The 1990s were truly a golden era for all forms of media, including music. Perhaps it’s from looking at the past with a nostalgic lens, but it was a pinnacle time in Western civilization.
It was also a time when females really emerged into the music world. Many of these groups absolutely dominated the airwaves with their colossal hits.
Read on to discover the vast world of musical genres that females had a major role in during the 1990s.
Sleater-Kinney is a very well-known name within the 90s indie/alternative-rock community. However, you won’t find anyone in the band with those names.
This band, named after an exit sign, is notable for primarily consisting of an all-female lineup. Most of the various members throughout the years have a cult-like status within the underground scene.
Sleater-Kinney began culminating success in the 90s, but it wasn’t until the 2000s that they found their stride. The group is still active today, after taking a 7-year hiatus to pursue other endeavors.
Some people might have a bit of an issue with mentioning Hole on this list. While the lineup is predominately female-driven, there have been men in the group.
Semantics aside, Hole is commonly thought of as a girl band, most notably because of Courtney Love. She was practically 90s grunge royalty due to her relationship with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.
Hole’s catalog is full of edgy subject matter that is bound to put anyone in a tense mood. They really embodied the dirty aesthetic of grunge music at the time.
With a name like Bikini Kill, you know you’re in for a treat. This all-female punk band definitely delivered some harrowing sounds in the 90s.
Bikini Kill was never exactly mainstream, and they, unfortunately, didn’t get to ride the wave of 90s punk. However, they were integral to the feminist punk movement happening at the time.
While it might be a bit odd to call a pop group a band, Destiny’s Child needs obvious recognition. Destiny’s Child is perhaps one of the biggest phenomenons of the late 90s and early 2000s.
If you weren’t alive during that time period, you’re probably more familiar with Beyoncé Knowles as a solo artist. It was Destiny’s Child that allowed her to have such an outstanding career.
Destiny’s Child packed a vocal punch that couldn’t be found with any other group in the world. Songs like Survivor, and, Say My Name, remain true classics.
En Vogue was a very popular all-female pop group driven by powerful singing performances. This group was truly a force to be reckoned with, spawning some of the decade’s biggest hits.
Take the song, Don’t Let Go (Love), which is widely known by even casual music listeners. The group worked with Organized Noize, using actual musicians and instruments to produce the song.
The 1990s really were the golden period of female pop groups with an R&B/hip-hop-influenced sound. Perhaps no other group exemplifies this better than TLC, an ultra-famous female trio.
Let’s just say that 1994 was the year of TLC, and they played a part in that summer’s soundtrack. Songs like No Scrubs, and, Waterfalls, remained in constant rotation on the pop radio stations.
A small part of their success undoubtedly has to be given to Organized Noize. Using actual musical instruments gives an organic feeling to the song itself.
Pop music has become overly digitized today, which is perhaps why it feels so thin and flat. Modern artists would do well for themselves to revisit groups like TLC and contemplate why they’re still so great today.
The Chicks (Dixie Chicks)
If you were a Midwesterner in the 1990s, chances are, you got a hefty dose of the Dixie Chicks. This group took the world by storm, at times having songs crossover into the pop radio stations.
The song, Wide Open Spaces, really lit the match to the rapid wildfire success they managed to achieve. This track had an odd sense of blending The Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses into an original country song.
Musicians often take a risk when they decide to become vocal about something. In the case of the post-9/11 U.S.-Iraq war, the Dixie Chicks decided they had something to say.
This eventually made them fall out of favor with the mainstream, and especially, corporate Nashville. They would never have the supportive exposure they once had, despite proving successful after the fact.
After a brief hiatus, the band eventually came back as The Chicks, as “Dixie” is an antiquated racially-sensitive term. This proves they have always remained aware of the times, and are unafraid to make changes, even if it’s themselves.
Few groups have had the international success that the Spice Girls managed to achieve in the 90s. Each member of this 5-woman group continues to be a pop-culture icon in their own respect.
Their success eventually spawned a major hit movie in 1997, as well as a video game in 1998. It seemed as if nothing, outside of calling a hiatus, could stop the Spice Girls train in the 90s.
Today, people enjoy revisiting their catalog when they want to indulge in the 90s pop sound. They certainly have their fair share of hits to fill an entire playlist.
The Spice Girls remain one of the most successful UK groups in modern music history. If you were in school at the time, you wouldn’t be able to avoid their music.
Babes In Toyland
As far as female-driven 90s alternative rock is concerned, Babes In Toyland was one of the best. This group interestingly has roots with Hole’s Courtney Love.
Oddly enough, there are some bizarre similarities between both of the group's earliest releases. One has to wonder exactly what the creative history between them truly was.
Babes In Toyland and Hole did always seem to be having a public battle through the medium of art. It definitely gained both groups more publicized attention, ensuring they were staying relevant.
If you need to endure some punishing blows of music, you need to check out L7. This all-female group definitely has an edge that is far from the 90s bubblegum pop sound.
L7 has been a dominant force within the alternative rock scene and continues to be revered today. Casual fans tend to gravitate toward the releases from the mid-1990s, especially Hungry For The Stink.
Aside from a few years here and there, L7’s member lineup has remained incredibly consistent since 1990. There is clearly some magical chemistry at play that has allowed them to continue on for so long.
The late 1980s alternative scene had bands like the Pixies coming to the forefront. Many of their tracks became cult hits that are still enjoyed today.
Kim Deal was a powerful presence in that group, fulfilling bass duties and occasionally singing. However, she also had a side project called The Breeders, which she eventually became dedicated to full-time.
The Breeders are especially notable for being formed around Kim and her sister, Kelley Deal. Their track, Cannonball, truly knocked down the metric charts upon its release in 1993.
Today, The Breeders have a sort of legendary status within the indie rock community. They’re still actively touring and releasing music, with the latest song release having been in early 2021.
Should a solo singer-songwriter be considered a band if the project is primarily their own? What about if the project originally started out as a band?
Regardless of the answers, Cat Power is definitely one of the best girl bands of the 1990s and beyond. If you’re looking for powerful songwriting across an evolution of sounds, this is it.
Cat Power has been quite successful throughout her career but has been more on the underground side of things. Nevertheless, her work has been incredibly influential for the generations to follow.
Some people might object to No Doubt’s inclusion as the only female member in the group is Gwen Stefani. However, it’s safe to say that this ska-punk group wouldn’t have been the same without her.
For many people, it was Gwen Stefani’s authenticity that really made the band’s sound. She proved to be incredibly inspiring to children at the time for truly embodying her full persona.
Perhaps the group was in the right place at the right time as punk made its breakthrough. We’re blessed to have received the musical gifts that No Doubt imparted to us during the 90s and 2000s.
In terms of member longevity within a lineup, Garbage definitely takes the cake. This group has been a consistent enigma within the alternative rock scene since the early 90s.
Their debut album immediately propelled the band into the mainstream spotlight, with Shirley Manson’s voice taking center stage. Part of the group’s success is owed to Butch Vig, who is a legendary producer in his own right.
Aside from a few brief periods, Garbage has managed to keep a very busy schedule. Their latest release, which explored societal themes, came out in 2021 and was received moderately well by critics.
If we are okay to mention bands that feature one prominent female lineup, then Sonic Youth needs recognition. Underground music wouldn’t have gotten the exposure it did if it wasn’t for Sonic Youth.
This band seemed to prioritize the creation of art, rather than trying to adhere to a certain sound. They pushed the boundaries of experimental music in a rock format and embodied “cool” through and through.
While the insane guitars are a part of it, Kim Gordon was a major factor in the band’s success. Though the songs with her vocals are timelessly hip, it is her as a person that needs recognition.
Many females looked up to Kim Gordon and became inspired to pick up an instrument. Many of the groups on this list might not have existed without Kim’s existence.
Pop groups were truly dominating the airwaves toward the turning of the new millennium. It truly seemed as if there was a war to control the top positions of the pop charts.
The group, Atomic Kitten, emerged from England, releasing their debut single in late 1999. This song’s success ultimately set the stage for a long and quite prosperous career, continuing to this day.
Ireland has had its fair share of international groups over the years. For the era of the 1990s, The Cranberries were definitely the most successful.
A big part of the group’s success had to do with the vocal stylings of Dolores O’Riordan. Her vocal delivery was incredibly intoxicating, which matched well with their edgier sound.
Songs from the 1993-94 period, especially Zombie, and, Linger, are considered some of the best of all time.
Depending on your musical background, Stereolab might be a bit of an obscure band. However, today, they’re regarded as one of the best indie/avant-garde groups of the 1990s.
The lineup doesn’t consist entirely of females, but Lætitia Sadier’s voice plays a prominent role in their sound. It’s hard to not become enamored by the softness of her French dialect.
Albums like Emperor Tomato Ketchup, and, Dots And Loops, should be considered required listening.
Portishead was definitely far ahead of their time when they made their debut in 1994. This group fused lo-fi hip-hop with live instrumentation and soulful female vocals sung by Beth Gibbons.
In a way, Portishead would probably fit in with today’s styles of music. Yet, strangely enough, their music is something that could have only happened in the 1990s.
Be sure to check out the Roseland NYC Live album, which features all live instrumentation. It’s been widely considered one of the greatest performances of all time.
Yo La Tengo
Yo La Tengo is probably best thought of as “that weird band from Hoboken, New Jersey.” This group has been around since the mid-1980s and has become an enigma in the indie rock genre.
The band didn’t really hit their stride until the mid-to-late-90s, creating albums that are considered golden hits today. Yo La Tengo has a fairly diverse sound at times, which only adds to their success.
Drummer and pianist, Georgia Hubley, plays a very important role in the group. Many of the band’s most iconic songs wouldn’t be the same without her vocal input and instrumentation.
Veruca Salt was a group known best for its female members, Louise Post and Nina Gordon. They became quite popular though they aren’t exactly as well known in today’s modern times.
The group did manage to have a song featured in a movie and appeared on major mainstream TV outlets. Pavement fans probably recognize the group for making a cameo in one of their music videos from 1995.
Top 90s Girl Bands, Final Thoughts
As you can see, women were not exactly marginalized into one specific genre of music. Some of the heaviest and most aggressive music of the decade was produced by female groups.
It’s safe to say that these women were instrumental in laying the foundation for future generations to build upon. In the 2020s, we’ve seen many of the seeds planted in the 1990s come to full fruition.
Women often get overlooked in the music industry, but these groups prove that they, too, can produce worthwhile art. No matter if it’s pop, country, or rock, women have always had groundbreaking and powerful contributions.