The 90s were a magical time for many reasons, with music being amongst the biggest ones. From grunge early on to R&B dominating the charts to the rise of bubble gum pop in the latter part of the decade, the 90s had a unique blend that will be hard to match. Who were the top artists from all genres, though? Here are the 41 best 90s musicians.
1. Christina Aguilera
Though Christina Aguilera didn’t burst onto the scene until the end of the 90s, she made her mark in a big way. After making her label debut on the “Mulan” soundtrack, she scored smash hits in 1999 with number one singles “Genie In A Bottle” and “What A Girl Wants.” Obviously, her popularity would spill into the 2000s, and she remains a staple of pop culture thanks to appearances on shows such as “The Voice.”
2. Will Smith
After finding music success with DJ Jazzy Jeff in the late 80s, Will Smith made a name for himself as an actor in “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air.” He and Jazzy Jeff continued to work together during the show’s run, with Smith having a commercially successful solo career in the decade’s second half. In addition to hits such as “Miami” and “Just The Two Of Us,” he secured a pair of number one hits with “Wild Wild West” and “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.”
3. Michael Jackson
Though the bulk of his success came during the 70s and 80s, the King of Pop still had a strong presence in the 90s. He started out the decade with a number one hit, “Black Or White,” and continued to churn out top 10 songs including “Remember The Time,” “Scream” and “Will You Be There.” People didn’t know it at the time, but 1995 would be the year in which Jackson released his final chart-topping single “You Are Not Alone.”
4. Janet Jackson
Just like her brother Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson found resounding success in the 80s. However, she was able to reach her peak in the 90s. She reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 six times during the decade, starting off with the 90s song “Escapade” and ending with 1997’s “Together Again.”
Her solid run would spill over into the 2000s, as well, easily cementing herself as the family’s second biggest star while also establishing herself as an actress.
5. Hootie & the Blowfish
Certain musical acts seem to encapsulate the decade they became popular in, with Hootie & The Blowfish perhaps being the quintessential 90s band. They burst onto the scene in 1994 with their album “Cracked Rear View,” which produced megahits “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry,” and “Only Wanna Be With You.”
Though the band wouldn’t find the same type of success following their debut album, frontman Darius Rucker has earned himself a fine career in country music.
Recognized as one of the greatest rappers of all time, Jay-Z had to get his start somewhere and that somewhere was in the 90s. His debut album “Reasonable Doubt” was released in 1996, and although it took some time for him to find mainstream success, he dominated the rap charts from the get-go. The latter half of the decade saw Jay-Z release singles like “Hard Knock Life” and “Can I Get A…” that would become crossover successes.
7. Spice Girls
The story of 90s music can’t be told without mentioning the Spice Girls. The British all-girl band exploded in 1996 on a global scale, even landing themselves a movie in the process. They released a total of nine singles during the 90s, with all but one reaching the top spot on the United Kingdom’s charts. The only one that didn’t make it to the number one spot? Their 1998 song “Stop” was only able to make it to number two.
8. Elton John
Elton John is one of those timeless wonders who are able to thrive in any era of music. After getting his start in the 60s, he is still churning out hits thanks to his collaborations with artists like Britney Spears and Dua Lipa.
Back in the 90s, John had a fine decade, starting with a George Michael collab “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” and then working on the soundtrack for “The Lion King.” Of course, he had one of the biggest hits of all time with “Candle In The Wind 1997” following the death of Princess Diana.
9. Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg helped to usher in west coast rap during the early 90s thanks to collaborations with Dr. Dre while also finding success on his own. With albums like “Doggystyle” and “Tha Doggfather,” he was able to establish himself as one of the most iconic rappers ever with songs that you still hear on the radio today like “What’s My Name?” and “Gin And Juice.”
10. Garth Brooks
Stadium country music is a genre that’s still incredibly popular, and it probably wouldn’t be that way if it weren’t for Garth Brooks and his amazing run during the 90s. He was undoubtedly the biggest male country star of the decade, with a whopping 18 songs that hit number one on the U.S. Country charts. Though his recordings aren’t as popular as they once were, Brooks is still selling out football stadiums across the United States.
A lot of people associate Eminem with the 2000s, but Marshall Mathers has been in the game since the early 90s. After finding success in Detroit’s underground rap scene, he was discovered by Dr. Dre and never looked back. In 1999, Eminem had his first widely released album with “The Slim Shady LP.” He’d end the decade with songs like “Guilty Conscience” and “My Name Is.”
12. Britney Spears
A lot of people remember when “…Baby One More Time” was released, as it made former “Mickey Mouse Club” cast member Britney Spears an overnight phenomenon in 1998. The song would become one of the most popular in music history, and the album of the same name quickly established Spears as the Princess of Pop. It was the only album released in the 90s for the singer, but with other hits like “Crazy” and “Sometimes,” it was enough to make her one of the biggest successes of the decade.
13. Guns N’ Roses
Many will say that Guns N’ Roses peaked early with their debut album “Appetite For Destruction” in the 80s, but they still had plenty of success in the early 90s. A pair of songs that were used on soundtracks “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and “You Could Be Mine” started off the decade, which was followed up with the releases of “Use Your Illusion” I and II.
After hits like “November Rain,” the band called it quits for a while after 1994 before reuniting in the 2010s to tour worldwide.
14. Nine Inch Nails
Still going strong today, Nine Inch Nails is most recognizable for its work in the late 80s and throughout the 90s. The band, fronted by Trent Reznor, released just two albums during the decade but had a lot of memorable songs. This includes rock classics like “Head Like A Hole,” “The Perfect Drug,” and “Closer.” Reznor even worked on other musicians’ songs during the decade, including Puff Daddy and David Bowie.
Well before the “St. Anger” album and the Napster controversy that turned some of their fans away, Metallica enjoyed what may have been their finest decade in the 90s. They started off by releasing their self-titled album, which became a resounding success thanks to a slew of hits that included “Nothing Else Matters,” “Sad But True,” and “Enter Sandman.”
About as indie as they come, Beck is one of those artists that can release an album without much fanfare and still win a bunch of awards from it. Back in the 90s, though, he was a bit more mainstream thanks to his albums “Mellow Gold” and “Odelay.” The 1994 song “Loser” put him on the map, which he followed up with classics like “Where It’s At” and “Devil’s Haircut.”
17. Dr. Dre
At the beginning of the 90s, Dr. Dre was part of NWA but quickly branched out into a solo career. This was highlighted by the release of 1992’s “The Chronic,” with Dr. Dre showing everyone that he didn’t need a group around him to find success. Songs like “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” and “Dre Day” were huge hits, and he kept that momentum going into the end of the decade with the release of “Still D.R.E.”
18. Wu-Tang Clan
The Staten Island-based hip hop collective, the Wu-Tang Clan, was established in 1992 with a long list of members collaborating on making rap classics. Though they didn’t find much success in terms of mainstream charts, the group quickly became iconic thanks to songs in the 90s like “Method Man,” “Triumph,” and “C.R.E.A.M.” Some rankings have the Wu-Tang Clan as the top rap group of all-time, and their cultural relevance is still felt today.
Younger generations may know Seal as ‘that guy who was married to Heidi Klum,’ but he was an R&B legend during the 90s. Right at the start of the decade, he made his debut with the smash hit “Crazy” and was one of the top-selling artists in the United Kingdom. It would take some time before he earned U.S. recognition again but did so in a big way thanks to his contributions to the soundtracks for “Batman Forever” (“Kiss From A Rose”) and “Space Jam” (“Fly Like An Eagle”).
Weezer is another one of those bands that perfectly captures the essence of an era, and they quickly became popular during the mid-90s thanks to a trio of songs—“Undone – The Sweater Song,” “Say It Ain’t So,” and “Buddy Holly”—that would become iconic. They released two albums during the decade, following up their self-titled blue album with “Pinkerton.” They’d then find success again during the mid-2000s.
21. Smashing Pumpkins
Billy Corgan and the rest of the Smashing Pumpkins became alt-rock darlings of the 90s, though it took a few years to find their footing. After releasing several singles that didn’t make many waves, the band found success in 1993 with their hits “Cherub Rock” and “Today.” The rest of the decade was kind to them thanks to hits like “1979,” “Tonight, Tonight,” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.”
Soundgarden, which was fronted by the late Chris Cornell, only made minor waves in the United Kingdom when they got their start in the late 80s. It wasn’t until the release of their albums “Badmotorfinger” and “Superunknown” that they became global icons with breakout hits “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun,” which remains one of the creepiest music videos of all time.
Soundgarden would spend the next few years dominating the alt-rock charts before splitting for more than a decade.
23. Green Day
Green Day would find perhaps their biggest mainstream success thanks to their politically driven songs of the 2000s, but many people still think of the 90s first and foremost when it comes to the trio. “Dookie,” “Insomniac,” and “Nimrod” were all punk classics, and the band scored eight songs in the alt-rock top five. Among the number one songs were “Longview,” “Basket Case,” and “When I Come Around.”
Michael Stipe’s group had long been established before the 90s came around, but this particular decade was their most successful. R.E.M. got off to a hot start with the hits “Losing My Religion” and “Shiny Happy People,” and unlike a lot of bands on the list, they were popular for the entirety of the 90s.
There are a lot of lists out there, and some would have Radiohead as the best band ever. It’s easy to see why, as they released some iconic albums during the 90s with “Pablo Honey,” “The Bends,” and “OK Computer.” They’re one of those bands that has a very dedicated following, and they’re still around today with their most recent album being released in 2021.
Many are left to wonder if Oasis really could’ve been as big as The Beatles had they avoided so much in-fighting. Regardless, they did have resounding success in the 90s, being an established act in the United Kingdom before finding global success with 1995’s “Wonderwall.” Their only other charting hit in the U.S. was “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” but the band continued to produce extremely popular songs in their home country.
27. The Notorious B.I.G.
There are many that consider The Notorious B.I.G. to be the best rapper of all time despite a catalog of just two albums released during his life, but those two albums were unstoppable. “Ready To Die” and “Life After Death” combined to produce four songs to reach the mainstream top 10, which was almost unheard of for hip hop songs at the time. Among those songs were “Big Poppa” and “Hypnotize,” which were released before his tragic death in 1997.
The Queen of Pop may be more synonymous with the 80s, but the following decade was just as kind to her. Madonna churned out hits every year during the 90s, including four number one singles that started with “Vogue” and ended with “Take A Bow.” The 90s saw a lot of change in her style, both in fashion and music, showing that she’s one of the most versatile performers ever.
29. Foo Fighters
After Kurt Cobain’s death led to the end of Nirvana, drummer Dave Grohl took it upon himself to create a new band, the Foo Fighters, which has since become one of the most popular bands of all time. They got off to a hot start in 1995 with their self-titled album and never looked back. Some of their top songs of the decade included “Big Me,” “Learn To Fly,” and “Everlong,” just to name a few.
30. Mary J. Blige
Once a backup vocalist, Mary J. Blige found the spotlight of her own in 1992 and wouldn’t give it up. With the release of “What’s the 411?,” she became an R&B superstar with hit songs “You Remind Me” and “Real Love,” the latter of which remains arguably her biggest hit. The entirety of the decade was kind to Blige, as she released a charting song every year after making her debut.
31. Alanis Morissette
Canadian singer Alanis Morissette found success in her native country in the first half of the 90s, then spent the second half as a globally recognized icon. Released in 1995, “Jagged Little Pill” became one of the most successful albums ever, containing four number-one hits and two more singles that reached the top 10. Among those hits were “Ironic” and “Head Over Feet.”
32. Shania Twain
Another Canadian singer, Shania Twain finds herself in a different genre, dominating the country charts in both the Great White North and the United States. Though already one of the top country acts, by the time 1997 came along, Twain found crossover success in the mainstream thanks to hits like “You’re Still The One,” “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” and “Man! I Feel Like A Woman.”
33. Céline Dion
Ending the run of female solo Canadian artists, Céline Dion got her start in the 80s with French songs that made her an icon in Quebec. It wasn’t until 1990 that she started churning out hits in English, including “Where Does My Heart Beat Now.” Of course, you can’t mention her without that other heart-based song, the mega-hit “My Heart Will Go On” from the “Titanic” soundtrack.
34. Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston had already spent the 80s being one of the biggest stars in music and solidified herself as an icon during the 90s. Right from the start, her first two singles, “I’m Your Baby Tonight” and “All the Man That I Need,” in the 90s were number one hits. Then, like Céline Dion, she scored a timeless classic that transcended any genre with the release of “I Will Always Love You,” the fifth-highest selling single in music history.
35. Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys continued their success from the 80s into the 90s, even if some of their releases weren’t exactly chart darlings. The trio, interestingly enough, released a trio of albums during the decade with “Check Your Head,” “Ill Communication,” and “Hello Nasty.” The third one was perhaps their biggest, while their most recognizable songs remain “Sabotage” and “Intergalactic.”
36. Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam was one of those early 90s rock bands that were rare as there wasn’t a tragedy and they didn’t split up. Instead, they continued to produce hits almost every year of the decade. They were mainstays on the alt-rock charts and found mainstream success with songs such as “Spin The Black Circle” and “I Got Id.”
37. Red Hot Chili Peppers
Red Hot Chili Peppers had been around for years when they broke through in the 90s, becoming one of the decade’s biggest acts. From songs like “Suck My Kiss” that found more success overseas to mainstream hits like “Under The Bridge,” they haven’t stopped producing great albums since their inception.
Arguably the greatest rapper ever, Tupac Shakur was tragically killed in 1996 but had already become a phenomenon thanks to his four album releases prior to his death. Almost every current rapper lists him as their source of inspiration, and it’s thanks to songs like “Dear Mama,” “I Get Around,” and of course, “California Love.”
There’s no telling what Nirvana could’ve been able to accomplish if not for the tragic death of Kurt Cobain. Still, they were able to become one of the most iconic bands ever because of the albums “Nevermind” and “In Utero.” Their sound summed up a generation of people, and their songs are still in heavy rotation on radio stations.
40. Mariah Carey
Those that immediately think of Christmas time when it comes to Mariah Carey might not really grasp just how popular she was in the 90s. It was at the very start of the decade when she made her debut, and she released an unprecedented 16 number-one songs throughout the 90s. Yes, “All I Want For Christmas Is You” was one of those songs.
41. Boyz II Men
One of Mariah Carey’s many number one songs was a collaboration with the R&B group Boyz II Men, who seem to fly under the radar in terms of their past popularity. With chart-toppers like “End Of The Road,” “I’ll Make Love To You,” and “On Bended Knee,” they stood out above the rest during the 90s when R&B was at its most popular.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.