Whitney Houston performs on stage at Wembley Arena, London, on 15th May 1988.

Best 90s pop songs

Written by:
April 30, 2019
Graham Wiltshire // Getty Images

Best 90s pop songs

Every decade of the modern era has forged its own unique pop sound, and the 1990s was no exception. While predictably varied in terms of sub-genre, this arena was typically dominated by pure vocal talent, romantic themes, and R&B grooves. Acts like Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, and Toni Braxton were mainstays on the charts thanks in no small part to songwriting contributions from composers such as Diane Warren and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. On the lighter side of things were dance floor classics in the vein of "Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)" and "Whoomp! (There It Is)," two songs that sound exactly as dated as one might expect.

Some may argue that '90s pop songs don't retain the same aura of indulgence or compulsive listenability as their 1980s predecessors, but they've nevertheless left an indelible mark on the industry at large. After all, one can easily see how a singer like Ariana Grande might be influenced or inspired by Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey. What's more, shows like "American Idol" or "The Voice" are built around the modern pop star phenomenon, which reached stratospheric heights in the 1980s and carried well into the 1990s with virtually no resistance. Of course, one doesn't need a history lesson to enjoy popular music—hence the name.

Using The Top 20 Billboard Hot 100 Hits of the 1990s as a data source, Stacker presents the decade's best pop songs according to Billboard rank. Said rankings are derived from Billboard's own "Hot 100" songs from each decade, based on every title's performance on the Hot 100 through the chart dated Nov. 1, 2014. Songs are subjected to an inverse point system, with weeks at #1 having the greatest value and weeks at #100 having the least. Time frames are weighted to allow for fluctuations in chart turnover due to different methodologies in order to ensure equal representation of hits across different and multiple decades.

The time machine is revved up and ready to go. Take a journey to the past and come back with a fresh stack of infectious tunes. Some are indisputably campy, while others are as heart-wrenching now as they were upon their initial ascent. Without further ado, here are the best pop songs of the 1990s.

You may also like: Best '80s songs

#20. "Nothing Compares 2 U"

- Artist: Sinéad O'Connor
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: April 21, 1990

Legendary artist Prince originally composed this song for funk band The Family, members of whom included it on their underperforming debut album. Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor released her own power ballad version in 1990 only to see it soar up various worldwide charts. Prince was reportedly not a fan of O'Connor's take, claiming he didn't like it when people recorded his songs unless he asked them to.

#19. "Gangsta's Paradise (From Dangerous Minds)"

- Artist: Coolio feat. L.V.
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: Sep. 9, 1995

Stevie Wonder's song "Pastime Paradise" laid the groundwork for this 1995 smash hit, which appeared on Coolio's second studio album and the "Dangerous Minds" soundtrack. Not only was it the first rap song to top the year-end Billboard Hot 100, but it set a record on the Australian chart that lasted 22 years. Singer Weird Al Yankovic released a parody version in 1996 called "Amish Paradise."

#18. "I Will Always Love You"

- Artist: Whitney Houston
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: Nov. 28, 1992

To coincide with Whitney Houston's big-screen debut in 1992's "The Bodyguard," she and producer David Foster retooled a Dolly Parton song for the soundtrack. The resulting ballad debuted at #40 on the Billboard Hot 100 and jumped to #1 in just two weeks, representing the fastest rise to the top for a female artist at the time. "I Will Always Love You" held the peak position for a record-breaking 14 weeks and became the year's top-selling single.

#17. "You're Still The One"

- Artist: Shania Twain
- Hot 100 peak position: #2
- Peak date: May 2, 1998

Shania Twain became a crossover sensation in 1997 with the debut of her third studio album, "Come On Over." Released as the album's third country single, "You're Still The One" gave Twain her first top-10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. The song went on to land Grammy Awards for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song, respectively.

#16. "Rush Rush"

- Artist: Paula Abdul
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: June 15, 1991

Paula Abdul was at the height of her recording career when she released this chart-topping ballad, the lead single from her second album. As iconic the song was in its own right, the adjoining music video remains the stuff of legend. Incorporating shot-for-shot reenactments of the 1955 film "Rebel Without a Cause," it sees a young Keanu Reeves tackling the role once made famous by James Dean.

#15. "Whoomp! (There It Is)"

- Artist: Tag Team
- Hot 100 peak position: #2
- Peak date: July 31, 1993

A former staple at dance parties and sporting events, this up-tempo single screams 1990s in the best and worst of ways. Aiming to capitalize on the song's success, Tag Team recorded a Disney character version and an "Addams Family Values" version. To this day, Internet conspiracy theorists remain (incorrectly) convinced that President Barack Obama appeared in the original music video.

#14. "Because I Love You (The Postman Song)"

- Artist: Stevie B
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: Dec. 8, 1990

Miami-based artist Stevie B was at the forefront of the freestyle and HI-NRG music scene by the time he dropped this crossover ballad in 1990. It spent four consecutive weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and reached #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. The song appeared at #71 on Billboard's list of The Hot 100's All-Time Top 100 Songs in 2018.

#13. "The Boy Is Mine"

- Artist: Brandy and Monica
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: June 6, 1998

To poke fun at media speculation that they'd been feuding in real life, R&B legends Brandy and Monica teamed up for this mega-successful single. It debuted in 1998 and appeared on both artists' second albums, quickly topping the charts and later winning a Grammy Award. Directly inspired by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney's 1982 duet "The Girl is Mine," the Brandy/Monica track features two performers fighting over the same love interest.

#12. "The Sign"

- Artist: Ace of Base
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: March 12, 1994

After breaking through in America with their hit song "All That She Wants," Swedish pop group Ace of Base re-released its debut album under a different name. That name was "The Sign" and featured a handful of new tracks, including this eponymous single. Blending reggae and techno influences within a broader pop template, the song spent six nonconsecutive weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100.

#11. "End Of The Road (From Boomerang)"

- Artist: Boyz II Men
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: Aug. 15, 1992

Industry legends Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, L.A. Reid, and Daryl Simmons wrote and produced this soulful single that Boyz II Men recorded for the "Boomerang" soundtrack. It spent 13 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart, breaking a record at the time. The song also won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

#10. "Candle In The Wind 1997/Something About The Way You Look Tonight"

- Artist: Elton John
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: Oct. 11, 1997

Paying tribute to Princess Diana in the wake of her untimely death, Elton John performed a rewritten version of his own 1973 hit song at her funeral. He subsequently recorded the new version and released it as part of a double-A side single, which went on to sell approximately 33 million units worldwide. According to Guinness World Records, that makes it the best-selling single since the inception of the U.S. and U.K. charts.

#9. "Truly Madly Deeply"

- Artist: Savage Garden
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: Jan. 17, 1998

Australia's Savage Garden released this hit track in 1997 and saw it peak on the Hot 100 in January of the following year. There are two unique versions of the song; the second (i.e. international) version soared up the pop charts. It also spent a whopping 123 weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart, making it the #1 adult contemporary song of all time.

#8. "One Sweet Day"

- Artist: Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: Dec. 2, 1995

By the mid-1990s, a duet between Boyz II Men and singer Mariah Carey was a guaranteed recipe for success. It's then hardly a surprise that "One Sweet Day" spent a record-breaking 16 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, edging out one of Boyz II Men's own previous hits. The song still holds the record to this day, though it's now tied for first place with 2017's "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber.

#7. "Too Close"

- Artist: Next
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: April 25, 1998

Released as the second single from Next's debut album, this raunchy hit finds each group member getting aroused by the proximity of his respective dance partner. Utilizing a Kurtis Blow sample to galvanizing effect, the song reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts. It's currently #4 on Billboard's list of The 50 Sexiest Songs of All Time.

#6. "I'll Make Love To You"

- Artist: Boyz II Men
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: Aug. 27, 1994

Before the record-breaking release of "One Sweet Day," this Boyz II Men ballad tied with Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" as the longest-running #1 Hot 100 single of all time. The following year, it won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. It was all part of an incredible run for Boyz II Men, who ultimately became the biggest-selling R&B group of the SoundScan era.

#5. "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You"

- Artist: Bryan Adams
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: July 27, 1991

Canadian singer-songwriter Bryan Adams was already a big name by the early 1990s, but this hit single made him an international superstar. Released simultaneously on his sixth studio album and the soundtrack for "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," the song spent eight weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. Multiple cover versions would follow, including one from Stewie in the "Family Guy" episode "Ocean's Three and a Half."

#4. "Foolish Games/You Were Meant For Me"

- Artist: Jewel
- Hot 100 peak position: #2
- Peak date: April 19, 1997

Jewel recorded three versions of "You Were Meant For Me" before it finally became a massive hit on the radio and MTV. On a reissue of the CD single, she included a radio mix of "Foolish Games" as a hidden bonus. The latter was one of three songs from the "Batman & Robin" soundtrack to crack the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

#3. "Un-Break My Heart"

- Artist: Toni Braxton
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: Dec. 7, 1996

R&B singer Toni Braxton pleads for her lover to come back in this emotional ballad, written by Diane Warren and produced by David Foster. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 as well as the Hot Dance Club Songs and Adult Contemporary charts and won Braxton a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Rock band Weezer covered the song for the 2010 compilation album "Death to False Metal."

#2. "Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)"

- Artist: Los Del Rio
- Hot 100 peak position: #1
- Peak date: Aug. 3, 1996

Nothing quite says 1990s—for better or worse—like the "Macarena" and its adjoining dance craze. Straddling the line between catchiness and campiness, the Spanish song remained a party fixture for multiple years in a row. More than just a relic of its time, it ranks among the most iconic one-hit wonders ever recorded.

#1. "How Do I Live?"

- Artist: LeAnn Rimes
- Hot 100 peak position: #2
- Peak date: Dec. 13, 1997

On the heels of "Un-Break My Heart," songwriter Diane Warren penned yet another classic break-up tune. Performed by LeAnn Rimes and included on her second studio album, it spent a record-breaking 32 weeks in the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (without ever reaching #1). The very same year, singer Trisha Yearwood recorded her own popular version for the soundtrack to "Con Air."

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