While there’s no denying that the 1990s was a decade of amazing music and revolutionary genres, there are a few standout, uber-influential musicians that paved the way for today’s superstars and are still shaping music today. From grunge rock to West-Coast rap, this decade provided us with some of the most memorable songs and albums of all time. In no particular order, here are seven of the most influential musicians of the 1990s:
1. Kurt Cobain
Deemed the spokesperson of Generation X, Kurt Cobain’s enduring influence on rock music can still be heard today. As the lead singer of Nirvana, a multi-platinum grunge rock band that almost single handedly redefined the sound of 90s music, Cobain became an enduring icon of alternative music almost overnight with his signature lyrical angst, screaming vocal style and revolutionary departure from the hair metal rock that was so prevalent during the 1980s. Nirvana’s release of the studio album Nevemind (1991) and its surprise success catapulted Cobain and the band into the mainstream spotlight at a time when the radio was owned by popular female vocalists and teen pop groups. Nirvana only released one more album before his death in 1994, but this new musical style and Cobain’s personification of antiestablishment resonated deeply with fans and quickly changed the musical and cultural landscape forever. Though short and fleeting, Cobain’s life and work has continues to influence rock and alternative genres and his image as a cultural figure and rock icon persists.
2. Garth Brooks
With a total of 36 Top 40 songs, including 18 number-one hits, there is only one man that can be thought of as the face of country music during the 1990s. Garth Brooks’ rock-influenced musical style and high-energy live performances clearly resonated with country fans and allowed him to become a music sensation almost over night. After breaking out onto the scene in 1989, Brooks broke records for both concert attendance and record sales in just a few short years. With a total number of over 164 million certified records sold since, Brooks has earned his place alongside the likes of Elvis Presley and The Beatles on the list of best-selling artists in U.S. history.
3. Britney Spears
While the Backstreet Boys, Christina Aguilera, N*SYNC and a slew of other teen-pop wonders had great success during this time, it was none other than the now legendary Britney Spears that most of us remember as leading the pack in the late 90s. After iconizing the school girl outfit and breaking out with her first two studio albums, “…Baby One More Time” and “Oops, I Did It Again”, Spears found widespread international success and has since gone on to break both domestic and international sales records. Lovingly referred to as the “princess of pop”, Britney has become one of the best selling artists of all time, having sold over 100 million albums worldwide. That’s Britney, b*tch.
4. Mariah Carey
With an impressive five-octave voice, signature vocal style, and unmatched songwriting abilities, Mariah Carey rose to stardom throughout the 1990s and has maintained her superstar status ever since. This iconic pop diva is credited with influencing a generation of pop and R&B singers with her mastery of the now often-imitated melisma vocal style. In addition to her enduring influence on the new generation of female vocalists, Carey also holds quite a few records, including the most number-one hits on the Billboard Hot 100 during the 1990s with a total of 14 songs. In addition to becoming the first artist to top the charts in each year of the 1990s, Carey is also unequivocally the best selling artist of the decade, with over 100 million albums sold worldwide between 1990 and 1999.
5. Tupac Shakur
Tupac Shakur, better known as 2Pac, has become synonymous with west-coast hop-hop in the 1990s and an icon of the gangsta rap subgenre. One of the first solo rap artists to have crossover chart appeal, his singles “Keep Ya Head Up” and “Dear Mama” earned him spots on both rap and pop charts throughout the decade. Drawing on his upbringing in an activist home (his mother was a Black Panther), 2Pac’s subject matter covered social awareness, social injustice, poverty and brutality, family love and women’s rights – groundbreaking material at the time. He sought to inject his work with philosophical and ideological subject matter and documented “thug life” as he saw it and experienced it, which resonated with both hip-hop fans and mainstream audiences around the country. Although his contradictory style – jumping from rapping about being a “player” to discussing women’s equality, for example ¬– drew both praise for his talent and lyrical complexity as well as condemnation for his explicit content, 2Pac went on to become on the of the best selling solo rap artists in U.S. history. Almost every single hip-hop star in the late 1990s and early 2000s cite him as one of their influences, including Eminem, 50 Cent, Nas, and Kendrick Lamar. And while 2Pac has become influential in the hip-hop community for his talent and innovative style, he has also become an unfortunate symbol of rap violence in the post-coastal rivalry rap world.