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!
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.
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.
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.
R.E.M. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” 1994
"You said that irony was
the shackles of youth,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.