The 50 most important female artists of the 90s
Look at the data and you’ll learn that music is still a male-dominated affair. But things are getting better. The 90s was not all that long ago, but the disparity of female involvement in the biggest acts of that decade, compared to men, is shocking.
Women were rarely glorified in the same way as their male counterparts, but that’s not to say they weren’t there. And they were incredible.
There was the riot grrrl movement that sought to shake up gender roles, not just for musicians, but for an audience as well.
There were the women who took grunge and injected their own sense of vitriol and disaffectedness to make something as primal and spirited as their male counterparts.
There was the movement of hip hop and R&B stars who set fire to the worn-out script of misogyny and objectification that had pervaded their scene in its beginnings.
No matter what kinda music you were into, there were women making it with just as much class, passion and skill as their male counterparts.
Here we have a list of 50 women who blazed a trail through the 90s. Artists who changed lives, who inspired people of all genders and musical persuasions. Artists who made damn great music; many of them continue to do so to this day.
A quick note: we don't feel completely comfortable 'ranking' such amazing artists. They all mean a lot to us in different ways. Each member of the Double J team submitted a list of women that inspired them in the 90s and these are the artists that appeared most frequently in those lists.
Here are the 50 most important female artists of the 90s.
50. Angelique Kidjo
Afropop was such a huge part of the 90s and Angélique Kidjo was among the most important figures when it came to bringing the sound of Africa to the western world.
The Beninese woman stormed the charts with her debut album Logozo. Then, through the rest of the 90s, she continued to dazzle us with albums that touched on jazz, dance, pop and African music – performed in an array of different langauges – and an unrelenting live show that positioned her as one of the most engaging performers in the world. – Dan Condon
49. Tanya Donelly
Spoiler: we’ll have more on Throwing Muses later in this list. So let’s talk about Tanya Donelly’s other stuff. There was a little band called The Breeders that she formed with Kim Deal (yeah, more on them later too).
After making one record with them, she formed Belly. If you know Belly, you probably adore them. If you don’t, you need to fix that: 1993’s Star is one of the great guitar pop records of the 90s and holds up remarkably, while 1995’s King isn’t far behind.
Donelly then went solo and totally ruled at that too. Calling her unsung feels backhanded, but her songwriting is so great that she deserves to be a superstar. – Dan Condon
48. Angie Hart
Angie Hart first came to our attention when her band Frente! released their second EP Clunk, which featured their breakthrough hit ‘Ordinary Angels’. That success led to working with Prince’s producer Michael Koppelman for their debut full length Marvin The Album.
Hart had a quirky, infectious quality to her voice out front of a band with a strong acoustic aesthetic; a sound at odds with the guitar-heavy grunge sound of that era. Hart’s gorgeous cover of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ was a B-side standout.
She then went on to form Splendid – a pop duo with then-husband Jesse Tobias; collaborating with 90s TV hitmaker Joss Whedon on music for Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Recent projects included Holidays On Ice with Dean Manning and solo works. – Tatjana Clancy
47. Juliana Hatfield
Juliana Hatfield found her musical feet in Blake Babies, the late-80s Boston peers of another hopeful act at the time called The Lemonheads. After three decent albums, Blake Babies split in 1991 and Hatfield began a far more successful solo career. Her debut album Hey Babe was a solid start, but 1993’s Become What You Are put her poster on the wall for every indie loving music kid of the 90s.
The album’s hit single ‘My Sister’ was a biographical tale about her close relationship with her older brother’s girlfriend Meg who lived with them at the time and inspired her both as a person and musically.
Her third album Only Everything cemented Hatfield’s strengths as a distinct vocalist and natural songwriter. She kept the alternative world close to her craft, even if the industry kept demanding more hits from her. A survivor at heart, she continues to release albums today. – Richard Kingsmill
46. Hope Sandoval
They never made it to our shores, but, for three amazing albums produced in the 90s, we happily drowned in the dreamy, reverb drenched voice of Hope Sandoval, backed by the lazy, hazy guitar tones and drones of the Velvetesque Mazzy Star.
Sandoval crafts dreamy, moody tales, cryptic at times, allowing you to form your own interpretation or simply inviting you to lie back and float in the warm ecstasy of it all.
She has lent her hauntingly beautiful vocal talents on collaborations with The Jesus and Mary Chain, Massive Attack, The Chemical Brothers and many others. Currently she fronts the band Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions with Colm Ó Cíosóig of My Bloody Valentine. – Phil McKellar
45. Suze DeMarchi
As lead singer/guitarist with Baby Animals, Suze DeMarchi was the Aussie female rockstar of the early-90s. While Chrissy Amphlett paved the way almost a decade earlier, her closest peer at the time would have been Michael Hutchence.
It’s easy to rattle off what were (and still are) commercial rock staples. ‘Early Warning’, ‘Rush’ and ‘One Word’ from debut album Baby Animals (1991) led to three ARIA Awards including Album of the Year.
Second album Shaved and Dangerous (1993) was to be their last as DeMarchi moved to America with husband Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme). The band split in 1996, reforming in 2007 and releasing a new album for their loyal fanbase. – Dorothy Markek
44. Ruby Hunter
‘Down City Streets’ is one of the many highlights on Archie Roach’s brilliant debut album Charcoal Lane. Ruby Hunter, Roach’s life partner, wrote the song about her own life. It’s heart-wrenching and pure, showing Hunter’s natural way with words.
We heard plenty more of that in her 1994 album Thoughts Within, with great songs like ‘Let My Children Be’ showing her talent as a solo artist in her own right.
Towards the end of the 90s Archie and Ruby would tour schools in Indigenous communities across the country, hosting songwriting workshops and undoubtedly inspiring many. – Dan Condon
43. Kat Bjelland
Kat Bjelland’s mix of sexualised baby doll femininity and punk aggression made her one of the 90s most arresting performers. As lead singer of Babes In Toyland, Bjelland often spat both fury and ominous sweetness in the course of a single song. They were always best listened to really loud so you could scream about girl stuff along with her.
But Bjelland and Babes In Toyland were most powerful in taking so many of the trappings of girl hood – dolls, fairies, virginal white dresses – and recasting them against a primal dissonant for of punk. If Kathleen Hanna symbolised Girls to the Front, Kat Bjelland was Girls On Top and she inspired a legion of other girls to pick up guitars and climb up there with her. – Karen Leng
The inheritor of Sade’s Quiet Storm crown, R&B singer Aaliyah’s reign was heralded by her 1994 single, ‘Back & Forth’. Written and produced by R. Kelly, their studio partnership courted controversy when it was revealed an underage Aaliyah had wed her Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number collaborator.
While Aaliyah went on to work with a who’s-who of 90s production talent – including Jermaine Dupri, Rodney Jerkins and Darryl Simmons – it was her catalogue of hits with super-producer Timbaland that cemented her status as the Queen of slow-burn R&B.
In 2001, at just 22, Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash in the Bahamas, shortly after filming the video to her song ‘Rock the Boat’. – Sam Wicks
41. Justine Frischmann
While Blur and Oasis were busy turning Britpop into a global brand, Justine Frischmann was fronting the female alternative to beer-soaked lads’ anthems. She cut her teeth co-founding Suede with Brett Anderson in the late 80s, before coming together with three friends to form Elastica in 1992.
They separated themselves from the Britpop pack through a smart reinvention of 70s New York art punk, giving them a cool swagger that was hard to ignore. Frischmann was seldom out of the tabloids due to her relationship with Damon Albarn. The pressure of the mainstream media spotlight undoubtedly contributed to the band’s untimely demise after only two albums. – Stu Buchanan
40. Nina Persson
The quintessential embodiment of Scandinavian cool, Nina Persson strode into centre stage off the back of The Cardigans’ twee anthem, ‘Lovefool’. Their worldwide hit was featured in two smash-hit films that have come to embody glossy 90s teen angst, Romeo + Juliet and Cruel Intentions.
But just when it looked like they might be a kooky one-hit wonder, The Cardigans’ did a handbrake turn into the album Gran Tursimo, showing off Nina’s true calibre as a glorious rock frontwoman and a force to be reckoned with.
Her successive project A Camp solidified her credentials, via collaborations with Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha and Mark Linkous from Sparklehorse. – Stu Buchanan
39. Roisin Murphy
The chat up line Roisin Murphy used on Mark Brydon seems to sum up the Irishwoman's modus operandi. “Do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my body!” That question became the title of their 1995 album as Moloko.
The duo mixed elements of trip hop, jazz, funk, drum n bass and disco. Murphy was like Catwoman; passionate and straight to the point, yet somehow aloof. She wanted you right now... but wasn’t fussed if it was you or the other guy. Dressing up was as fun as the dressing down.
While their first two albums had limited success, it was a remix of ‘Sing it Back’ which gave Murphy her breakthrough success at the end of the decade. – Dorothy Markek
38. Janet English
Janet English was determined to make the macho mosh pits at Spiderbait shows safe spaces for women to let loose. There was only so much she could do, but she certainly led by example.
Janet proved that women were not only welcome in rock’n’roll, they provided a different, much needed, kind of power that men couldn’t. Just listen to Spiderbait’s ‘Hot Water & Milk’ or Happyland’s ‘Don't You Know Who I Am?’ and you’ll realise exactly why this brilliant bassist, songwriter and singer is on this list.
And none of her bands would have been quite the same without her killer visual art skills. – Dan Condon
37. Liz Phair
Liz Phair’s 1993 debut album Exile In Guyville is a brilliant, uncompromising, forthright piece of music that made her an instant indie rock star. But Phair’s genius goes well beyond that significant first splash.
Perhaps her most daring moment of the 90s came in 1998 with Whitechocolatespaceegg, which saw Phair step away from indie rock into the world of pop and come out shining.
Not everyone loved it, but tracks like ‘Polyester Bride’ and ‘What Makes You Happy’ are quite simply signs of pop genius. – Dan Condon
36. Veruca Salt
Named for one of the bratty anti-heroes in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Veruca Salt were a Chicago four-piece fronted by Louise Post.
Their first breakthrough track was the fiercely catchy ‘Seether’ – later revealed to be about their fearless leader – which earned them a support slot with Hole.
After they released their first record All Hail Me – they became a bona fide MTV Hit. – Tatjana Clancy
35. Ella Hooper
It’s astonishing that Ella Hooper was 13-years-old when she and older brother Jesse formed Killing Heidi in Violet Town in 1996. Their song ‘Kettle’ won a triple j Unearthed competition that year.
Debut single ‘Weir’ and speedy follow up ‘Mascara’ came late in 1999, before the band released debut album Reflector in early 2000. But, before then, we watched Ella perform with spunk and bags of energy on our music TV staples.
Sporting dreads and midriff tops, Ella was a relatable teen role model, fronting a band that would never be the cool kids. – Dorothy Markek
34. Christine Anu
Christine Anu took Neil Murray’s ‘My Island Home’ to the mainstream, she released one of the most enduring Australian pop singles of the decade with ‘Party’ and, for a while, she was everywhere on TV, radio and even the theatre stage.
By the 1990s, it should not have been significant that an Indigenous woman was a multi-ARIA winner, platinum recording artist and, most significantly, a role model for younger people. But it was, and she took on the role with aplomb. – Dan Condon
33. Laetitia Sadier
Stereolab’s music always felt like the sonic equivalent of my recurring dream of the perfect op shop: a heavenly room filled with all the best records, clothes, dusty vintage synths and giant, mounted swordfish.
Vocalist/musician Laetitia Sadier and partner Tim Gane orchestrated a beautiful collage of Jean-Luc Godard movies, Gainsbourg-esque Jazz, art-school Indie and leftfield electronica.
Though her name may forever be linked to that band’s celebrated 90s output, Laetitia Sadier has been relentlessly creative all the while; recently collaborating with artists as diverse as Mombojo and Tyler, The Creator. – Lance Ferguson
32. Dolores O’Riordan
I still remember the first time I heard Dolores O’Riordan’s voice, over a cassette player at my mum’s work hanging out one day after school. A fellow employee, a younger Irish woman, had brought an album into the office. As No Need To Argue played, I sat in silence, soaking up every iota of sound that was coming out of those speakers.
Listening to Dolores sing was like reading a book I couldn’t put down, learning about the IRA, about the Easter Rebellion, about paparazzi and trappings of fame. Luckily for me, when I asked my mum’s co-worker for a copy of the tape, she made me two. – Gemma Pike
31. Kristin Hersh
By the beginning of the 90s Kristin Hersh and her band Throwing Muses were already in the spotlight for their angular, kinetic pop and Hersh’s raw and often stream of consciousness lyrics.
Despite – or perhaps because of - battles with her mental health through the years, Kristin Hersh has always been an immensely powerful songwriter.
Whether working with her band or in solo acoustic mode, Kristin Hersh is captivating because she is not afraid to be herself – genuine, tortured, imaginative and a cracking guitarist too. – Karen Leng
30. Sinead O'Connor
Few artists are as bewildering, infuriating, intriguing and brilliantly talented as Sinead O’Connor. Let’s forget the politics and just stick with the music.
After that jaw-dropping debut, The Lion And The Cobra, in 1987, we heard the follow up in 1990. Don’t listen to any of the singles from I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, listen to ‘I Am Stretched On Your Grave’. It’s basically a beat and that voice. As good as the singles are, and that Prince cover is truly magnificent, that song is the musical heart of the album and one of the best recordings of the 90s.
Two years later we got an album of jazz covers. I don’t know why. Then the highly inconsistent Universal Mother. Nothing made sense anymore. But I kept listening, and still do today, because that voice is one of the best instruments I’ve ever heard. – Richard Kingsmill
29. Deborah Conway
Already a well-established artist by the start of the 90s, Deborah Conway released one of our country’s most outstanding pop albums, String Of Pearls, in 1991. But the former Do-Ré-Mi frontwoman was never going to try and be a pop star.
Albums like Bitch Epic and My Third Husband showed that she shone when writing intriguingly dark songs, while the short-lived Ultrasound project took her to a cinematic, more experimental place midway through the decade. – Dan Condon
Funny, smart, loud and powerful, these four ladies made songs that made you feel like you could take on anyone or anything! They were like the ultimate gang and I dearly would have loved to have been part of the mayhem and shenanigans they wreaked wherever they went.
Their punk/grunge aesthetic, fierce and fuzzed up sound and hilarious antics were all about subversion and, through the mass reach of their hit ‘Pretend We’re Dead’, they gave bored suburban kids the keys to some much-needed angst relief.
These women also founded the Rock For Choice concerts. Needless to say, total legends. – Caz Tran
Although a four piece, Sydney band Clouds revolves around the distinct vocal harmonies and guitars of Jodi Phillis and Patricia Young. Their complex, lyrically and visually evocative songs evoked an intensity that didn’t rely on having to shout and scream, pull off big riffs or ramp up the volume.
The sweetness of their melodies acts like the nectar of the pitcher plant drawing our senses inward and it’s all too late before we realise we’ve slid down the slippery slope into a world filled with the surreal and the macabre. Best not to fight it though, it’s just the darkness that lies within. Jodi and Trisha showed us it can be a fascinating and revealing world worthy of exploring. – Caz Tran
26. Neneh Cherry
Who could forget the image of Neneh Cherry in her music video for ‘Manchild’, from her 1989 record Raw Like Sushi? She was in lace bike pants, Adidas high tops, a bath towel wrapped on her head, and holding her own newborn? It’s etched on my memory. She embraced all elements of being a woman and an artist, in her work and in her life and never shied away from it.
In the 90s it was only right that she evolved into one of the most interesting artists of the decade, exploring a musical personality delving back into her jazz, punk and hip hop beginnings. Her albums Homebrew and Man are essential listening. Her return after a 20-year absence with the Blank Project album in 2014 was triumphant. I just wished she hadn’t left it so long. – Myf Warhurst
From Desperately Seeking Susan and portraying the ultimate Material Girl in the 80s, the 90s saw Madonna, The Queen of Pop, offend her critics more than ever. A particularly scandalous highlight was her coffee table book Sex, featuring provocative and explicit images at the same time as her fifth studio album Erotica was released.
She garnered critical acclaim for her portrayal of Eva Peron in Evita, a role that saw her reinvent herself again as she took home a Golden Globe and Artist Achievement award. She has led the charge for countless female artists and continues to shock and inspire. Plenty more sacrilegious tunes and bottomless leotards where that came from. – Tatjana Clancy
24. Alanis Morissette
It still bothers me that Alanis Morissette, and particularly her 1995 album Jagged Little Pill, has been mocked so mercilessly for having a raw and emotional approach.
For me, Alanis wasn’t an unkempt hippy, over-singing the poetry she poured into her verses. She was a beacon of confidence and honesty, dealing with life head on. As a young girl I drank up every line she sang, learning not only about her experiences with love, friendship, jealousy, drug use, adultery, self-esteem… but realising and rationalising my own.
And seriously, you’ve gotta pay credit where credit is due. ‘And are you thinking of me when you fuck her’?! Unstoppable. – Gemma Pike
23. Tracey Thorn
In the 90s, Tracey Thorn was almost solely focused on her best-known project Everything But The Girl. The duo released six records across the decade, each of them luscious takes on soulful pop that were masterfully written and performed with utter class.
Some of the arrangements on those early-90s albums sound kinda dated now, but Thorn’s voice is timeless; a perfect amalgam of jazz, pop, soul and something that’s utterly unique.
After 13 years and nine albums, they became superstars with after the Todd Terry remix of their single ‘Missing’ became a smash hit. It remains one of the most enduring singles of the decade, but their whole catalogue deserves revisiting. – Dan Condon
The first four Sleater-Kinney records are powerful artefacts. Their music was full of contradictions. It was catchy, strange, angsty, fun, literate, naïve, beautiful and raucous, but it all came together so cohesively.
They were – and still are – masterful songwriters and brilliant musicians. Many of their musical ideas came out of leftfield, but they’ve been so influential on so much of the best indie rock of the past 20 years. – Dan Condon
21. Elizabeth Fraser
By the time the wider world heard Elizabeth Fraser’s transcendent tones on Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ in 1998, she had already established the hallmarks of her unique musical voice over a decade earlier.
Her often impenetrable lyrics broadcast Glossolalia-fashion, swathed in operatic melancholia and surrounded in the shimmering guitar-scapes of Cocteau Twins and 4AD all-star band This Mortal Coil.
Before I launch into all the stuff about how Elizabeth Fraser’s songs got me through high school and a multitude of personal melodramas – I advise you to drown me out by turning up ‘Bluebeard’ really loud. – Lance Ferguson
Before The Spice Girls, TLC were the original poster children for Girl Power.
From songs like ‘No Scrubs’ which is all about not putting up with bad boyfriends, to safe sex with ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’, T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli were way before the curve when it came to empowerment through music.
These women were powerhouses of the new soul/R&B/hip hop hybrid music that is so prevalent today. And if you can resist singing along to the chorus of ‘Waterfalls’, you must be without a pulse. – Myf Warhurst
19. Chrissy Amphlett
Divinyls closed out the 80s strongly. Their Temperamental album continued the band's steady rise in Australia, and now it was time for the world to discover this crowd slaying act.
In 1990, they released their fourth and most popular album. Its success was largely due to its striking lead single which, in the hands of any singer less than Chrissy Amphlett, would have been butchered and turned into something gratuitous and cheap.
Instead, ‘I Touch Myself’ was a masterstroke that worked off Amphlett’s empowering presence. She broke the mould of what a singer – both male and female – could say, be and do. – Richard Kingsmill
18. Gwen Stefani
There was no one quite like Gwen Stefani in the 90s. While the first two No Doubt albums rippled beneath the surface for the band, it was 1995’s Tragic Kingdom that propelled them to superstardom.
Straddling that cool-yet-commercially successful line, Gwen gave young women all over the world far more than just a style icon. She was introducing girls to a world of feminism and empowerment.
Her lyrics didn’t mince words, as she shared how to be strong and independent (‘Just A Girl’), that you didn’t need no relationship bullshit (‘Spiderwebs’), dealing with young love and heartbreak (‘Don’t Speak’) – all with one of the best voices around. – Gemma Pike
17. Ani DiFranco
New York’s Ani DiFranco was, and still is, the ultimate DIY muso of the 90s. Her success came from the ground up. At 18, she started Righteous Babe Records and was answerable to no one but herself. It wasn’t until her seventh album that she achieved something of a breakthrough ‘hit’ with the swear fest ‘Untouchable Face’. One of the best songs about unrequited love, it had an extended life into 1997 via the Living In Clip recording.
Although she’s been nominated multiple times in the folk and rock Grammy categories, DiFranco has often extended her sound into jazz, hip hop and funk. Ten studio albums in total across the 90s, not to mention all her social activism, puts DiFranco rightly in the top half of this list. – Richard Kingsmill
16. Tori Amos
Myra Ellen Amos was the daughter of a southern Methodist minister. The pianist and singer-songwriter was one of the most productive (five albums), critically lauded and commercially successfully artists of the 90s. With an unmistakeable vocal style, cynics found her lyrics florid and her delivery overly dramatic. To her fans she was a poster-woman (never girl) for questioning, amorous misfits.
Tori Amos confronted personal demons through her work, dominated by themes of religion, sexuality and femininity. At the same time, she struggled to execute her vision in a male-dominated music industry.
It’s often said a true artist is one who polarises people. What can’t be disputed is that she was an iconoclast who paved the way for a new generation of females. – Dorothy Markek
15. Kylie Minogue
The transformation of Kylie Minogue was one of the true wonders of the 90s. Few expected the 'singing budgie' to evolve from a mere puppet of the Svengali writing team of Stock Aitken Waterman. But evolve she did; first into a gay icon with club killers like ‘Confide In Me’, then to Nick Cave collaborator and muse, and finally to indie star on her sixth LP Impossible Princess.
On that 1997 release, Kylie stood tall and worked and wrote alongside the likes of James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers, Dave Ball and Rob Dougan. What it lacked in commercial success (the Hottest 100 hit ‘Did it Again’ aside), it notched up extra points for her skyrocketing credibility. – Richard Kingsmill
Formed in the mid-80s in the New York borough of Queens, the trio (don’t forget DJ Spinderella!) was one of the first all-female rap groups at a time when the genre was still underground.
Salt-N-Pepa had a take no prisoners approach, most evident on 1993 classic Very Necessary. They could spit as loud and as dirty as their male counterparts, but never as mean. They treated the opposite sex as objects to desire, but never denigrate... unless they deserved it. To have fun with but always with a mutual understanding and respect.
They were also trailblazers in their outspoken advocacy of safe sexual practises at a time when AIDS awareness was limited and victims stigmatised. – Dorothy Markek
13. Shirley Manson
The story goes that Shirley Manson was selected to front Garbage after Nirvana producer Butch Vig saw her on MTV fronting Glaswegian band Goodbye Mr Mackenzie.
The swagger and DGAF attitude were there from the start, and while the world-conquering Garbage might have had the whiff of a manufactured band about them, Shirley Manson was absolutely the real deal. She dialled up her otherworldly alien looks with a snarl and attitude that played perfectly into the hands of MTV and adoring fans.
The fact that she would go on to play a bad-ass Terminator in the short-lived TV series spin-off says it all. – Stu Buchanan
12. Kim Deal
She couldn’t yet play the bass when she answered an ad in the Boston Phoenix to join iconic surf indie-rock band Pixies, but subsequently became one of the best. When the famously controlling Black Francis let her have a go, Kim Deal wrote some of the Pixies’ best tracks. Her clear, bright vocals and jagged bass were always a perfect foil to Francis’ darker and desperate wail.
Bubbling alongside the Pixies’ burgeoning success was side-project The Breeders, formed with sister Kelley and Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donnelly. The band allowed Deal’s songwriting to shine, with their debut Pod earning praise from Kurt Cobain, who remarked that Deal should have written more songs for Pixies. The band’s next record Last Splash went platinum and featured the hits ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Divine Hammer’. – Tatjana Clancy
11. Kathleen Hanna
In the early 90s, Olympia, Washington’s thriving indie music community was often overshadowed by the attention given to grunge heavyweights in nearby Seattle. But all that changed with the arrival of Bikini Kill, led by Kathleen Hanna.
She shone day-glo pink in a sea of flannel, as her band dished out sassy and smart punk that spoke for girls and equality. Her songwriting chops, DIY attitude and political feminism were the spark for riot grrrl – a movement that feels relevant as ever today. – Karen Leng
10. Beth Gibbons
Birthing the often-maligned trip hop genre is a charge that lays unfairly at the feet of Portishead (it was actually coined to describe earlier releases from Mo Wax and DJ Shadow). But their novel take on slow motion hip hop, with reverb-soaked, spaghetti-western guitar, saw them land on coffee tables of millions of music fans worldwide.
But it was Beth Gibbons’ eerie, fragile vocal that won us all over, and separated the 1995 debut Dummy from the rest of the pack. Thanks in no small part to Beth's astonishing contribution, it's a record that has transcended its roots and entered the hallowed pantheon of timeless classic albums. – Stu Buchanan
9. Missy Elliott
Missy Elliot absolutely changed the course of hip hop in the 90s. When her debut solo record Supa Dupa Fly came out in 1997, she blew us away with her presence, rhymes and extraordinary production. Her sound was ground-breaking, futuristic and the work she did with co-producer Timbaland set the bar high for the next decade – with many only able to imitate.
The content of her music was game changing. Her lyrics were sex positive, all about empowerment and fun. She broke the mould and made a new one, all the while making us want to dance (Who can forget ‘Get Your Freak On’?)
Visually she broke boundaries too – she had complete creative control of her image, wore whatever the hell she wanted, never conformed to dull ideals of beauty, and had some most kick arse videos of all time. All hail Missy. – Myf Warhurst
8. Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple is one of those musicians who was born with creativity coursing through their veins. As a classically trained pianist, she was composing music as an eight-year-old and playing jazz standards in her teens. She had barely reached adulthood when she won a Grammy award.
It’s not just her pure musicality and knack for writing adventurous pop music that makes her an inspiration. She’s overcome horrible adversity throughout her life to get where she has, all the while refusing to let it define her. In fact, her sophomore album title When the Pawn... – which at the time broke the record for the longest ever album title – was Apple’s response to negative public sentiment toward her.
Ultimately, Fiona Apple made piano pop cool. – Nick Langley
7. Kim Gordon
In the 90s no one epitomised cool like Kim Gordon. I dreamed about being her best friend and talking about punk rock and art and how girls playing music should have more control over their image and their art.
I even picked up a bass guitar once and tried playing it with a screwdriver, just like her. The thing is, Kim Gordon was the real deal. Stylish, provocative, smart, reserved, feminine and feisty. She inspired girls (and boys) to start bands and be fearless. And on Sonic Youth’s first Australian tour, she stage-dived into the mosh pit playing her bass as the band covered ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. Total respect. – Karen Leng
6. Erykah Badu
The best thing about Erykah Badu is that you never know where she’s going to go next. There are so few artists who can continually reinvent their sound, and deliver every single time.
From smooth, chilled out R&B and soul, to hard-hitting experimental hip hop and mind-bending psychedelic jazz, her sound has never stayed the same.
In the 90s, her debut album Baduizm ensured that, no matter what happened next, she’d have a place in the annals of R&B for life. – Dan Condon
As frontwoman of Magic Dirt through the 90s, Adalita and her band wrote progressive, noisy, ambitious, emotional and unpretentious songs that blended noise, pop, grunge and indie rock into a seamless package.
When she played, she exuded an untouchable coolness, like the older sister you’d never have the guts to talk to. But, by the end of the show, you’d realise she was unassuming and charming, like a friend who’s been a part of your life for years. Best thing is, she’s still there for us. – Dan Condon
4. Courtney Love
Uncompromising and unapologetic in every sense, Courtney Love is a woman who, for right or wrong, backed herself. These days she is demurely dressed, her makeup refined, a devoted mother to Frances Bean and well-regarded for her acting.
But the 90s was when she made her mark on many of us unsuspecting music fans. Her messy mop of hair, overdone make up and torn frilly dresses presented an image of a conflicted girl-woman-doll, an aesthetic that blurred the lines between gender, sexuality and commodification.
Opinionated and savvy, Love was also unafraid to turn herself inside out in her need to express herself. A fearless figure and little wonder she was such a magnet for angry and disaffected girls and boys everywhere. – Caz Tran
3. Lauryn Hill
There’s a reason Lauryn Hill is lauded by many contemporary artists as the Grand Dame of hip hop. Her success with the Fugees as well as her own sensational Miseducation… album, which blended soul and reggae with hip hop, had songs that spoke of womanhood, love, fame and spirituality with a tenderness and strength.
Her impact elevated the genre to a new level within the mainstream. At a time when hip hop was largely dominated by men making gangsta rap and women cast as objects of glossy sexualised imagery, Ms Hill showed us that being a woman of substance was so much more worthwhile than just being one of style. – Caz Tran
2. PJ Harvey
Her debut single ‘Dress’ may have signalled the birth of a new English talent in 1991, but it was the ‘Sheela-Na-Gig’ follow up early the following year that converted so many of us to this blazing presence named Polly Jean Harvey.
Inspired by single-minded legends like Bob Dylan and Captain Beefheart, Harvey drew on lessons learnt from those two when it came time to release albums herself at the age of 23.
The primal blues’ sounds of Dry and Rid Of Me were followed by the more textured To Bring You My Love and Is This Desire? At the heart of all those four albums was some intense storytelling, where Harvey explored sex and relationships in poetic depth. Her abilities remain strong as ever today. – Richard Kingsmill
As the 80s came to a close, Björk’s star was rising fast as a member of indie darlings The Sugarcubes. But, even then, no one could have predicted just how far that star would ascend.
Björk had been playing in punk and indie groups all her life, yet it was only when she set herself loose as a solo artist did we begin to see what she was really capable of.
In 1992, Debut mixed leftfield electronic pop with jazz, trip hop, house and classical with an idiosyncratic voice that is now instantly recognisable the world over.
It was a spectacular calling card, housing a string of hit singles that played well with almost any crowd, accompanied by ground-breaking videos from Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze.
Debut also kickstarted her career-long methodology of collaborating with some of the brightest minds in alternative music, all of whom wisely allowed Björk’s skills as a writer, vocalist, producer and arranger to sit centre stage. Nellee Hooper, Tricky and Graham Massey of 808 State were all there for Debut and 1995’s Post.
By the time the decade was out, she’d added Madonna, Thom Yorke, fashion designer Alexander McQueen and radical film-maker Lars von Trier to this very long list.
There’s no one that defines 90s electronic pop music quite like Björk, and it’s remarkable to think that she is now just as radical and relevant as she ever was, with an energy that shows no sign of waning. – Stu Buchanan