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10 Lyrics That Encapsulate The '90s Spirit

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By Patrick J. Kiger

If the spirit of the 1990s could be summed up by specific lyrics from popular music of its time... these would be them. Sit back, put on your time-travel pants, and enjoy these selections from the popular poetry of the age. And if you think we missed any, add your own in the comments!

  1. Jesus Jones, “Right Here Right Now,” 1990



    "A woman on the radio talks about revolution
    When it's already passed her by
    Bob Dylan didn't have this to sing about
    You know it feels good to be alive"


    The fall of communism in eastern Europe inspired the pop group to compose this optimistic anthem for what many hoped would be a unique, breakthrough
    decade for freedom.




  2. Nirvana, “Lithium,” 1990



    "I'm so happy 'cause today
    I've found my friends ...
    They're in my head"


    The third single off of Nevermind was an appropriate anthem for members of Generation X, one of the most scrutinized and medicated generations in history.



  3. Bruce Springsteen, “Streets of Philadelphia," 1994



    "Ain't no angel gonna greet me.
    It's just you and I my friend.
    My clothes don't fit me no more,
    I walked a thousand miles
    Just to slip this skin."


    Written for the movie “Philadelphia,” Springsteen’s single was one of the few pop songs to confront the desperation and rage felt by many over the HIV-AIDS crisis.




  4. R.E.M. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” 1994



    "You said that irony was
    the shackles of youth,
    uh huh."


    The alternative rockers’ lyrics always were a bit obtuse, but it’s hard not to take this one as a comment on the irony-drenched culture of Generation X.




  5. The Notorious B.I.G., “Juicy,” 1994



    "You never thought that hip hop would take it this far
    Now I'm in the limelight cause I rhyme tight
    Time to get paid, blow up like the World Trade"


    The rapper also known as Biggie Smalls tells of his rise to “the top” and, in parallel, the rise of hip-hop as a cultural mainstay. Ominously, his lyrics reference the 1994 World Trade Center bombing.




  6. Michael Jackson (ft. Janet Jackson), ”Scream,” 1995



    “I’m tired of injustice, I’m tired of the schemes,
    The lies are disgusting, so what does it mean?
    You’re kicking me down, I got to get up,
    As jacked as it sounds, the whole system sucks"


    In his first single since child abuse allegations were made against him in 1993, MJ and his sister Janet rage against the “system” with the kind of angry realism that, before the ‘90s, would have been relegated to punk.




  7. U2, “Miss Sarajevo,” 1995



    "Is there a time for keeping your distance
    A time to turn your eyes away?
    Is there a time for keeping your head down
    For getting on with your day?"


    The song, inspired by a journalist’s account of a beauty pageant held in the besieged city, was the band’s effort to connect its fans across the world with victims of the Bosnian conflict.




  8. Smashing Pumpkins, "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," 1995



    "Despite all my rage
    I’m still just a rat in a cage"


    Alternative rockers Smashing Pumpkins captured the gloomy nihilistic 1990s Goth outlook that made black nail polish so popular.




  9. Lauryn Hill, “Everything is Everything,” 1998



    "Let's love ourselves then we can't fail
    To make a better situation
    Tomorrow, our seeds will grow
    All we need is dedication"


    In a decade when jaded cynicism sometimes grew oppressive, Hill encouraged her listeners to struggle to stay positive.




  10. Ricky Martin, “La Vida Loca,” 1999



    "She never drinks the water
    and makes you order French Champagne
    Once you've had a taste of her
    you'll never be the same"


    The booming 1990s economy enabled luxurious, decadent lifestyles for some, though it all came crashing down when the bubble eventually burst.




3 comments
jean capretti
jean capretti

what  what about alice in chains, soundgarden, pearl jam, comeon  thats the real stuff  nirvana is great but everyone forgets about layne

Chris Montemayor
Chris Montemayor

Wow.Don’t even quite know where to start.Oh, wait, yes I do; here’s the 10 greatest of the era for real: the chorus of Beck’s “Loser” (duhhh), the catchphrase from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (obligatory for a reason), the self-explanatory chorus entreaty of Cypress Hill’s “I Wanna Get High” (talkin’ ‘bout my generation), the last couple of lines and chorus of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice”, the incessant bridge and chorus of Radiohead’s “Creep”, the chorus (particularly first and last lines) of Hole’s “Doll Parts”, the chorus ‘wish’ of Nine Inch Nail’s “Wish”, the Q-and-A call-and-response of Naughty By Nature’s “O.P.P”, the amoral imperative (“Well it’s just a simple fact…”) of Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing”, and the smack-talking final verse of Pavement’s “Range Life”.There.I feel better.Honorable mention: the opening words of Eminem’s “My Name Is” (somebody had to put the decade to bed, right?)