The Ten Quintessential Pop Songs of the 90s

By Tyler Foster & Collin Lotter

Credit to Getty Images

Credit to Getty Images

Very few decades brought us a musical clash of styles centered on a paradigm shift from the central nervous system of music videos and MTV. It was truly a unique time in music history with a revolt against the glamour and colorful rock of the 1980’s to a more edgy and grungy vibe in the early part of the decade. Then we saw the emergence of the boy band faze which all became immediately polarizing to all consumers. However by 1997/ 1998 the forged alliance between the boy bands and the Mickey Mouse Club pop stars such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, combined with the daily vehicle of Total Request Live with Carson Daly, became too formidable to deny. No matter how much we wanted to hate it, we all eventually joined in on the fun. The 90’s brought us some hilariously bad POP songs that made us want to cringe when KISS FM would play them, but before you knew it everyone was singing along in the car. But for this article, there can be only ten quintessential POP songs that were memorable - whether we wanted to remember them or not.

1)  Seal  - Kiss From a Rose

Partially because the 90s were a magical time when Batman movies had yet to meet the grit of Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Christopher Nolan; and partially because my friend once asked me if I thought that Seal serenaded Heidi Klum with this song every day they were married and I have not been able to get that image out of my head ever since. However everyone was mesmerized by this song and this newcomer Seal.

2)  Christina Aguilera -  Genie in a Bottle

Granted this was perceived as the second fiddle to Britney’s “Hit me Baby One More Time,” which we will dive into later, but make no mistake, Christina’s first pop hit was catchy as all get out and made her a star overnight. This song was played on TRL constantly and grew into the ultimate sing – a – long for all of us… just admit it.

3)  Haddaway – What is Love

This song was mainly under the radar until the “Roxbury Guys” from Saturday Night Live gave it a second life and made the head bobbing motion the official dance of this mid 90’s catchy tune. Every time its still played, people love to immediately sing and dance to it in the same vein that Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan did so amusingly back in the day. 

4)  Backstreet Boys – Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)

It’s easy to think of NSYNC before the Backstreet Boys, but the truth is BB exploded on the scene just before Justin and his boys; and this song was a major reason why. Still played all the time on Sirius XM and a major sing-a-long catchy tune vibe. This song paved the way for the boy band renaissance in the 90’s referenced earlier.

5)  Britney Spears – (Hit Me) …Baby One More Time

Arguably the anthem of the 1990’s pop scene and Britney can be concluded as the pop icon from this genre and era. Baby One More Time introduced us to Ms. Spears, which led to more introductions from Justin and Christina... The Mickey Mouse Club had more influence than the Clintons in the White House by mid 1998. This song was a main stay on MTV and pop radio stations and was the first of many essential pop songs from the teen girl idol.

6)  Aqua – Barbie Girl

You didn't think we would leave out “Barbie Girl” as well did you! What an unforgettably bad yet awesome song made in the mid 1990’s. This song was so unique and popular, yet people tried to distance so hard from it. But just admit it, we loved everything about it. Middle Schools used it for a fun soundtrack to laugh about during a short six-month span. Thank you for the memories Aqua, we only knew you so long, wish it was longer. On a different thought, we are all genuinely surprised Katy Perry hasn't attempted a semi satirical cover of this song, but the opportunity remains.

7)  NSYNC – Tearin’ Up My Heart

Granted NSYNC didn't hit their stride and ultimate victory in the Boy Band race until the early 2000’s, but they still made some great/bad pop songs we all loved to sing and dance to as youngsters in the 90’s. Tearin’ Up My Heart was a perfect example of a poster song for the 10 – 15 year old girl’s gold standard of a pop ballad that they were craving. Backstreet Boys thought they had the stage all to themselves… who were they kidding, NSYNC was here to stay. 

8)  Destiny’s Child – Say My Name

The Beyonce we all know and love in today’s world is not what we were first exposed to back in the day. If you can’t remember she actually had a group around her and they were pretty popular. That's right Destiny’s Child was definitely a big time group with songs like “Say My Name” and “Bills, Bills, Bills,” and don't lie, we all loved singing to them, even if the videos for these songs were ultra cheese ball. The game completely changed in the early 2000’s when Beyonce and friends did a song called “Survivor” that was basically a fierce reminder of their strength which is still a constant today with her themes. But for this article we choose to remember the colorful, fun, lighthearted Beyonce and Destiny’s Child.

9)  98 Degrees -  Because of You

It’s ok Nick Lachey not everyone can finish with a gold or silver medal. Every medal ceremony has to have a bronze winner and that's exactly what 98 Degrees was in the boy band competition. Did they have some big hits like this one that were played ad nauseam except to teeny boppers? Absolutely, especially this song, but at the end of the day they never moved the needle like BB and NSYNC.  Nick tried though... he would decide to join powers with another big pop star who didn't make this cut, Mrs. Jessica Simpson, to cloud our headspace after 98 degrees ran out of steam, but together they had a failed marriage and a failed reality show that couldn't produce the heat. 

10)  Lou Bega -  Mambo No. 5

For the surprise entrant on this list, that's right I have to get in a personal favorite with Mambo No.5 . This song was so catchy and still resonates every time it’s played randomly on your local pop radio station. This song was so fun, played at every middle school dance, every TRL episode, and any type of social engagement throughout 1999. Looking back this song should’ve catapulted Lou into big time music superstardom but it just didn't happen. Most likely the reason being his second single was basically the same song again just with different words. I must say a pretty disappointing follow up for this one trick pony.

So there you have it, these pop songs paved the path and served as anthems of our childhood. While in some ways that’s pretty sad and depressing, if you look at it optimistically, these songs were pretty fun until you heard them for the thousandth time. I will state thank goodness for the amazing alternative scene in the 90’s because if this is all we would have had, then who knows what would’ve been the result of the music scene in the 2000’s? The more that I think about it, sadly, it would’ve been even more over produced pop like it is now!