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The musical era of the 1990s was one filled with a variety of pop, rap, and alternative music artists as well as a plethora of one-hit wonders. It was a time when musical taste was as varied as the events that were happening at the time. Many of the most popular acts that emerged in the 1990's were bands and artists who enjoyed a type of resurgence in the mainstream music scene after their popularity had dwindled for a decade or so. Other artists were just starting out during this decade and make a huge impact on the musical scene. Following is an explanation of some of the most memorable artists that helped to define the era in terms of musical differentiations as well as some artists who are best forgotten.
The early years of the 1990s began with a surge in popularity for music genres like techno (often called dance or house music) and hip-hop that continued throughout the decade. Groups like Technotronic entered the Billboard charts with big hits like “Pump Up the Jam” and “Get Up (Before the Night is Over)”. Others will undoubtedly remember the hits from C+C Music Factory, including “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” that is still a popular dance song at many of the dance clubs across the country. Similarly, the hip-hop music scene achieved popularity with artists like MC Hammer, Tone Loc, and Vanilla Ice. The subject matter that these artists chose to use in their music was as varied as their audiences. MC Hammer, for instance, sung (or rapped, depending on you want to refer to it) about subjects including the rise of his career as well as songs about praying for the betterment of society. On the other hand, Tone Loc’s songs were riddled with sexual lyrics and innuendo that seem tame and conservative by today’s standards.
Around late 1992 to early 1993 , there was a change starting in the mainstream radio playlists. While the sexual lyrics of techno and hip-hop still dominated the airwaves, a new style of rock music was making an impact. Bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were offering youngsters a new type of rock music to listen to that contained catchy lyrics about the angst and trials of teenage years. These songs also seemed to send a message about the status quo of society and the helplessness that was felt among the teens and early adults of the era. Songs like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” spoke about a teen revolution in a seemingly meaningless world. The song also marked the beginning of the grunge and alternative rock phase that remained popular throughout the mid-1990s.
By late 1995, many young people were getting tired of the hopelessness that the grunge and alternative bands were inundating the airwaves with. They were ready for something fresh and new. As a result of this feeling, there was a movement of “happy rock” that was in direct contrast to the negativity of the grunge bands. Bands like Hootie and the Blowfish, Sister Hazel, and The Bodeans perpetuated upbeat melodies and positive lyrics that many people were ready for after years of negativity. These bands also created a resurgence in songs that dealt with love and relationships through ballads and happier-sounding songs. “All For You” by Sister Hazel was a popular song about the things a person does for another in a relationship while, contrastingly, “Let Her Cry” by Hootie and the Blowfish dealt with a tearful breakup that deeply hurt both people.
The “happy rock” years in the mid-90s helped to pave the way for the “bubblegum pop” that followed in the waning years of the decade. Artists like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera dominated the mainstream pop music scene well into the late 1990s and beyond. The sexual lyrics and innuendos also came back in the songs of this era that was once popular in the early years of the decade, but they were more blatant than before. The videos were more sexual in nature, too. The later years of the decade also saw a new popularity for traditional boy bands. The Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, and N’Sync enjoyed the same amount of, if not more, popularity than older boy bands like New Kids on the Block from the late 1980s.
The music in the 1990s went through a series of changes in regards to the mainstream radio airwaves. Ironically, it was nearly a full-circle of styles and tastes that resulted in recreating the mainstream sound that is strongly reminiscent of popular music in the 1980s. Many of these bands and artists had staying power, though. Nearly a decade later, we are still being exposed to many of their antics or effects that they had on the musical front. Fortunately, several of these acts have matured in recent years and continue to produce quality music while others with less talent have fallen by the wayside in recent years.