Top Musical Genres of the 90s

It’s hard to pin down 90s music in any one genre, so we have to look at the wide variety that was on offer back then. The 90s was admittedly a decade that many fondly remember for its music, with everyone having the chance to be a rocker, a mod, an explorer of hip-hop, and a country music fan all in one. The concept of popular music had shifted drastically from what it was in the 90s; as a result, we had a whole medley to choose from and enjoy.

While some of the music genres of the 90s were almost polar opposites to each other, they’re all a part of representing and remembering that decade. Let’s have a closer look at the top musical genres of the 90s now:

Grunge Music

The history of grunge is worth reading up on for its own sake, but the music of that movement was a major curveball of the 90s. The inflection point of grunge music is usually believed to be ‘Nevermind’ by Nirvana. In the early 90s, the category of guitar-based music included alternative rocks, a hair metal scene, and classic-rock standbys.  

Around the same time, we had MTV as the main influencer on youth and the culture it followed. The premiere for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit, which many agree to be the epitome of 90s grunge was a quiet one. It was on 120 Minutes, which aired during the late night. This music video betrayed the usual conventions of the channel with its darkness and cynicism.

90s grunge meant a reconfiguring of heavy metal, with bands like Metallica and Aerosmith transcending the fads and performing as stadium bands. Some might find it unfortunate that grunge was large male-dominated back in the 90s, though some bands with female fronters (such as Hole and Courtney Love) did benefit from the popularity of this genre.

The Rise of Girl Power

The top female pop stars of the 90s are still fondly remembered by 90s kids today. However, this decade also saw several rock bands with female fronts. While these may not have done so well on the music charts, they did manage to create a vibrant rock scene with feminist undertones. Some of these included Hole, L7, Bratmobile, and Babes in Toyland.

In the latter part of the 90s, though, the rise of female spending power and other feminist trends led to a trickle up in the pop music charts. This trickle would eventually lead to the boom of multi-platinum female singers and songwriters. The most famous names here include Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, and Tracy Chapman (perhaps the only woman of color in this genre). Several of these artists also had a part in the Lilith Fair, which was Sarah McLachlan’s rebuttal to the Lollapalooza festival. The Lilith Fair eventual became the best-selling touring fair in the year 1997.


Another impact on 90s music from the grunge movement was the normalization of countercultural trends. These included bands such as R.E.M, Pixies, Pavement, etc. prior to this, the offerings of these musicians were considered to be only for fans of indie music. As things progressed, though, these bands got recognition and air time on both MTV and the radio.


For fans of hip hop and rap, he 90s is usually considered to be a golden time. The late 80s brought a wave of rap music that was more politically-driven than the traditionally simple party songs. This led to yet another sub-genre that was known as ‘gangsta rap’, telling the stories of the gritty life in the city and using potentially objectionable language, sexual lyrics, and violent imagery.

When the 90s rolled around, the rap genre didn’t have the best reputation because of the gangsta rap category. However, the boom of the music industry led to an increase in the popularity of rap and hip hop in this decade. Even the biggest artists and most influential stars of hip hop made and released their albums in this era. This led to the 90s becoming the peak decade for sales of the hip hop genre.


Some indie grunge bands managed to go mainstream during the 90s. The number of indie acts didn’t go down much though, especially as the 90s had room for the indie music industry to develop on its own. We can find some great examples of 90s indie music in names like Pavement, Slint, and Magnetic Fields.

Country Pop

Country pop music topped the charts during the 90s, especially with artists with several crossover successes. This was the time when names like Shania Twain, Alan Jackson, and Garth Brooks came to the fore.

On the other hand, this success was not well-received by those who were traditionalists when it came to country music. Indeed, the newer subgenres of traditional country music were made in order to please the masses.


Typical 80s pop might have been knocked off the charts by grunge music in the early 90s, but the defeat wasn’t final. Pop music saw a major revival in the very same decade, with bands such as The Spice Girls, “NSYNC, and The Backstreet Boys soon taking charge.

The Spice Girls might have been the first of their kind to hit the Billboard charts, but they then became the inspiration for several other pop acts. Whether male or female, it soon seemed like pop bands were popping up all over the place during the 90s. Incidentally, this was also the decade where solo female pop artists did better than those who stuck together in a band. Just a few examples include Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Mariah Carey.


This music genre saw a rebirth during the 1990s decade, with sales rivaling the high levels of the 1960s. The most popular bands for this genre included Mary J. Binge, Toni Braxton, Boyz II Men, and R. Kelly.


Some might say that there was another kind of British invasion in the United States during the 90s. However, this one was on the basis of a musical genre known as Britpop. This was a somewhat brighter and catchier type of alternative rock and south to promote the British music scene at the time. One may also say that this was a response to the darkness, a harsher form of grunge music that was so popular around that time.

Some of the most well-known bands for Britpop include Pulp, The Verve, and Oasis. Not only did their music become popular from across the ocean, but they also managed to influence music in the United States.


From the discussion above, we can conclude that 90s music was far from singular in its scope. There was a bit of everything in that decade, from punk music to country songs and teenage pop. The top pop male stars of the 90s were right up there with the grunge bands, so there’s no reason to put one genre over another. If we plan on throwing a 90s-themed party or just want to reminisce about the decade in general, the playlist will probably be able to cater to everyone’s tastes.  

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