The thing about the best ’90s songs is that not one of them sounds similar to another. This decade is, by far, one of the most diverse there's ever been, musicwise. It started off with rising trends in grunge and hip-hop before moving into the new millennium with full-on bubblegum pop. To think Nirvana and Britney Spears are the musical bookends of the ’90s boggles the mind, but it's true. There really was something for everyone this era—whether you wanted to dance, sulk, or sulk while you danced. Nineties music is an eternal mood.
Which is why picking the best ’90s songs of all time is so hard, but Glamour staffers decided to accept the challenge. The list, below, touches on all the musical highs of the decade—from Madonna's "Vogue" to Third Eye Blind and Dr. Dre. Get into it. (Please note: This list is randomly ranked.)
Add all of these to your next best ’90s music playlist.
1. “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind (1997)
This song takes me right back to my childhood summers, when every afternoon was spent lazing around the community pool. "Semi-Charmed Life" was a huge hit in ’97, ultimately reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100, so it was always playing on the radio in the background. Maybe problematic in hindsight—did you know it's about a crystal meth addiction?—but whatever: That easy-breezy guitar and "do do do!" intro still spark joy. —Anna Moeslein, senior editor
2. “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette (1995)
I think we all know the story around "You Oughta Know." There's Alanis, Uncle Joey, and some serious unsettled business between the two. But the song never gets old and will never not slap the hardest when a stupid ex breaks your heart. —Melissa Haney, senior analytics manager
3. “Genie in a Bottle” by Christina Aguilera (1999)
It must’ve been uncomfortable for my parents to hear me belt, “I'm a genie in a bottle, baby. Gotta rub me the right way, honey,” for weeks on end in 1999. In elementary school, I had no earthly idea the implications of what I was singing, but I knew it was a certified bop. —Emily Tannenbaum, contributing writer
4. “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys (1999)
I could never choose between the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC growing up. Instead of taking part in that fandom feud, my folders were always decked out in Lisa Frank prints. That being said, I would rank “I Want It That Way” as the greatest jam of either boy band’s hits, so I guess that makes me a Backstreet girl. —E.T.
5. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston (1992)
I think "I Will Always Love You" has to be the best song of the ’90s—and is probably the best love song of all time. I love Dolly Parton's original but really grew up on Houston's version. It’s the best thing about The Bodyguard movie and truly never gets old. Sometimes that dramatic, final "And III" just pops into my head, and I'm absolutely never mad about it. —Shanna Shipin, commerce editor
6. “Criminal” by Fiona Apple (1997)
“I've been careless with a delicate man / And it's a sad, sad world / When a girl will break a boy / Just because she can.” With those powerful words and a heavy and haunting instrumental beat, the world was introduced to Fiona Apple. Her debut album, Tidal, was filled with bangers (especially for an angsty college student, like me), and the video is ’90s aesthetic canon. The song saw a resurgence in popularity after Jennifer Lopez danced to it in her opening scene in Hustlers, but trust me, everything about it totally holds up in 2020. —Abby Gardner, contributing writer
7. “Always Be My Baby” by Mariah Carey (1995)
Unpopular opinion: I think Mariah Carey is underrated. Kidding. I mean, the woman has 19 Billboard Hot 100 number one songs, 18 of which she wrote or cowrote (the only exception is a cover). Her ’90s catalog is legendary, so it's hard to choose a favorite—but "Always Be My Baby" hits different. No matter where I am or how I'm feeling, I hear those opening "do-do-dos" and can't help but sing. Give her all the lifetime achievement awards and Hall of Fame inductions now, please. —M.H.
8. “There She Goes” by Sixpence None the Richer (1997)
There is very little I have in common with Lindsay Lohan, but one thing we most definitely share is that whenever I travel someplace new, my head hanging out the window of a taxi, Sixpence’s iconic cover of “There She Goes” by The La's plays in my mind like I’m a young Halle James on my first visit to London. —Macaela Mackenzie, senior editor
9. “Un-Break My Heart” by Toni Braxton (1996)
"Un-Break My Heart" is a four-minute-and-32-second gentle reminder that Toni Braxton has always, indeed, been that girl. With this song, she invented heartbreak. Toni's rich, belted notes come off so effortlessly it feels like you’re under the musical equivalent of a weighted blanket. Bonus: The "Un-Break My Heart" music video is unmatched. I’d 100% copy every single outfit, hairstyle, and beauty look from this 1996 clip. Oh, and Tyson Beckford’s in it. —Brionna Jimerson, social media manager
10. “No Time” by Lil’ Kim feat. Puff Daddy (1996)
In the mid to late ’90s, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs and his cadre of artists, often referred to as The Family, ruled the hip-hop charts. Lil’ Kim was one of the most distinctive voices of that era and the female power player of the crew. This song is a bravura showcase of exactly that. —A.G.
11. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana (1991)
Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the antithesis of the music released by the pop divas and boy bands of the late 1990s, but it’s just as deeply embedded into ’90s kids’ souls. Very few songs capture the heart of teen rebellion and “fuck it” mentality quite like this Nirvana masterpiece. —E.T.
12. “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy and Monica (1998)
I compare all music duets to Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine," and honestly, nothing else stacks up. This track has everything: drama, a killer hook, and perfectly blended vocals. No wonder it charted so well and earned a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group. —Christoper Rosa, entertainment staff writer
13. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinéad O'Connor (1990)
The buildup and payoff in this song is out of this world. To say Sinead vocally goes there would be an understatement. She doesn’t let up from beginning to end. What endears me to this ’90s hit so much is the slight nods to Prince I hear in the musical arrangement, especially the way O’Connor sings "to you" in the chorus with a slight twang (à la "When Doves Cry"). —BJ
14. “Believe” by Cher (1998)
The fact that Cher achieved her biggest hit four decades into her career just speaks to her power. "Believe," with its thumping beat, bombastic chorus, and then revolutionary use of Auto-Tune, is a dance floor staple—an essential anthem for any gay pride event. Or, frankly, any party where you just want people to move. —C.R.
15. “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verge (1997)
I’ve fantasied about the opening chords of "Bitter Sweet Symphony" playing over countless milestones. (Wedding? Check. Childbirth? Check. Graduations? Yes. Graveside? It still bangs.) Seriously, this song gives me chills. Blame it on the Cruel Intentions soundtrack, but the lyrics are at once existentially angsty yet hopeful, and leaves you completely enraptured until the very last note. —B.J.
16. “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child (1999)
This is the best music video of the 1990s, and I cannot be challenged on this. The color-coordinated rooms! The poses! Beyoncé's orange lip gloss! It's an absolutely perfect visual representation of why Destiny Child rose to the top of the charts. —A.M.
17. “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion (1997)
It would be criminal to do a list about the best ’90s music and not have Titanic represented. "My Heart Will Go On," the movie's main theme song, was just as popular as the box-office smash. It was number one in more than 20 countries and continues to be a showcase moment at Dion's concerts, even today. —A.M.
18. “Waiting For Tonight” by Jennifer Lopez (1999)
Lopez has a catalog of euphoric dance jams, but "Waiting For Tonight" is particularly special. With its dreamy production, exclamatory chorus, and tireless energy, the song is tailor-made for sweaty 3 a.m. nightclub ascendence. It really just takes you there. —C.R.
19. “California Love” by 2Pac, Roger, and Dr. Dre (1995)
"California Love" was an absolute smash when it arrived in December 1995, reaching number one on Billboard's Hot 100 and topping the R&B and rap charts, as well. It also hit the top spot in four other countries. The song is timeless and still sounds fresh even after hundreds of listens. —C.R.
20. “Cowboy Take Me Away” by The Dixie Chicks (1999)
I'll spare you from a full think piece about the shameful way the Dixie Chicks were treated in the early 2000s. Instead, let's focus on one of their signature songs: "Cowboy Take Me Away." Anyone who's ever yearned for an escape from everyday life will feel these lyrics. "I wanna walk and not run," they sing. "I wanna skip and not fall. I wanna look at the horizon, and not see a building standing tall." Poetic. —A.M.
21. “Linger” by The Cranberries (1993)
This is the most perfect song, of any genre. It’s the ideal combination of regret and hope and catchiness—I’m so deep in my feelings even thinking about it. Sadly, I was introduced to it by the 2006 Adam Sandler comedy Click. Luckily, the song is good enough to overcome this bad beginning. Every time I'm having a genuinely good time in a bar, the song "Linger" is playing. —Jenny Singer, staff writer
22. “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia (1997)
I don’t know what the song “Torn” is about, and I don’t care to find out. (First he’s warm and he comes around like he's dignified, and then later, nothing’s right? I don’t get it, and I’m not going to look into it anymore.) All I know is the song, an Ednaswap cover, is beautiful anguish. Try shouting “Nothing’s fine, I’m torn!” and tell me you don’t feel better. Or, “I’m cold and I’m ashamed lying naked on the floor.” Every line in this song is something I would have set as my AIM status on a hard day in fifth grade, and still, unfortunately, resonate with deeply today. —J.S.
23. “Vogue” by Madonna (1990)
In just over five minutes, "Vogue" encapsulates everything there is to love (and criticize) about Madonna's artistry. It's a sleek, sexy club-ready jam with plenty of pomp and circumstance. That's a good thing—the best Madonna songs are always her most lavish. But there's a catch: The music video for "Vogue" is highly inspired by 1980s queer ballroom culture, which some see as outright appropriation. The cast of FX's Pose, which centers on the ballroom world, offered more insight into this to the Hollywood Reporter. The general consensus? "Vogue" is by no means perfect, but it did shed necessary light on a subculture that deserved it.
"Madonna was one of the ones that really appreciated our community," Pose actor Billy Porter said. "And her appreciation for us really did create a conversation. I lived through it, I was there, and it really did help. Nothing is perfect, but we are still talking about Madonna and 'Vogue.' It really did matter." —C.R.
24. “Barbie Girl” by Aqua (1997)
As a dance music fanatic, it saddens me that electronica and Europop songs rarely make it onto American charts. They're just too "clubby" for mainstream listeners. But we've seen it happen a few times: "Everytime We Touch" by Cascada, "Hung Up" by Madonna, and, perhaps most notably, "Barbie Girl" by Aqua. This bubbly, bizarre slice of high-pitched EDM stampeded worldwide radio, hitting number one in more than 10 countries (and an impressive number seven on Billboard's Hot 100). The commercial appeal of the song's topic, Barbie, probably had something to do with this. But a small part of me likes to think that, for a brief moment in time, everyone in America just wanted to rave. —C.R.
25. “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” by Shania Twain (1997)
Bless Shania Twain for giving us a female empowerment anthem that screams, "Color my hair! Do what I dare!" What's not to love about that? She even delivers chic fashion advice—men's shirts, short skirts—that still holds up. —A.M.
26. “..Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears (1998)
"...Baby One More Time" is recognizable based on the first three notes alone. That says something. It proves the song has graduated from ’90s nostalgia to full-on cultural juggernaut, just like McDonald's, Oprah Winfrey, and Apple. The track is practically mathematic in its melody, which isn't an insult at all. In fact, I wish all songs were as relentlessly dedicated to the hook as this one. Thankfully, a wave of "fun above all" pop happened shortly after "BOMT," with Mandy Moore, Christina Aguilera, and second-rate *NSYNCers forging their own paths. None, though, were as impactful (or iconic) as this one song. Tied-up schoolgirl outfit and all. —C.R.
27. “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. (1991)
This song was the first single off the alt-rock band's 1991 album, Out of Time, and became their highest-charting song ever. It's part of many memories from my teen years, but none more vivid than its use in a pivotal breakup scene between Dylan (Luke Perry) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty) on Beverly Hills, 90210. For that reason alone, the song will always cut straight to my heart. —A.G.
28. “MMMBop” by Hanson (1997)
I contest that "MMMBop" is the catchiest pop song of all time. Not necessarily the best or most memorable, but in terms of pure earworm sensibility, it takes the cake. Maybe that's because the chorus is melodic gibberish. Maybe it's the acoustic, sun-drenched verses. Whatever the case, I made my mom buy me Hanson's entire first album just so I could hear this one song, and I'd never done that before. —C.R.
29. “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg (1992)
If Spotify had existed when I was in high school, this song would 100% be on my “most played” list. Dr. Dre’s The Chronic is one of the decade’s most important albums, and this is the song that introduced a whole new audience to a little artist named Snoop Dogg. —A.G.
30. “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” by Whitney Houston (1995)
My millennial auntie pass will get revoked if I don’t give this bop its due. One of the first cassette tapes I ever owned (okay, swiped from my own auntie’s car) was "Waiting to Exhale." From the first note of this Babyface-written, Whitney Houston–sung ballad, you’re envisioning chocolatey brown silk backgrounds and unironic candlelight. This low-key personal-growth anthem perfectly encapsulates the unpredictability of love and life. —B.J.
31. “Alive” by Pearl Jam (1991)
You can’t talk about music in this decade and not mention Seattle and the grunge scene that gave us bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. This song remains one of the greatest anthems of the era, with soaring vocals from Eddie Vedder. I highly recommend belting it out in the shower or your car when you need a stress release. —A.G.
32. “Praise You” by Fatboy Slim (1999)
My frame of reference for most ’90s music is school dances, and “Praise You” is very much a basement fraternity party. (Probably Sigma Nu, probably Saturday night until at least 3 a.m. Sunday.) The song’s less about the lyrics—all of which are derived from a total of four lines—more about the beat, which worked with cheap beer on a packed, filthy dance floor, and also on my running mix, back when I could stay out until 3 a.m. and then sweat out the aforementioned cheap beer mere hours later. —Kimberly Fusaro, branded content
33. “Crush” by Jennifer Paige (1998)
When “Crush” debuted in 1998, I remember loving it not just for the catchy lyrics, but because it made it perfectly normal—and cool—to actually talk about the person that got your heart racing (I mean, God forbid, right?). It was like, I have a crush on someone, who cares?! If anything, own it! —Jessica Radloff, West Coast editor
34. “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot (1992)
My junior high dances were probably three hours long, but I remember one where the DJ played “Baby Got Back” no less than six times. In hindsight, a bunch of suburban tweens screaming, “That butt you got makes me so horny,” is 100% a cringe-fest, but “Baby Got Back” can still get me on the dance floor in 2020—even if it’s a dance floor for one right now—where “Humpin’ Around” and “Rump Shaker” (same year, similar level of “yikes”) are definitely, “Meh, time to get a drink” songs. —K.F.
35. “Mo Money Mo Problems” by the Notorious B.I.G, Puff Daddy, and Mase (1997)
Everything about this song is brilliant, from the twinkly production to Diana Ross's backing sample and, of course, the skilled verses of all three rappers. With this song, Notorious B.I.G. became the only artist in Billboard Hot 100 history to have two posthumous number one singles. (Both this and "Hypnotize" were released after the hip-hop icon's tragic death in 1997.) —C.R.
36. “Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill (1998)
My first introduction to Lauryn Hill was in the ’90s masterpiece Sister Act II: Back in the Habit. So, in full transparency, it took me a few years to finally discover her masterpiece, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. "Doo Wop (That Thing)" and its iconic music video perfectly encapsulate the importance of Hill, a legendary lyricist, vocalist, and artist, whose impact spans well into the current decade. —M.H.
37. “Waterfalls” by TLC (1995)
Listen, if I hear one more "No Scrubs" cover, I might lose it. The TLC discography is vast, and their impact goes far beyond the one song everyone seems to choose at karaoke. Case and point: "Waterfalls," a bop in equal measure to their most popular hit, albeit with a message that requires a bit more reflection. We're meant to be wary of chasing the dangerous waterfalls that could end up hurting us—no need to move too fast. (Unless, of course, you're running away from another ukulele cover of "No Scrubs.") —M.H.
38. “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls (1996)
We have two bands to really thank for kicking off the late-’90s teen-pop boom: the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls, who exploded onto American radio with their syrupy, nonsensical smash "Wannabe." The chorus of the song is pure candy, and its supporting verses are buzzing with personality. Zig-a-zig-ah, am I right? —C.R.
39. “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt (1996)
Even if you aren't going through a tumultuous breakup, this song will make you feel things. It’s so perfectly dramatic while still capturing the very real feelings of two people falling apart. I love a heartbreak ballad you can dance to, and Gwen Stefani's voice has never sounded better than when she’s wailing “don’t” over and over. —Bella Cacciatore, beauty associate
40. “Pony (Jump on It)” by Ginuwine (1996)
Is there a sexier song from the ’90s? Can't think of one. It also plays an important role in two of my favorite pop-culture moments: the backdrop to Channing Tatum's best dance in Magic Mike and as a tribute song to the beloved miniature horse Li’l Sebastian in Parks and Recreation. —A.M.
41. “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star (1994)
Could I even consider myself a proper Sad Girl without discussing this song? I love the hazy, dreamy quality of Mazzy Star’s music, and this song in particular sounds like falling in love for the first time. —B.C.
42. “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band (1996)
I was raised on a steady diet of The Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers, so I was primed to be a jam-band obsessive when the Dave Matthews Band landed on my radar. The entire Crash album, played beginning to end, was my soundtrack for studying, daydreaming when I should have been studying, lying on friends’ dorm room floors, and afternoons spent on various New England beaches in winter. “Crash Into Me” (especially with the foil of “Say Goodbye” from the same album) felt a little bit hot and a little bit twisted—especially live. —K.F.
43. “Show Me Love” by Robyn (1995)
I love "Dancing On My Own" as much as the next girl (that is to say, a whole lot), but this more pared-back version of Robyn is just as powerful. I love the R&B influence and the way it makes me feel like I’m in a ’90s teen movie. —B.C.
44. “Ironic” by Alanis Morisette (1995)
Out of all the ’90s icons, I always turn to Alanis. Her 1995 album, Jagged Little Pill, was angry and funny, planting a feminist seed in my brain that she would continue to sun and water into my adult years. Plus, “Ironic” is a serious karaoke crowd-pleaser. —E.T.
45. “Ray of Light” by Madonna (1998)
There are only a handful of pop songs that feel otherworldly, and this is one of them. "Ray of Light," the title track off Madonna's acclaimed 1998 record, is mainstream electronica at its most elevated, its most emotional, and its most profound. "I feel like I just got home," the Queen of Pop wails on the song's exuberant chorus, taking in the universe and all its wonderment. For Madonna, "home" is several places, but in her music it always comes back to just one: the dance floor. —C.R.
46. “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow (1994)
Sheryl Crow won Record of the Year in 1995 for this sunny jam, and it's easy to remember why as soon as you turn it on. The song just feels like an escape—the kind of tune you blast with the car windows down as you get the hell out of town. —A.M.
47. “Friday I’m in Love” by The Cure (1992)
Sorry for the cliché, but this song is just so good. I love The Cure, and there's a reason "Friday" is one of their biggest hits. Listen if you want to ignite your inner goth teen. —B.C.
48. “The Sign” by Ace of Base (1993)
OMG, Ace of Base. To me, nothing sums up the decade more than this Swedish pop group. I sang and danced to “The Sign” every chance I got, and took pride in knowing all the words. Plus, who doesn’t love the line “No one’s gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong?“ —J.R.
49. “Malibu” by Hole (1998)
There are a lot of Hole songs that could be on this list ("Miss World," "Celebrity Skin," etc.), but this one is my personal favorite. I love songs that sound upbeat but have darker lyrics when you take a closer look, and this one fits the bill. It’s perfect to play when you want to drive down the coast in a convertible but are stuck in your tiny apartment (i.e., my current situation). —B.C.
50. “Whatta Man” by Salt 'N' Pepa (1993)
As with “Baby Got Back,” the “Whatta Man” lyrics were kind of inappropriate for my age bracket and life experience (“He's not a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am, he's a thriller”), but coming off the group’s 1991 hit “Let’s Talk About Sex,” “Whatta Man” felt positively G-rated. Plus, the overall messaging set some solid relationship standards for when I was a few years older. (Find yourself a guy who doesn’t cheat, isn’t selfish in bed, and doesn’t call you Susan if your name is not, in fact, Susan. Still applicable.) —K.F.
51. “Summer Girls” by LFO (1999)
The decade may have started with alt-rock, grunge, and hip-hop, but it ended on a very pop moment with groups like LFO bringing the world sparkly (if not super deep) ditties you probably still know the words to. “I like girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch” basically became a personality type for a moment there. —A.G.
52. “Tearin’ Up My Heart” by *NSYNC (1997)
*NSYNC really hit their stride in the early 2000s, but "Tearin' Up My Heart" still ranks high in their discography. The song is one of the finest crafted in famed producer Max Martin's bubblegum factory, which is to say...it's damn catchy. —C.R.
53. “Creep” by Radiohead (1992)
If “Smells Like Teen Spirit” represents teenage rebellion, then “Creep” by Radiohead put a spotlight on our angst and insecurity. “I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo / What the hell am I doing here? / I don't belong here.” Literally, who hasn’t felt this way? Side note: Who else thinks Riverdale’s Jughead Jones plays this to himself every night before he goes to sleep? —E.T.
Originally Appeared on Glamour