How the 90s Changed Popular Music

With pop staples like …Baby One More TIme, and angst anthems such as Smells Like Teen Spirit, I think the 90s is a grossly underrated decade for music. As someone born in 2003, which is said to be the unofficial last year of 90s babies, I have a sort of  nostalgic connection to a lot of the songs that came out in this era. Unlike a lot of other decades, such as the synth-heavy 80s or the bluesy 40s, it’s hard to really pin down a specific sound for the 90s. WIth the birth of grunge, the rebirth of boybands, and the continued popularity of pop, country, and hip-hop music, the 90s were a very diverse time for music. In this article, however, I would like to focus on two 90s music developments that completely altered the music world. 

Perhaps one of the biggest musical developments of the 90s is the birth of grunge music. Synth pop had become tired after an entire decade, and people were looking for a new sound for the new decade. Grunge music “put the balls back into rock’n’roll” and when bands like Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden hit mainstream popularity in the early 90s, the music world was totally flipped upside down. Born in Seattle, grunge music focused a lot on the dynamics of a song, usually with pretty tame verses, but with a loud, guitar heavy chorus.  In 1991, music history was irrevocably altered by the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind. This release paved the way for other iconic grunge albums such as Pearl Jam debut album, Ten,  and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, as well as boosting grunge to worldwide popularity. 

The grunge era was short lived, though, as many would argue that grunge died in April of 1994 following the death of, perhaps the biggest name on the grunge scene, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. Though it isn’t  the global phenomenon that it once was, grunge music still lives on with bands like Smashing Pumpkins, and Pearl Jam, as well as post-grunge groups such as Blink-182 and Weezer. 

Though boybands (no, not boy *space* bands, that’s a totally different thing) were around long before the 90s, the squeaky clean, “Ken doll” image that we often associate with boybands came about during this decade. Boybands, which are engineered to be teenage girl magnets, really became a huge deal in the 90s, with groups like the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, and New Kids on the Block gaining massive popularity. The swoon-worthy looks, cheesy choreography, and songs about some girl that everyone hoped was written for them, created a perfect storm of stardom for many groups. Boybands of the 90s paved the way for groups that we all know and love such as One Direction, Big Time Rush, and The Wanted. 

Unlike the grunge era, which had a pretty definite end, the era of boybands is still going strong even 30 years later. New groups such as In Real Life and BTS are continuing to stay mostly true to the 90s boyband image, despite having dirtied the “golden boy” image. With the strong appeal that the classic boyband formula has to teenage girls across the world, it’s unlikely that this era will be ending anytime soon. 

All in all, I still think that the 90s as a whole are largely underrated in the world of music. This decade had a huge impact on today’s popular music and shot many people into stardom. Last, but certainly not least, always remember the real gift that the 90s gave us: All Star by Smash Mouth.

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