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Top 20 Music Artists From The 90s

The nineties, defined by the rise of the internet and cultural shifts, saw music evolve with genres like grunge, hip hop, and alternative rock. This era of digital innovation and rebellion reshaped the music industry, leaving a lasting impact on future generations.
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Embark on a nostalgic trip to the 1990s, a decade that transformed the music scene with its raw energy and diverse sounds. The rise of grunge, the dominance of hip-hop, and the evolution of alternative and electronic music marked this era. Our list of the top 20 music artists from the ’90s honors the trailblazers who not only captured the spirit of their time but also left an indelible mark on the musical landscape, influencing the rhythms we celebrate today.

#20 Spice Girls

The Spice Girls burst onto the music scene in the mid-1990s, redefining the pop landscape with their catchy tunes, distinct personalities, and “Girl Power” mantra. Consisting of five members – Scary, Baby, Ginger, Posh, and Sporty Spice – they became global icons, appealing to a broad audience with their messages of empowerment, friendship, and fun. Their debut single, “Wannabe”, catapulted them to international fame, and they quickly became one of the best-selling girl groups of all time. Their impact on ’90s pop culture was immense, influencing fashion, music, and the concept of celebrity branding. The Spice Girls were popular because they combined infectious pop music with an empowering message, broad appeal, and a savvy understanding of media and marketing.

Popular songs include:

  • “Wannabe”
  • “Say You’ll Be There”
  • “2 Become 1”
  • “Spice Up Your Life”
  • “Viva Forever”

#19 Björk

Björk, the Icelandic singer-songwriter and musician, is renowned for her innovative and experimental approach to music. She first gained international recognition in the 1990s for her eclectic mix of electronic, pop, jazz, and classical music, along with her distinctive voice. Björk’s popularity stems from her unique sound, visual artistry, and the emotional depth of her music. Her albums from the ’90s, such as “Debut” and “Post,” were critical and commercial successes, showcasing her ability to blend different musical styles seamlessly. Björk stood out for her artistic integrity, creativity, and the visual presentation of her music, which included groundbreaking music videos and stage performances.

Popular songs include:

  • “Human Behaviour”
  • “Venus as a Boy”
  • “Army of Me”
  • “It’s Oh So Quiet”
  • “Hyperballad”

#18 Beck

Beck Hansen is an American musician and songwriter known for his eclectic and lo-fi approach to music, blending elements of rock, folk, hip-hop, electronic, and alternative. His breakthrough came with the 1994 hit “Loser,” which became an anthem of ’90s alternative culture. Beck’s popularity in the decade stemmed from his ability to merge various genres into a cohesive sound, his innovative use of samples, and his witty, often sardonic lyrics. Albums like “Odelay” and “Mutations” received critical acclaim and showcased his versatility as an artist, solidifying his position in the music world.

Popular songs include:

  • “Loser”
  • “Where It’s At”
  • “Devils Haircut”
  • “The New Pollution”
  • “Jack-Ass”

#17 Oasis

Oasis, formed by the Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel, was one of the most prominent bands of the Britpop movement in the 1990s. Their music was characterized by a blend of traditional rock ‘n’ roll with the attitude and swagger of the era. Oasis achieved massive popularity with their second album, “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?”, which included hits like “Wonderwall” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” Their simple yet powerful melodies, memorable lyrics, and the brothers’ tumultuous relationship captivated the public’s imagination. Oasis’s influence extended beyond music, contributing to a cultural renaissance in Britain and becoming one of the defining bands of the decade.

Popular songs include:

  • “Live Forever”
  • “Wonderwall”
  • “Don’t Look Back in Anger”
  • “Champagne Supernova”
  • “Some Might Say”

#16 Eminem

Eminem emerged as one of the most provocative and talented rappers of the late 1990s. His rise to fame was marked by his sharp lyrical skills, controversial themes, and the alter ego Slim Shady, which allowed him to explore darker and more violent aspects of his persona. Eminem’s songs soared due to his ability to articulate the struggles and frustrations of urban America with a level of candor and poetic finesse that was rare in hip-hop at the time. His rapid-fire delivery, complex rhymes, and ability to tackle personal, social, and political issues resonated with a wide audience. Despite entering the scene towards the end of the decade, his impact was profound, earning him critical acclaim and a massive fanbase.

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Popular songs include:

  • “My Name Is”
  • “Guilty Conscience”
  • “Role Model”
  • “Stan” (Released in 2000 but significant to his rise in the ’90s)
  • “The Real Slim Shady” (Also released in 2000, a cornerstone of his early career)

#15 Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers is an American rock band formed in Los Angeles in 1983. It is known for its unique blend of funk, punk, rock, and psychedelic music. The band’s popularity skyrocketed in the 1990s, particularly with the release of “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” in 1991, which included hits like “Under the Bridge” and “Give It Away.” Their energetic performances, innovative music videos, and the emotional depth of their lyrics helped them stand out. The Chili Peppers’ sound evolved over the decade, but their ability to fuse different genres and their raw energy remained constant. Their appeal was also boosted by their openness in discussing issues like drug addiction and relationships, making their music relatable to many.

Popular songs include:

  • “Under the Bridge”
  • “Give It Away”
  • “Scar Tissue”
  • “Californication”
  • “Otherside”

#14 Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey emerged in the early ’90s as one of the most extraordinary vocal talents in the music industry, known for her incredible five-octave vocal range and her use of the whistle register. Throughout the decade, Carey dominated the charts with a series of hit ballads and pop songs, blending R&B, pop, and gospel influences. Her popularity was bolstered by her ability to write most of her material, showcasing not just her voice but also her songwriting prowess. Albums like “Music Box” and “Daydream” became massive commercial successes worldwide, solidifying her status as a pop icon.

Popular songs include:

  • “Vision of Love”
  • “Hero”
  • “Fantasy”
  • “One Sweet Day” (with Boyz II Men)
  • “Always Be My Baby”

#13 Green Day

Green Day, formed in 1986, is an American punk rock band that became one of the leading acts in the 1990s punk revival with their 1994 album “Dookie.” Their catchy melodies, angsty lyrics, and energetic performances appealed to a wide audience, bringing punk rock to mainstream success. Their exploration of adolescent and societal issues with a mix of humor and earnestness won over fans worldwide. The band’s ability to evolve while staying true to their punk roots helped maintain their popularity throughout the decade and beyond.

Popular songs include:

  • “Basket Case”
  • “When I Come Around”
  • “Longview”
  • “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”
  • “Welcome to Paradise”

#12 Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg, born Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr., made an indelible mark on the hip-hop scene in the 1990s with his laid-back flow and distinctive voice. Emerging from the West Coast gangsta rap scene, Snoop’s debut rap album “Doggystyle” was produced by Dr. Dre and became an instant classic, featuring hits that defined the sound of ’90s hip-hop. His smooth delivery and cool persona, coupled with the G-Funk sound, made him a cultural icon. Snoop Dogg’s music and style captured the era’s essence and had a lasting impact on hip-hop.

Popular songs include:

  • “What’s My Name?”
  • “Gin and Juice”
  • “Murder Was the Case”
  • “Doggy Dogg World”
  • “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” (with Tupac)

#11 U2

U2, formed in Dublin, Ireland, in 1976, was already a globally recognized rock band by the time the 1990s began, but the decade saw them reinvent themselves with the release of “Achtung Baby” in 1991. This album marked a significant shift in their sound, incorporating electronic music influences and alternative rock. Their innovative use of video and multimedia during live performances, especially on the Zoo TV Tour, set new standards for concert staging. U2’s ability to tackle social and political issues in their lyrics, combined with their musical evolution, kept them relevant and influential throughout the decade.

Popular songs include:

  • “One”
  • “Mysterious Ways”
  • “Even Better Than the Real Thing”
  • “The Fly”
  • “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”

#10 Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston was one of the most acclaimed and successful female vocalists of all time, with a voice that defined a generation. Her powerful, emotive singing and ability to cross genres made her a global superstar in the 1990s. Houston’s soundtrack for “The Bodyguard” movie, featuring “I Will Always Love You,” became one of the best-selling albums worldwide. Her vocal prowess, combined with her elegant stage presence and a string of hit songs, solidified her status as a music icon. Whitney’s influence extended beyond music; she also significantly impacted film and philanthropy. Her tragic death in 2012 left a void in the music industry, but her legacy endures through her timeless hits.

Also featured in top artists from the 1980s

Popular songs include:

  • “I Will Always Love You”
  • “I Have Nothing”
  • “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)”
  • “I’m Every Woman”
  • “My Love Is Your Love”

#9 Metallica

Metallica, formed in 1981, became one of the most influential heavy metal bands ever. In the 1990s, they broadened their appeal with the release of the “Black Album” (Metallica), which included hits like “Enter Sandman.” Their sound evolved from the thrash metal of their early days to more mainstream rock, helping to bring heavy metal to a wider audience. Metallica’s intense energy, complex compositions, and lyrical depth on themes of personal and social issues resonated with millions of fans worldwide, cementing their place as titans of the music industry.

Popular songs include:

  • “Enter Sandman”
  • “The Unforgiven”
  • “Nothing Else Matters”
  • “Sad But True”
  • “Wherever I May Roam”

#8 R.E.M.

R.E.M. was an American rock band that played a significant role in the development and emergence of alternative rock and college rock in the 1980s. By the 1990s, they had become mainstream stars, known for their melodic sound, introspective lyrics, and Michael Stipe’s distinctive vocal style. Albums like “Out of Time” and “Automatic for the People” were critical and commercial successes, featuring a mix of rock, folk, and electronic music influences. R.E.M.’s popularity was partly due to their thoughtful exploration of social and political themes, making them one of the most respected bands of the decade.

Popular songs include:

  • “Losing My Religion”
  • “Everybody Hurts”
  • “Man on the Moon”
  • “Nightswimming”
  • “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”

#7 Dr. Dre

Dr. Dre, born Andre Romelle Young, is a pivotal figure in hip-hop, known for pioneering the West Coast G-Funk sound. His debut album, “The Chronic,” released in 1992, is considered one of the most influential albums in hip-hop history, featuring a smooth, laid-back funk sound and introducing the world to Snoop Dogg. Dre’s production style, characterized by deep bass, lush synths, and slow grooves, redefined the hip-hop genre and laid the groundwork for the dominance of West Coast hip-hop in the 1990s. His work with other artists, including Eminem and Tupac, further cemented his legacy as one of the greatest producers in music.

Featured in: Best 90s hip-hop songs with “Nuthin But A ‘G’ Thang”

Popular songs include:

  • “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”
  • “Dre Day”
  • “Let Me Ride”
  • “Forgot About Dre” (Released in 1999, part of his second album)
  • “Still D.R.E.”

#6 Madonna

Madonna, the “Queen of Pop,” was at the forefront of the music scene in the 1990s, continuing her reign from the 1980s. Known for her constant reinvention and provocative style, Madonna pushed the boundaries of pop music and culture. With albums like “Ray of Light” and “Like a Prayer,” she explored personal, political, and spiritual themes, incorporating elements of electronic, dance, and pop. Madonna’s ability to adapt to musical trends and her savvy use of visuals and fashion made her a lasting icon. Her influence extended beyond music to film, fashion, and sexuality, making her one of the most enduring figures in pop culture.

Popular songs include:

  • “Vogue”
  • “Like a Prayer”
  • “Frozen”
  • “Ray of Light”
  • “Take a Bow”

#5 Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam emerged from the early ’90s Seattle grunge scene, quickly becoming one of the most popular and enduring bands of the decade. Their debut album, “Ten,” was a monumental success, blending rock with a sense of angst and introspection that resonated with the era’s youth. Pearl Jam’s popularity was not just due to their music but also their stance against the music industry’s practices, including their well-publicized boycott of Ticketmaster. The band’s integrity, coupled with Eddie Vedder’s emotive vocals and the band’s powerful live performances, cemented their status as icons of the ’90s rock scene.

Popular songs include:

  • “Alive”
  • “Jeremy”
  • “Even Flow”
  • “Black”
  • “Better Man”

#4 Radiohead

Radiohead, a British band formed in the late ’80s, rose to fame in the ’90s with their debut single “Creep.” However, it was their later albums, “The Bends” and especially “OK Computer,” that solidified their reputation as one of the most innovative and influential bands of the decade. Their music, characterized by complex song structures, experimental soundscapes, and Thom Yorke’s haunting vocals, tackled themes of alienation and societal pressures. Radiohead’s willingness to experiment and push the boundaries of alternative rock earned them critical acclaim and a devoted following.

Popular songs include:

  • “Creep”
  • “High and Dry”
  • “Fake Plastic Trees”
  • “Paranoid Android”
  • “Karma Police”

#3 The Notorious B.I.G.

The Notorious B.I.G., born Christopher Wallace, was a central figure in the East Coast hip-hop scene, known for his storytelling abilities, distinctive flow, and deep voice. Biggie’s debut album, “Ready to Die,” made a massive impact with its vivid life narratives in Brooklyn, dealing with themes of hardship, survival, and success. His rivalry with Tupac Shakur during the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop feud of the mid-’90s and his tragic murder in 1997 only added to his legend. Biggie’s ability to balance street-level realism with charisma and a sense of humor made him one of the greatest rappers of the ’90s and beyond.

Popular songs include:

  • “Juicy”
  • “Big Poppa”
  • “Hypnotize”
  • “Mo Money Mo Problems”
  • “Warning”

#2 Tupac Shakur (2Pac)

Tupac Shakur, known by his stage name 2Pac, was one of the most dynamic and influential hip-hop artists of the ’90s, renowned for his lyrical prowess, social consciousness, and prolific output despite his career being cut short by his murder in 1996. His albums, such as “All Eyez on Me” and “Me Against the World,” offered a complex blend of vulnerability, rage, and poetic social commentary, making him a voice for the disenfranchised. Tupac’s activism, charisma, and the drama of his life, including his central role in the East Coast-West Coast rivalry, have left a lasting legacy in the music world and beyond.

Popular songs include:

  • “Dear Mama”
  • “California Love”
  • “Changes”
  • “Keep Ya Head Up”
  • “Hail Mary”

#1 Nirvana

Nirvana, fronted by Kurt Cobain, was the band most responsible for bringing grunge music from the underground clubs of Seattle to the mainstream in the early ’90s. Their second album, “Nevermind,” with its hit single “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” became a generational anthem, symbolizing the angst and disillusionment of Generation X. Cobain’s raw emotional intensity and the band’s powerful, dynamic sound captured the imagination of youth worldwide. Nirvana’s influence was profound, reshaping the music landscape by bringing alternative rock to the forefront of popular music and inspiring countless bands that followed.

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Popular songs include:

  • “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
  • “Come As You Are”
  • “Lithium”
  • “In Bloom”
  • “Heart-Shaped Box”

How did 90s music change from 80s music?

90s music moved away from the polished, synth-heavy sounds of the 80s, embracing grunge, alternative rock, and a broader hip-hop spectrum. Similar to the shift between 80s and 70s music, the 90s also saw a huge shift. Bands like Nirvana introduced raw, authentic sounds, while hip-hop became a dominant genre, reflecting deeper social narratives. The era also saw a rise in teen pop, marking a shift towards more diverse and individualistic expressions in music.

What music genre was popular in the 1990s?

The 1990s saw a rise in grunge, alternative rock, and hip-hop as dominant forces. Grunge, with its raw, angsty sound, became a cultural phenomenon, while hip-hop expanded its influence, showcasing diverse styles and storytelling prowess. Pop music also evolved, with a surge in teen pop bands and artists.

What was the biggest hit of the 90s?

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana is often hailed as the defining hit of the 90s. It captured the spirit of the grunge movement and resonated with a generation seeking authenticity and rebellion against the established norms of previous music eras.

Who was a breakout artist from the 1990s?

Kurt Cobain, frontman of Nirvana, emerged as a defining figure of the 90s music scene. His raw emotion, distinctive voice, and profound lyrics embodied the grunge movement and impacted music and culture.

What impact did 90s music have on culture?

90s music profoundly impacted culture, shaping fashion, attitudes, and social identity. It popularized flannel and casual wear, introduced a more introspective and rebellious youth culture, and broadened music’s role in discussing social issues. Pin badges have also adorned the lapels of British pop stars in the nineties. Customize Custom Pins of your favorite music artists and reflect the fashion trend of the 1990s! The era of diverse sounds, community, and individualism.

Emily, a writer and retro music enthusiast at Upbeat Geek, delves into the history of music and pop culture, spotlighting legendary artists and trends. A fixture at festivals and concerts, she brings the latest in music lore to the forefront. Emily’s love for music research is matched by her enjoyment of leisurely Sunday walks with her dog, Lee, reflecting her areas of writing: music and pop culture.

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