1. ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’ by The Backstreet Boys
I feel like it’s only fitting to start with this little ditty, as it was also the Boys’ first real single and they spent a great deal of time proclaiming they were “back.” From what? Back again from where? And while I have to admit bias because I am and always will be Team *N Sync, you kind of have to question the quality of a song in which Nick (because of course I can tell their voices apart, STILL, after all these years) asks his fellow boys if he’s sexual and they all agree without so much as missing a beat.
Props to the killer Halloween-inspired music video, though.
2. ‘Men In Black’ by Will Smith
Because when historians look back at the 90s, we are all going to have to explain why we made this song a hit — and how we did it without a single shred of irony. Yes, it was a song tie-in for one of the most awesome movies of the same era, but the Fresh Prince is rapping, Big Willie-style (why we let him live that album title down is beyond me), not about Philadelphia or Bel Air or anyone or anywhere else in between, but about defending. the. galaxy. from. aliens.
3. ‘Bailaimos’ by Enrique Iglesias
Enrique, son of Julio, was already a bit of a Latin music star before his big “make it big in America” crossover, but this song, (as well as Ricky, whom we’ll get to in a second) set off a veritable flurry of imitations. What made four white boys from middle America qualified to croon at you about spending una noche together? This song. This song made that okay. (Though, it has to be said, the 2014 update is not bad. A total guilty pleasure, something that will play at every one of my baby cousins’ quinceañeras from here on out, and a top contender for being on a ’20 terrible songs from the ’10s that everyone secretly loves’ playlist, but not bad.)
4. ‘Truly Madly Deeply’ by Savage Garden
Because no 90s playlist is complete without the kind of song that fueled entire series on the WB, and like, if someone serenaded you with it, it’d be cheesy, but you wouldn’t objectively hate it.
5. ‘I Do (Cherish You)’ by 98°
This music video came into the world before the glory that was Newlyweds (also known as America’s greatest reality show of all time), so we’re stuck with a music video in which Ali Landry frolics with all four members of 98° in turn, but Nick Lachey has always been the beta-testing prototype for Channing Tatum, so that makes up for the bad-joke plot twist at the end. Also, I am willing to bet good money* that approximately 75% of late-90s couples had their first wedding dance to this song.
6. ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ by Aerosmith
It is no ‘Crazy‘ (which is honestly a really solid song, and gave us the magic that is Alicia Silverstone, even though she does get kind of homoerotic with Steven Tyler’s own child) but this song was also the main track to support Armageddon. And honestly, I can’t make it through that movie without sobbing like an idiot, so that is my cross to bear.
7. ‘C’est La Vie’ by B*Witched
Most of us would not know this song existed if it weren’t for the Disney Channel’s classic movie, Smart House, but regardless of the fact that this song has clear Irish influence, most 90s kids ran around thinking we were cool because we knew a total of three words in French after this song came out. (And like, yeah, can we admit now that this song was way too sexual to be on the Disney Channel? Because it was.)
8. ‘Baby Got Back’ by Sir Mix-A-Lot
You know what’s going to make us all feel old? The first time we start humming along to, “Oh my God, Becky, look at her butt,” and some teenager butts* in and asks why we’re singing Nicki Minaj and not Sir Mix-A-Lot. I guess this is how the ‘Under Pressure’ crowd feels with ‘Ice, Ice, Baby.’ And as phenomenal a track as ‘Anaconda’ is, this is what is going to divide the generations.
9. ‘Barbie Girl’ by Aqua
Could you imagine the ragey thinkpieces that would accompany this song if it had been released today?! ALL OF THEM. I mean, sure, you could call it satirical, but I’m also kind of amazed Katy Perry has not released a 100% sincere cover of this yet (add that to the list of things you never knew you needed, because really, I would listen to that).
10. ‘Say My Name’ by Destiny’s Child
It’s a cheap joke to make, but we’re just going to do it: you just know that all of the other girls sing this under their breaths whenever they hear about Beyoncé in the news. (So, like, every day.)
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