The 1990’s, a beautiful year. I was born (1991), the dawn of the Information Age began, and a period of peace and growing prosperity started as the threat of Cold War conflict ended. It’s weird to think that people born in this decade have never experienced life without the Internet, myself included. The Internet became commercially available in 1991 and allowed information to be publicly accessed quickly and easily by anyone with a connection. The rise of the Internet and public sharing was influential to forming how the music scene is shaped today.
Popular music in the 1990’s saw teen pop and dance-pop continue to emerge out of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Hip-hop continued to grow and be highly successful as the 90’s represented the genre’s golden age.
Rock music retained its popularity, yet new versions of it emerged. Unlike the New Wave and glam metal that dominated the scene of the time, grunge, alternative rock, and British pop took over. Punk music also attained success through pop punk and ska punk. During the 1990’s, country music’s mainstream popularity became so great that Time magazine devoted a cover story detailing the genre’s history and reasons for its growing popularity. The 1990’s seemed to be a coming out party of sorts for many music genres, giving it a feel of great genre diversity.
Music Canon #1: Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana (1991)
Already popular with college kids in a cult sense, Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ catapulted them into worldwide popularity. The album Nevermind became a surprise success in late 1991 because of this lead single and by January 1992, had replaced Michael Jackson’s album Dangerous at number one on the Billboard charts. This single helped launch the popularity of Seattle grunge music and many alternative rock bands became commercially successful. Many major labels actively courted bands like Jane’s Addiction, Alice in Chains, Dinosaur Jr., R.E.M, Stone Temple Pilots, Sublime and Pearl Jam. The Red Hot Chili Peppers album Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991) was also instrumental in the rise of this genre of alternative rock. The popularity of grunge music that bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam brought made many bands uncomfortable. Both Nirvana and Pearl Jam would shy away from their success, however their rawness and desire to be less polished only whetted the public’s appetite for more music of the same type. Unfortunately for everyone, the death of Kurt Cobain in early 1994, as well as the touring problems for Pearl Jam, marked the decline of the grunge genre.
Music Canon #2: Basket Case – Green Day (1994)
Overall, Green Day’s Album Dookie was responsible for pop punk becoming commercially viable. In the mid 1990’s, pop punk underwent a resurgence as independent record labels emerged, often run by people in bands in order to release their own music and that of their friends. Bands to rise due to the success of Green Day and rise of independent labels include Blink-182, The Offspring, and Weezer. This genre of pop punk is pretty much a staple of society and many bands of this era were being offered lucrative contracts to leave their independent record labels. This genre has remained popular in America through the remainder of the 1990’s, the entire 2000’s and the 2010’s.
Music Canon #3: Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang – Dr. Dre (1992)
Dr. Dre’s 1992 album The Chronic provided a template for modern gangsta rap. Due to the success of his album and Death Row Records, West Coast hip hop dominated hip hop during the early 1990’s, along with The Notorious B.I.G. on the East coast. Hip hop became the best selling music genre by the mid 1990’s. The mid-nineties marked a high-point but also its most tragic for hip hop. The mid 1990’s represented the deaths of 2Pac and Biggie, which many believe were killed as a result of the East Coast – West Coast hip hop rivalry. By the end of the decade, attention turned back towards dirty south and crunk, with artists such as Outkast, Ludacris, and Lil’ Wayne.
I usually only do three music canon’s per decade, but there are many more that were very influential for this era of music. Here is a small sample of bands that helped influence their genre: (band – genre)
- Metallica (1991’s Metallica) – Heavy Metal
- Rage against the Machine – Nu Metal
- Backstreet Boys, NSync, Spice Girls, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson (Dangerous 1991) – Pop
- Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey – R&B
This was one of the most difficult decades for me to narrow down which canons were the most influential, but very enjoyable to write about and do research on. I listened to a lot of songs that made me think back and reminisce. If you have any other additions you think fit better, don’t hesitate to leave a comment!