Millennials and Gen Xers are quick to wax nostalgic about their favorite 90s pop-rock bands. Like their parents before them, they claim their generation’s music is better than anything new.
But take off the rose-tinted glasses, and you can clearly see how terrible some of the more popular bands were. Between all the grunge, rap-rock, and boy bands, there are plenty of stale artists.
We’ve rounded up the worst bands of the decade as a friendly reminder that no generation is perfect. So get ready to grimace.
Let’s hit it!
About 90s Pop Rock
The 90s saw the rise of some of the most influential bands of our time. From the sludge grunge of Nirvana to the genre-defying art rock of Radiohead, there’s no shortage of greatness. But the 90s pop rock was a different scene altogether.
There were the high-energy teeny boppers like NSYNC, Brittany Spears, and the Spice Girls. But pop also merged with a lot of other styles. R&B and hip-hop entered the mainstream and stayed there. But you could also hear the influence of electronic music and country. And you can’t forget the dance fads, like the Macarena and Achy Breaky Heart.
The genre-melting pop created quite a few tunes that were hard to take seriously. Still, people playing them on the radio didn’t seem to mind wearing out the tapes.
#1 The Backstreet Boys
Record labels knew how to make cookie-cutter bands long before producers used computer algorithms to influence their catchy tunes. The Backstreet Boys (BSB) are a great shining example of this fact. Their label effectively copied and pasted the New Kids on the Block with a slightly less threatening group.
The producers selected the boys in the band based on their ability to attract teen fans and their moms. Their suburban-friendly hits lacked any hint of substance or relevance. But they sure sold a lot of albums. BSB is considered the best-selling boy band and paved the way for a dozen more groups just like them.
But while they may have sold many albums, they also churned them out. For comparison, their rivals NSYNC had the same number of top ten hits as BSB. For NSYNC, those hits came from three albums, while BSB had nine albums full of filler.
And if you really listen, BSB’s top hits, such as Everybody and I Want it That Way, all sound alike. In fact, several of their songs have the very same percussion playing under the vocals.
#2 Ace of Base
This Swedish act came onto the scene like bottled lighting. Formed by three siblings and a friend, Ace of Base shattered records with their first album. It was the best-selling album of 1994 and is still one of the most successful debuts of all time.
Their infectious tunes included great dancey beats and straightforward lyrics. However, their biggest hit, I Saw the Sign, features shallow, repetitive words that stick in your brain after one play. This is the hallmark of 90s pop rock, honestly. You can’t unhear it.
Honestly, it’s the perfect formula, but it gets old quickly. Ace of Base’s record producer must not have agreed, though. While he didn’t like their demo the first time, the tape got stuck in his cassette player. With no choice but to listen to it over and over, he finally heard their potential.
Aqua is a Nordic band that exploded onto American soil with their one-hit wonder Barbie Girl. But, perhaps the joy in the rest of the band’s odd disco-inspired dance music was lost in translation. While they never had another American hit, they’re still the best-selling Danish band of all time.
The group’s novelty hit put the dance band on the international stage. While the single has some kitsch appeal, it’s pretty hard to listen to. On paper, the song is a commentary on the representation of women in the media. But the frantic tune sure left a bizarre impression.
Mattel didn’t seem to like it much, either. They sued the band for the use of Barbie, but the case didn’t make it to court. The judge reportedly told both parties to chill out.
For a while, the song was inescapable. In fact, it may have sent one Dallas-based radio DJ over the edge. One evening the woman locked herself in the studio and played the song on repeat for an hour. She lost her job when they finally got her out, but the Barbie Girl lived on.
The three Hanson brothers were between 11 and 16 years old in 1997 when their first major label album hit the shelves. The leading single, MMMBop, was a top hit in 27 countries, and the young artists earned three Grammy nominations.
As a reminder, the song was written by three young boys several years before its success. The lyrics, where they do have meaning, talk about the futility of life and the short-lived nature of relationships. What do these kids have to say about that? MMMBop!
They haven’t found the same chart-shattering success in decades. Still, they have released eight Top 40 records, which is pretty impressive considering the awful song that started it all.
No matter how you feel about the brothers, it’s pretty impressive that these young kids wrote or co-wrote most of their material. Just don’t make us listen to MMMBop ever again, please.
#5 Hootie and the Blowfish
It shouldn’t be a surprise that a band with such a terrible name is equally awful to listen to. Hootie and the Blowfish starkly contrasted with the grunge scene that was making airwaves at the time. There’s some crossover because the singer was part of the same tradition of sounding kind of like Elmer Fudd.
Their folksy twang and soft rock style is, at best, okay. But the odd genre mishmash of sugary pop meets country with cookie-cutter blues riffs didn’t really work. So how did their hit singles Only Wanna Be with You and Hold My Hand work into the best-selling album of 1995? We have no idea.
The band went on hiatus for a number of years so the lead singer could work on his solo country music. However, they eventually regrouped. At one point, they performed live at a ballet that chronicled their rise to success. There’s probably not a more fitting oddity to celebrate one of the stranger 90s pop-rock bands.
#6 Savage Garden
It’s hard to say how Savage Garden found success in the late 90s. Maybe it was nostalgia-fueled. The new wave pop of the Second British Invasion deeply inspired their tunes.
The Australian duo was a shallow successor to bands like Tears for Fears. Instead of thoughtful lyrics with political savvy, they only wrote meaningless love songs. The words they sang were uninspired, stuck together to fit their soft rock beats.
Their success was short-lived, and the duo broke up a few years after their international fame died. Still, you can probably find them on plenty of mix CDs traded by young lovers at the end of the millennium.
#7 Sugar Ray
They say success changes people. Early fans of Sugar Ray no doubt agree. Their original sound was a fusion of hardcore punk and glam metal. With their second album, they released a single, Fly, that was a huge success. However, it sounded nothing like the rest of the record.
Sugar Ray embraced the reggae sounds that shot them up the charts. The gamble worked, though. Their songs Someday and Every Morning played everywhere in 1999. While their singles and videos dominated the airwaves for a while, the success faded shortly after.
That’s probably because the fun found in the music wears out quickly. Even the critics that praised their best-selling album, 14:59, had a lot of sideways compliments for them.
Their surface-level lyrics, cheesy music videos, and dated sound don’t have the timeless quality that kept other 90s alt-rock stars relevant. Still, they keep trucking along, making money on 90s nostalgia tours. Good for them.
Awful 90s Pop Rock Somehow Lives On
We’ll be honest. Some of these artists are low-hanging fruit that everyone is happy to diss. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t found ourselves singing along when one of these hits happens to play on the radio.
Pop music has always been a product first. Sure, some artists have transcended the genre to make great art. But these sickly sweet tunes weren’t it for us.
Did we miss your least favorite 90s pop rock band? Let us know in the comments.