Pop music experienced a major comeback during the 90s thanks to girl bands such as The Spice Girls and boy bands like *NSYNC. While grunge had temporarily removed 80s pop from its charts, these artists revived it through catchy hooks and seductive ballads.
This list features songs that address social and cultural issues while appealing to tweens – songs which effectively get everyone dancing on the floor!
1. Backstreet Boys – I Want It That Way
After years of hiatuses, departures, and reunions, the Backstreet Boys continue to provide their loyal fanbase with mature-oriented pop. Their latest album DNA was released early 2019 and supported by an incredible world tour.
Howie Dorough and AJ McLean began as an Orlando-based vocal trio made up of childhood friends; Brian Littrell and Kevin Richardson were cousins who formed part of this quartet. Through auditions at shopping malls, restaurants, charity galas and shopping centres throughout Florida before landing a recording contract with Mercury Records they perfected their performance skills before receiving their recording contract.
Under Louis J. Pearlman’s direction, The Backstreet Boys went on to sell over 100 million records worldwide – making them the best-selling boy band in history. Additionally, they embarked upon several successful tours and collaborated with iconic artists such as Britney Spears and N’Sync for unforgettable collaborations.
2. Blackstreet – No Diggity
Blackstreet’s No Diggity remains an iconic R&B song with hip-hop elements that resonates in today’s culture. The song honors and attracts women who know themselves to be powerful; its chorus reminds listeners that she knows her worth; its repeated chorus line proclaims her independence while serving as an invitation for others to follow suit.
Riley and William “Skylz” Stewart collaborated to craft an infectious beat. By flipping the Rugrats theme and adding samples from Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands”, their instrumental composition boasts undeniable charisma.
Originaly written for Guy but never released due to Aaron Hall refusing to rap over it, Blackstreet’s version quickly became a hit under Riley. Each singer brought their own flair and character; Teddy Riley kept things low-key while Chauncey Hannibal sang his verse with an impressive tenor voice.
3. Seal – A Kiss From A Rose
Seal’s classic song with its beautiful melody and emotive lyrics remains one of his best-loved tracks to this day, making for an emotional yet timeless tune that remains evergreen and moving. Soulful vocals pair beautifully with upbeat production to craft something truly unforgettable and emotional.
Seal’s diverse background as the son of Nigerian and Brazilian parents lends him international appeal. He made his full-length debut with “Crazy”, followed by two eponymous albums by 1994.
Original version was recorded in a photographic studio; however, its popularity increased when director Joel Schumacher used it during a love scene between Nicole Kidman and Val Kilmer in Batman Forever movie. A second video featuring Seal performing next to bat-signal roof stage became even more well known version.
4. Deborah Cox – I Will Always Love You
Deborah Cox is an award-winning R&B/Pop singer/actress. She has appeared in many commercials and won various talent competitions before being signed by Clive Davis of Arista Records and releasing her debut album the next year; which was critically and commercially successful, featuring hit singles Sentimental and Who Do U Love as singles from that album.
She has been nominated for both a Juno Award and Genie Award, founding Deco Recording Group in 2008. With Hex Hector as her collaborator, they collaborated on revamping Chic’s 1978 classic song, “Everybody Dance (Clap Your Hands).”
Cox has collaborated closely with various charitable organizations. She is an advocate for LGBTQ rights and HIV awareness; three close friends died of the disease during her time living. Cox has performed at numerous World Pride festivals in Toronto.
5. The Spice Girls – Spice Up Your Life
Girl group with unbridled attitude took the world by storm with hit singles, girl power slogans and their charismatic personalities. Over 30 years later, they remain as iconic and influential.
Spiceworld was an international hit and their tour, Viva Forever, broke records. Following an extended hiatus between 2000 and 2007, Geri Halliwell, Melanie Chisholm, Emma Bunton and Victoria Beckham reunited for a greatest hits album and worldwide tour to commemorate this milestone anniversary.
Spice Up Your Life’s video features the Spice Girls dressed in retrofuturistic uniforms while piloting an alien-looking blimp and floating through an urban, dystopic setting. It was one of the most adored Spice Girls music videos, even making an appearance in 2023 Barbie movie! Now a new alternate version has just been released that you must watch!
6. EMF – Unbelievable
Pop music encompasses all popular musical styles. As its most mainstream form, its songs tend to be catchy and easy to sing along with, making it accessible and popular with mainstream listeners. The 90s saw the continuation of teen pop and dance-pop trends as well as new genres such as new jack swing, neo-soul and g-funk emerge, as well as Britpop losing steam while other acts like Travis, Coldplay and Keane emerge into mainstream consciousness.
Girl power was at its pinnacle during the 90s with acts like Spice Girls, 98 Degrees, Hanson and Britney Spears leading a host of other pop acts like 98 Degrees, Hanson and Britney Spears to commercial success. Female rappers like Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa led an emerging female hip hop movement; with music sampling old songs such as U Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer playing an integral part.
7. Jesus Jones – Right Here Right Now
Jesus Jones led this wave of British bands that combined club-inspired electronic beats with guitar riffs reminiscent of hard rock albums, led by Mike Edwards. Together with bassist Jerry De Borg, keyboardist Iain Baker, and drummer Simon “Gen” Matthews; Jesus Jones became one of its key pioneers with their 1989 release Liquidizer featuring Top 50 single “Info Freako,” followed up by 1991 release Doubt; they eventually achieved great renown among audiences worldwide.
Jesus Jones went into a slump after receiving mixed reviews for their third album Perverse and it looked as though their future may be uncertain. They quickly recovered with Already, which saw them return to making politically charged high-energy pop music with political overtones. Additionally, Already was their first US single that charted at number four on Billboard’s charts.
8. Will Smith – I Want It That Way
Will Smith is perhaps best-known as the star of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; however, this American actor also boasts an extensive career in music. Beginning his musical journey under the moniker Fresh Prince alongside DJ Jazzy Jeff from their childhood days together and going by their names respectively; Smith made waves as an upstanding rapper offering safe yet entertaining rap.
“Parents Just Don’t Understand,” one of the iconic songs from Fresh Prince era and still popular today, showcases Smith’s incredible lyrical skills with a fluid flow that puts his critics into their place – making this perfect party song that will get everyone dancing!
9. Nine Inch Nails – Closer
Closer was Nine Inch Nails’ first mainstream breakthrough single. It peaked at number 41 in the US and reached number 10 in Australia, catapulting Trent Reznor into industrial rock stardom while simultaneously propelling their self-titled second album further up the charts.
NIN’s mysterious singer/songwriter plays both to and against mainstream expectations here with expansive synths and power chords that demand attention from listeners. The use of ‘fuck’ in the chorus serves both as an intentional provocation against censors as well as being an attention grabber for listeners.
Reznor’s lyrics in this track describe an individual who must choose between their primitive animalistic desires and spiritual need for connection with his/her lover. This contrast can be seen even further emphasized in Mark Romanek-directed music video featuring Trent from NIN painted with dark-brown make-up; Palaye Royale covered this song for their Sextape EP release as well.
10. Nine Stories – You Oughta Know
Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” is one of her signature breakup songs, co-written with Glen Ballard and released as the lead single from her third album Jagged Little Pill in 1995. It achieved great success across genre charts in the US as well as reaching top 40 status in New Zealand and Belgium.
This song’s use of coarse language and piercing vocals made for an interesting departure from Morissette’s more subdued bubblegum pop sound. Directed by Nick Egan and filmed in the Mojave Desert, its music video featured Morissette running around aggressively while wearing various outfits in this barren landscape.
Dave Coulier of Full House and Fuller House recalls hearing a song on the radio and initially mistaking it for something personal – only later did he discover otherwise.