomfortable with their success and were also suspicious of the grunge label. Nirvana and their grunge colleagues like Pearl Jam made a more direct and less polished rock sound.
However, many grunge bands broke up or became less visible during the mid-1990s. Some of the things that marked the decline of the genre are the death of Kurt Cobain in early 1994 and the touring problems for Pearl Jam due to their publicized boycott of Ticketmaster. The original grunge bands also went into decline while major record labels started signing and promoting bands that were rivaling the genre.
There were also bands that emulated the attitudes and music of grunge, and it was called post-grunge music. It included particularly thick, distorted guitars but has more radio-friendly and commercially oriented sound.
Foo Fighters, former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl’s new band in 1995, helped popularize the genre and define its parameters. They became one of the most commercially successful rock bands in the United States, with the help of considerable airplay on MTV. Among the most successful post-grunge acts of the 90s include Bush, Candlebox, Creed, Matchbox Twenty, Collective Soul, and more.
Heavy metal did not disappear in the 1990s, but it reconfigured. The more challenging acts, including Metallica, Aerosmith, and Guns N’ Roses, surpassed trends, and they became stadium bands. However, for the most part, rock fans diverted their attention to grunge.
Skate Punk and Pop Punk
In the United States, punk rock underwent a resurgence in the early to mid-1990s. During that time, punk rock was not commercially viable, and there was no major record label that signed a punk rock band until 1994, when Green Day emerged. This contributed to the emergence of a number of independent record labels, which were usually run by people in bands to be able to release their own music and that of their networks.
In the mid-1990s, skate punk became mainstream, primarily with the Northern California-based skate punk band Green Day, and in the late 1990s, with a pop-punk band from Southern California, which is Blink-182, who also achieved huge commercial success worldwide. Among these bands, Green Day is seen as the biggest act in punk rock, while Blink-182 is seen as the most influential on later bands like All Time Low and Fall Out Boy.
The 1990s were popular for extending the rap music scene from New York City, which was the center of hip hop culture during the 1980s, to other cities, such as Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Memphis, Atlanta, Miami, and the Bay Area.
The 1992 album of Dr. Dre called The Chronic gave a template for modern gangsta rap. Aside from that, he also introduced a new artist known as Snoop Dogg. During the early 1990s, West Coast hip hop dominated the genre. Hip hop became the best-selling music genre by the mid-1990s, together with The Notorious B.I.G. on the East Coast.
The early 1990s was also dominated by female rappers, like Queen Latifah and the female trio called Salt-N-Pepa. However, the mid-1990s were marked when West Coast-based rapper 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. died. Based on conspiracy theories, they were killed due to the East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry. Some of the other popular rap artists in the 1990s include Ice Cube, DMX, Eminem, Jay Z, Will Smith, LL Cool J, Master P, and more.
Pop music like contemporary R&B and urban pop also became popular throughout the 1990s. However, they were outshone by more pop-rock and dance music by the second half of the ‘90s. In the 1990s, Michael Jackson continued to achieve critical and commercial success.
A British girl group, The Spice Girls, also managed to break the American market as they became the most commercially successful British group in North America since The Beatles. The impact of this girl group brought a widespread invasion of teen pop acts to the US charts, which had been predominantly dominated by hip hop and grunge before the success of the group.
These are just some of the popular musical genres of the 1990s. If you’d like to see the complete list, you can read our post about the Top Musical Genres of the 90s. And if you’d like to learn more about the music in the 1990s, here are some links to some ‘90s posts that you can read:
- The Advent of Grunge Music in the 90s
- Musical Trends That Defined The 90s
- Why is 90s Music Still So Popular?
- Important Musical Moments From the 90s That Shaped Music History
- How Did People Listen to Music in the 90s?
- Why is the 90s Known as the Golden Age of Hip Hop?
- Must-Have 90s Concert T-Shirts
The Most Influential Artists in the 1990s That Helped Shape Music Culture Today
We can’t deny that the music industry we have today has been largely affected by the music of the 1990s. In fact, there is not a decade that has not made major contributions to the soundscape of today other than the 1990s. It is among the decades that made leaps and bounds in shaping the music culture we have in the present time.
In this decade, teen spirit slipped through the cracks and introduced the genres that we’ve mentioned earlier. The 1990s also propelled women to the top of charts which is much like what we see in the music industry today. With this, let’s take a look at some of the most influential artists in the 1990s.
When it comes to female rappers of the 90s, Lil’ Kim is one of the most influential. Her lyrics, clothing, and desire to be a sexual being were truly unapologetic. She has a raunchy persona and music, which paved the way for modern female rappers like Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, and more. Her debut studio album titled Hard Core, which was released in 1996 changed the rap game for women. This album helped normalize the idea that women could be sexual without objectification.
Green Day helped skate punk music to become popular in the ‘90s. Their 1994 album titled Dookie, which had skater-punk and rebellious vibes, was able to sell 10 million records in the United States after it was released. This band has changed the face of punk rock in a huge way. In Australia, the band also set the bar, and they inspired music by The Chats, Violent Soho, Dune Rats, and Skeggs.
Britney Spears is one of the most popular artists in the 1990s when it comes to pop music. She is an iconic pop princess that influenced music and as well as fashion heavily throughout the 90s and even up to the present time. Her album, Hit Me Baby One More Time became controversial when it was released in 1998 because of the outfit she wore in the music video, and as well as her many attention-grabbing performances. However, without her fun and empowering personality, we wouldn’t be able to see iconic pop divas such as Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, or Selena Gomez expressing themselves the way they are today.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, Nirvana played a big part in starting the 90s grunge movement and a revolution to the music scene, most especially their most iconic song, Smells Like Teen Spirit. Back in the 90s, Nirvana did not have any intention to enter the mainstream, but the message of their music inspired the world for many decades. This band made weird become cool with their rebellious appearance but lyrical attitudes, which personified the voice of the generation who needed it. Nirvana’s music paved the way for modern artists and bands such as Fall Out Boy, Lana Del Rey, and 30 Seconds to Mars, to name a few.
In 1993, French due Daft Punk first entered the electronic dance scene when they released their first EP titled The New Wave, which became an automatic underground rave hit. The duo had a heavy impact on the rave culture of the 1990s. It has formed a desired electronic sound that has formed the dance music that we hear and enjoy today. They were able to break through and ramp up house and techno during the time when grunge music was making headways. Their undeniable success in the 1990s continues today, as they collaborate with new artists, such as Pharrell Williams and The Weeknd.
No Doubt and Gwen Stefani
In 1995, No Doubt released their debut album titled Tragic Kingdom, and it sent shock waves through the music scene. They made a sound that was equally grunge, ska, punk, and pop. The band’s genre-bending sound was a cultural phenomenon in the 1990s that the world had never heard before.
After her No Doubt stint, Gwen Stefani continued to penetrate the music industry with genre-bending music. Her music showed female artists how taking risks in their own music pays off. Her genre-bending music has influenced the music today with the works of Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa, The 1975, SZA, and more.
These are just some of the top artists and bands in the 1990s. If you’d like to know more popular artists back in that decade, you can check out some of these artist profiles to learn about their stories:
- Artist Profile: Lauryn Hill
- Artist Profile: Smashing Pumpkins
- Artist Profile: Weezer
- Artist Profile: Radiohead
- Artist Profile: Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Artist Profile: Pearl Jam
- Artist Profile: Oasis
- Artist Profile: Green Day
- Artist Profile: Foo Fighters
- Artist Profile: Blink 182
The 1990s have truly produced lots of great artists in the world of music. If you’d like to learn about the top bands, albums, songs, and one-hit wonders of the ‘90s, here are some helpful links that you may visit:
- The Top 20 Bands of the 90s
- Four 90s Hits That Influenced Music Forever
- Top Music Videos From the 90s Decade
- Best Albums of the 1990s
- Most Popular R&B Bands in the 90s
- Worst Songs of the 90s
- Top Alternative Rock Songs from the 90s
- Most Popular Rappers in the 90s
- Iconic Female Singers from the 90s
- The Most Popular Songs of the 90s
- Iconic 90s Album Covers
- One Hit Wonders of the 1990s
The 1990s decade is indeed diverse when it comes to music. Unlike other decades, the artists that emerged in these times were varied, especially in their genre. With this, we can say that listening to music back in the ‘90s was truly an amazing experience. It feels like there’s always a song that you can listen to which will match your mood for the day. The ‘90s music had also influenced lots of modern artists and bands that we have in the present time. It means that without the musical genres that emerged in the 1990s, we might not be enjoying the music that we have today.