1. Sinéad O’Connor
Sinéad O’Connor hit it big with the song, “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which was written by the late Prince. This was far from the only song that she captivated listeners with—ones like “Thank You For Hearing Me” and “You Made Me A Thief Of Your Heart” also rank among her best work. While she was also known for a controversial appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” her music still resonates in the 2020s and beyond.
2. Dolores O’Riordan
Here was another amazing Irish woman. Dolores O’Riordan’s work on The Cranberries’ biggest hit, “Zombie,” is nothing short of breathtaking. Her tragic death from alcohol intoxication in 2018 at the still-young age of 46 left people wondering what future music she was not able to impart to them. Still, there are other songs like “Ridiculous Thoughts,” “Ode to My Family,” and “Linger” to remember her and her singing.
3. Toni Braxton
Well before her family had a reality show “Braxton Family Values” and a little bit before she allegedly caused a giant rift between two superstar basketball players, Toni Braxton was making people swoon with songs from her second album “Secrets.” One of the songs, “You’re Makin’ Me High” hit no. 1 on the charts. Other songs like “Unbreak My Heart” and “I Don’t Want To” made her a household name. There’s a reason why she has sold so many albums.
The “Material Girl” wasted no time moving into the new decade. The woman who ruled the music scene in the 80s started doing the same in the 90s, with songs like “Vogue,” Justify My Love,” “I’ll Remember,” and “Ray Of Light.” The amazing thing was that these songs spanned the whole decade and showed Madonna’s ability to change her style time and time again. She even managed to act in several movies such as “Dick Tracy,” “A League of Their Own,” and “Evita.” Quite the decade, indeed.
5. Lisa Loeb
Her 1994 hit “Stay (I Missed You)” is what put her on the music scene. Lisa Loeb made music history as the first unsigned artist to hit no. 1 on the Billboard Chart. The bespectacled singer has also had great songs like “Do You Sleep,” “Furious Rose,” “All Day,” and “Fools Like Me.” She has also acted in several movies, and her music was part of “The Rugrats Movie” soundtrack.
6. Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple is far from just being “The Bathtub Girl.” Fans will know what we speak of here. It was her first video—the one for “Criminal,” and it made for… riveting viewing. But her voice was much more mesmerizing than her body and face, and that’s saying something. She had many other great songs, including “Slow Like Honey,” “Get Gone,” and “I Know.”
7. Sheryl Crow
Sheryl Crow first made her mark when she released “All I Wanna Do.” The upbeat song was something that made listeners feel good—though much like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” the lyrics pointed to something deeper. Her debut album was a masterpiece, interweaving introspective songs with fun ones like “If It Makes You Happy.” She continued with a great second album and even sang a James Bond theme song.
Ah… those hips. We remember her skilled movement, especially on songs like “Ojos Así.” Shakira took the music world by storm with both her voice and dance moves. She became a worldwide icon with “Estoy Aquí” and “No Creo.” While she became an icon in the 2000s with songs like “Hips Don’t Lie,” she still deserves a place on this 90s list.
9. Alanis Morissette
Alanis Morrisette’s “Jagged Little Pill” was a thunderbolt that was thrown into the music world. Her ferocious “You Oughta Know”—which was seemingly about the wholesome Dave “Cut It Out” Coulier—immediately marked her as a singer to follow. She parlayed her immediate notoriety into a film appearance in Kevin Smith’s “Dogma.”
People forget how young Aaliyah was when her career first started. She had a style and voice that made songs like “Back and Forth,” “4-Page Letter,” “If Your Girl Only Knew,” and “One In A Million” entrancing. The less we think about her relationship with R. Kelly, the better. She was ready to also break into Hollywood and acting, but her life was tragically cut short in an Aug. 25, 2001 plane crash. She was 22 years old then. Still, her work makes her memorable well into the 2020s and probably beyond.
Beyoncé made her mark on music well before she went solo in 2003. She was part of the mega-girl group Destiny’s Child, which made its mark in a very crowded field. She did have a bit of an advantage due to the fact that her father, Matthew Knowles, managed the band. There was a bit of adversity at the beginning of her life when she lost on the show “Star Search.” That didn’t seem to stop her—perhaps it made her more determined. She showed her singing chops with Destiny’s Child. Her vocals on songs like “Say My Name,” “No, No, No Pt. 1,” and “So Good” made her a standout. She continued to be a superstar well into the 2020s and is also in the news as a music power couple with her husband, Jay-Z.
12. Celine Dion
While Celine Dion was liked in Canada, her home country, it took the Titanic sinking—well, a movie about it sinking—to really catapult her into the stratosphere. It is true she was very well-known before then, with songs like “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now,” “Love Can Move Mountains,” and “Where Does My Heart Beat Now?” but then her rendition of “My Heart Will Go On” tugged on so many heartstrings that it became an anthem for many. That’s not to say she came from nowhere—she did sing in front of the Pope in 1984 and won a Eurovision contest in 1988. Eventually, she switched from singing in French to English in 1990 and her road to stardom started.
13. Mariah Carey
It’s only fitting that we put Celine Dion next to Mariah Carey on this list. Carey was also one of the biggest musical acts of the 90s from the very start with “Visions of Love” in the first year of the decade. Other songs, like “Fantasy,” hit the top of the charts for eight weeks in 1995. She has one of the widest vocal ranges, so let’s all forget that “Glitter” movie, shall we?
14. Christina Aguilera
Christina, or Xtina, completes this trio of 90s powerhouses. She was a Mouseketeer, like someone else that we will mention later on. Her 1999 debut album hit the top of the charts, which was enough to make her a 90s force even with a year left in the decade. This is where the phrase “Better Late Than Never” really works, but the memorable “Genie in a Bottle” was what really captured people.
15. Gwen Stefani
Gwen Stefani was definitely not cut from the same cloth as the other 90s divas. She was ska and rock and roll combined as the driving force behind No Doubt, with songs like “Don’t Speak,” “Spiderwebs,” and “Just a Girl” showcasing her singing ability. After the 90s ended, she decided to eventually pursue a solo career, and years later, she became a big part of the reality show “The Voice.”
16. Whitney Houston
Fans still had the “Greatest Love of All” for Whitney Houston as the calendar turned to the 90s. Her most memorable moments were her singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl in 1991 and her cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” for the soundtrack for “The Bodyguard” movie, in which she appeared too. Other 90s hits included “When You Believe,” “All The Man I Need,” “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” and “Exhale (Shoop Shoop).” Sadly, her tumultuous marriage to Bobby Brown and her untimely death in 2012 also dominated the headlines. But she was still a force in the 90s.
“Quirky” doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface when it comes to describing Björk, who hails from Iceland. That includes both her music and her sense of style. She began her music career at a young age. She was first known for being part of the band The Sugarcubes before embarking on a solo career. Songs like “Army of Me,” “Play Dead,” “Venus As A Boy,” and “All is Full of Love” helped her make her mark on the 90s music scene.
18. Kylie Minogue
Although Kylie Minogue has tried to experiment with different styles, the one that made her a 90s icon was that of the pop banger. She grabbed people’s attention with songs like “Breathe,” “Step Back in Time,” “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” “What Do I Have to Do,” and “Better The Devil You Know,” along with an entire store’s worth of wardrobes in videos. Yes, she flaunted sex appeal, but she also has vocal talents—that’s a reason why she was still recording into the 2020s.
19. LeAnn Rimes
This list would not be complete without a few country singers. These women spoke to the people of the heartland and their music was a soundtrack to their lives. LeAnn Rimes was a precocious teen who broke onto the scene partly with help from her father. She started off singing country and then crossed over into pop with “How Do I Live,” and then went back to country music after a few years. She was a musical superstar by that time, and her concerts drew a lot of people in the 90s.
20. Trisha Yearwood
The thing that made Trisha Yearwood stand out from her country contemporaries is that she was able to take songs that were country by nature and then make them uniquely hers. The music may have had a country feel, but it was not the hokey type that some associated with it. She had many great hits during the 90s, including “Thinkin’ About You,” “Like We Never Had a Broken Heart,” and “Wrong Side of Memphis.”
21. Shania Twain
Shania Twain rounds out our Country Trio of the 90s. While she was familiar with the Texas Two-Step type of country music, she branched pretty far out with her vocals. During the 90s, she sang such songs as “You Lay a Whole Lotta Love on Me,” “What Made You Say That,” “Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You),” and “Love Gets Me Every Time.” That last song was produced by her then-husband John “Mutt” Lange. He was the guy who also helped little-known bands like AC/DC and Def Leppard get their perfect sound. You would think she was born in the Heartland, but she’s Canadian. Yee-Haw, indeed.
22. Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige is the queen of hip-hop and soul, and she is also best at baring her own soul in the process. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if she ever decided to ask her audience, “What do you want? Blood?” Her honesty in her music made her captivating. She opened herself up in the 90s with songs like “Deep Inside,” “You Remind Me,” “Share My World,” “Not Gon’ Cry,” and “Real Love (with Notorious B.I.G.).” There was never a time when her fans didn’t know how she was feeling then. She had staying power, too—she had an album come out in 2022.
23. Janet Jackson
Although Janet Jackson also had dominance in the 80s and in the 2000s (who can forget that Super Bowl moment), she had great songs during the 90s. They include “Got Til It’s Gone,” “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” “I Get Lonely,” and “Any Time, Any Place.” Her discography stands up against any others in the 90s, which proved she was far more than just a pair of breasts.
24. Britney Spears
Yes, this is the other Mouseketeer that we were talking about earlier. Britney Spears quickly shed that innocent image with her first music video—the one for “Baby One More Time.” That certainly was a memorable schoolgirl outfit. Her sultry voice made her an immediate international superstar. She continued to reign for the rest of the decade and early parts of the new millennium before personal issues caused her problems—along with an Eminem diss in “The Real Slim Shady.”
Next: Top 2000s female singers
25. Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill deserves to be on this list for her part with The Fugees and also for her solo album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” She was able to fuse soul and R&B effortlessly and her work with fellow musical genius Wyclef Jean on The Fugees such as “Rumble in the Jungle,” “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” and “Nappy Heads.” Although her solo album was her only one, it still left an indelible mark on the state of music.
This was a tough list to compile and keep at 25. Unfortunately, fantastic singers like Tori Amos, Tracy Chapman, and Liz Phair did not make the cut. But this is just one compilation. If the ones we left off are no. 1 on your list, then that’s great!
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.