Each decade brings with it a new crop of dynamic vocal artists, but it’s often the veterans who rise to the top of the sales charts. Many of the most popular 90s male singers rose to fame in the 70s or 80s and solidified their status as vocal titans in the 90s.
From newcomers like Robbie Williams to lauded veterans like Elton John, the 90s gave us a cacophony of pop standards, country ballads, and grunge hits from some of the industry’s best vocal artists. Here are the 21 best 90s male singers.
1. Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson was already known as the “King of Pop” when the 90s arrived, and he’d already sold millions and millions of albums by the time he released his seminal 1991 album “Dangerous.” The album eventually went on to sell more than 32 million copies. That’s more than most artists sell in their entire careers.
Jackson continued to dominate the airwaves with releases like 1995’s “HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I,” which sold more than 20 million copies. His star power would start to fade by the conclusion of the 90s, and he became embroiled in several high-profile court cases that forever tarnished his reputation and followed him until his death from a drug overdose in 2009.
2. Garth Brooks
With immense crossover appeal and popularity outside the country music world, Garth Brooks sold a ton of albums in the 90s. He was so popular that he would eventually eclipse Elvis Presley’s record-setting total by selling more than 180 million records during his career. He even created an alter ego and released rock songs under “Chris Gaines” in the late 90s.
Many of his biggest 90s hits came at the start of the decade, with songs like “Friends In Low Places,” “The Dance,” and “The Thunder Rolls.” One of the interesting things about his early hits is that they had crossover appeal despite a total lack of standard pop influences. His work was fully country but was still played across the spectrum.
3. Kurt Cobain
The meteoric rise and devastating crash of grunge rock icon Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, created a mythology around the band that exists to this day. Nirvana saw its first taste of fame in the 80s in Seattle and would burst onto the national scene in the 90s with “Nevermind” and “In Utero.” After Kurt Cobain’s death in the spring of 1994, Nirvana disbanded.
However, it’s a testament to Cobain’s talent that Nirvana would sell more than 75 million records worldwide despite having produced just three studio albums. Although he gave band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic credit for helping with the songwriting, most consider Cobain as the primary creative force behind the band’s early 90s songs.
4. Elton John
Elton John’s career started in the 60s, and he became famous not only for his huge solo career but as the songwriting brains behind some of the world’s biggest pop hits. Some of his most notable songs from the 90s include “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” which he recorded with fellow 90s titan George Michael, and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” from “The Lion King” movie soundtrack.
He also rewrote “Candle In The Wind” in honor of Britain’s Princess Diana, who died in 1997 in a car crash. The single hit number one across the world and was certified platinum several times over. John sang the song live at Princess Diana’s funeral.
As one of the best-selling artists in the world, Eminem has sold an estimated 220 million records worldwide. In the United States, he was the best-selling music artist in the 2000s, but his career began in the late 80s when he made a demo tape and formed his first group. He had a tough start with failures in his musical releases, a suicide attempt in 1996, and a trailer for a home.
In 1997, he connected with record producer and rapper Dr. Dre and released “The Slim Shady LP.” The violent, angry lyrics and unrepentant sound became popular due to its completely different style from pop artists like Britney Spears and The Backstreet Boys.
6. George Michael
British singer George Michael released his first album “Faith” in the late 80s and would dominate the airwaves in the 90s with singles like “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” “Freedom! ’90,” and “Jesus to a Child.” With sales of more than 120 million records worldwide, Michael was considered one of the early icons of the so-called “MTV generation” of artists.
Although his flamboyant on-stage persona might have appeared shallow, he was responsible for many facets of the creative process, including songwriting, music production, visual presentation, and performance. According to the Radio Academy, his songs were some of the most played on British radio from the mid-80s to the mid-2000s.
7. Bryan Adams
Hailing from Canada, singer Bryan Adams saw his fame skyrocket in the early 90s with the release of the single “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.” The song was part of his 1991 release “Waking Up The Neighbours,” as well as a featured track on the film “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”
This song would go on to sell more than 15 million copies. This made it one of the best-selling singles of all time alongside other 90s hits like “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion and “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey.
8. Snoop Dogg
With a broad intergenerational appeal, rap icon Snoop Dogg released four studio albums in the 90s, including “Doggystyle” in 1993 and “Tha Doggfather” in 1996. Despite some early trouble with the law and some stints in prison, Snoop Dogg was one of the most well-known West Coast gangsta rap artists of the 90s.
He was discovered by fellow West Coast rap icon Dr. Dre and saw success with his solo debut called “Deep Cover” in the early 90s. Since then, Snoop Dogg has sold more than 35 million albums around the world and has become a successful entrepreneur. He’s even struck a friendship with home decor queen Martha Stewart.
Initially finding fame with the new wave rock band The Police in the 70s, Sting would launch his solo career in the 80s and would see his greatest solo successes in the 90s. His 1991 album “The Soul Cages” featured a Grammy-winning title track, and his 1993 album “Ten Summoner’s Tales” went multi-platinum.
Sting also had successful collaborations like the song “All For Love,” which he performed alongside artists Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart. The song was a featured track in the film “The Three Musketeers.” Along with massive record sales, Sting was also awarded an honorary doctorate in music.
Despite his brief time on the planet, gangsta rap artist Tupac Shakur made an incredible impact on the music world before his murder in 1996. In the early and mid-90s, he had several run-ins with the law and served time in prison before getting signed to Suge Knight’s Death Row Records in 1995.
Not only were 2Pac’s songs frequently heard on the radio, but he was also often seen in feature films with roles in movies like “Bullet,” “Gridlock’d,” and “Poetic Justice.” He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017 and has sold more than 75 million albums worldwide, with most of those sales occurring after his death.
11. R. Kelly
One of the most controversial figures on this list of the best male singers of the 90s is R. Kelly, who has sold more than 75 million records despite a string of trials for offenses like racketeering, kidnapping, and bribery. In the 90s, he sold more albums in the United States than any other male R&B artist.
His second album, “12 Play,” was released in 1993 and reached number one on the U.S. R&B charts. His third album, 1995’s “R. Kelly,” reached number one on the overall U.S. charts. He would continue to dominate the airwaves with his fourth release, “R.,” in 1998 and would enter the 2000s as one of the country’s best-selling music artists.
The frontman for U2, Bono, is one of the most famous singers in the entire world, with massive success with U2, as well as millions of albums sold on solo projects and other musical collaborations. Born in Dublin, Ireland, he started performing in the mid-70s and would eventually help form the band U2.
In the 90s, the band’s fame rose significantly with the 1991 release of the album “Achtung Baby,” the 1993 release of “Zooropa,” and the 1997 release of “Pop.” Each of those records reached number one on every one of the worldwide music charts. Bono was the primary lyricist for the band’s multi-platinum albums.
13. Robbie Williams
Robbie Williams began his career as a member of the pop group Take That from 1990 to 1995 and launched his very successful solo career in 1996. He would eventually go on to become one of the best-selling artists ever in the U.K. and sell more than 77 million records worldwide.
His 90s albums include “Life Thru A Lens,” which sold four million copies, and “I’ve Been Expecting You,” which sold another four million copies. Despite lifelong struggles with addiction, obesity, and a mysterious hormone imbalance, Williams has continued to perform in the decades since his initial stint with fame in the 90s.
14. Phil Collins
Many people associate Phil Collins with Genesis, the band he played with for several decades, but he has enjoyed significant success as a Grammy-winning and Academy Award-winning solo artist. He’s sold more than 34 million records in the U.S. and 150 million records around the world.
In the 90s, with Genesis, he released “I Can’t Dance” in 1991, which was certified multi-platinum around the world. As a solo artist in the 90s, Collins released “Both Sides” and “Dance into the Light,” and both reached platinum status on multiple charts.
15. Vanilla Ice
Vanilla Ice, whose given name is Robert Mathew Van Winkle, is known primarily for his rap song “Ice Ice Baby,” which was released in 1990. His album, “To The Extreme,” sold more than six million copies in just a few months after it was released. The album and single also spent several weeks at the top of the charts.
Some critics lambasted the album, labeling it a parody and full of sexist tropes. However, it was responsible for introducing hip hop to a mainstream audience. Since the early 90s, modern hip hop has been at the top of the charts in mainstream music.
16. James Hetfield
Metallica frontman James Hetfield has been with the band since its inception in 1981, and the band released several albums in the 80s that sold multiple millions of copies. Their self-titled album, released in 1991, commonly known as “The Black Album,” catapulted the group into superstardom and sold more than 17 million copies in the U.S.
As the lead singer of Metallica, James Hetfield is one of the most well-known heavy metal singers ever to take the stage. The band followed up “The Black Album” with additional multi-platinum records, including “Load” and “Reloaded.”
17. Michael Bolton
Although he’s known for his smooth jams and pop rock ballads, singer Michael Bolton actually began performing hard rock and heavy metal music in the 70s. He made a significant musical change in the 90s, shifting to rock ballads, which eventually resulted in his selling more than 75 million records around the world.
Bolton scored a number one hit with his cover of “When A Man Loves A Woman.” He also saw significant success with 1991’s “Time, Love, & Tenderness,” which sold more than eight million copies in the United States. As was the case with several famous 90s male singers, critics panned the album, but it sold millions of copies anyway, despite the bad press.
18. Steven Tyler
Rock band Aerosmith has performed for more than 50 years, and the band had some serious hits in the 70s like “Dream On” and “Sweet Emotion.” Steven Tyler and Aerosmith’s popularity sank in the 80s, but they would see a massive revival in the 90s with the release of “Get a Grip” in 1993.
The album had several hit singles, including “Cryin’,” “Livin’ On The Edge,” “Amazing,” and “Crazy.” Much of Aerosmith’s personality and fame is due to Tyler’s raucous stage presence, which features constant movement, his signature scarves, and his high-pitched vocal style.
19. Michael Stipe
Michael Stipe’s claim to fame comes from his participation in the band R.E.M., but his stage presence, talent, and style influenced a generation of artists, including Thom Yorke (Radiohead) and Kurt Cobain (Nirvana). Born in Georgia in 1960, Stipe formed R.E.M. with friends in the early 80s.
The band was successful enough in the 80s to see a gold status with their albums, but the release of “Out of Time” in 1991 saw them reach multi-platinum status. They would continue their run as one of the decade’s most successful bands with releases like “Automatic for the People” and “Monster.”
Low-key alternative musician Beck made a name for himself by adopting a wide range of musical styles on his albums. He didn’t limit himself as a songwriter and singer and delved into genres like folk, soul, electronic, funk, and hip hop.
Incredibly, Beck went from living in a rat-infested shed in a Los Angeles alley in the early 90s to superstardom with the song “Loser,” which started getting radio airplay in 1993. The artist actually had record companies warring over who would get to sign him. Many consider Beck one of the most exceptional male vocalists of the 90s.
21. Billie Joe Armstrong
Green Day was quite the phenomenon in the 1990s, and Billie Joe Armstrong was the band’s frontman. Although they have been around since 1986, their 1994 album, Dookie, made them a household name. The album featured the hit singles “Basket Case” and “Longview” and won them a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album.
He has written many great songs of emotional and political importance over the years, but we think his best work is with Green Day.
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