Sure, you had the Bill Clinton blowjob scandal, OJ, Pakistan and India going nuclear, mad cow disease, the Rodney King decision, and Titanic. But what made the '90s truly awful was its music. That's not to say that there weren't bright spots -- early Beck, say, or Ok Computer and much of hip-hop's golden era -- but what passed for mainstream rock was awful, particularly when it was tagged with the "alternative" qualifier.
And considering that internet music platforms hadn't much gotten going, too often the crap on the radio was what we were stuck with. As a mode of catharsis, then, let's take a look back at what was so dispiriting about this pivotal time in our lives. We promise there is no C+C Music Factory. -Ben Westhoff
10. 4 Non Blondes
Bigger, Better, Faster, More (1992)
Let's just get it out there: "What's Up?" is, bar fucking none, the worst song ever written. The repetitive verse drags on for approximately two hours and the "HAAAYAAAYAAAAAAY" chorus is like grating your own fingers. The rest of the album -- there be dragons, but I love y'all so much, I actually listened to it -- is sub-open-mic-night level tunes of confession and protest ("Old Mr. Heffer," "Dear Mr. President") and ill-advised forays into funk metal ("Superfly"). Remember that particularly naïve freshman in your dorm with an acoustic guitar who fancied him or herself a songwriter? Remember the sense of panic that ensued whenever they reached for their six string? Imagine a whole album of that. -Nicholas Pell
Even in their youthful exuberance, we consider U2 one of the most pretentious, uncomfortably earnest bands in the world, and never more so than on Zooropa, where they are bizarrely serious and self-important even while being playful and ironic. Bono -- and really, any sentence that begins with his name is bound to be comedy gold -- stated that he thought U2 were working on their Sgt. Pepper. At least they later wised up: Both he and The Edge later said that Zooropa is a decidedly mediocre U2 effort. -Nicholas Pell
8. Carmen Electra
Carmen Electra (1993)
Carmen Electra, the album, is physical proof that miracles can happen when you're fucking Prince Rogers Nelson. He'll get his team of Paisley Park Records to assemble your whole shitty album, for starters. "Funk is in my round buns, baby," Electra sings, like someone cut from the middle school glee club. And we're glad that funk is somewhere, we guess, because it's nowhere else here. Behind Electra's and Prince's we-wrote-this-in-the-studio-as-we-were-recording-it lyrics is a series of thin dance tracks that Prince can't possibly have been paying attention to. The album appears to be just a launchpad for the primary single, "Go Go Dancer," whose main success is in dissuading aspiring dancers from the profession. This whole record marks Electra as a terrible Fergie before Fergie was a terrible Fergie. And that's, um, pretty remarkable. -Paul Bradley
7. Vanilla Ice
To The Extreme (1990)
Just four months after Public Enemy released Fear of a Black Planet, Robert Van Winkle gave us more reason to fear a white one. Once you get past the admittedly hard-to-resist "Ice Ice Baby," To the Extreme quickly descends into parachute-pantsed minstrelsy, as Ice delivers unintentionally laughable lines like "I go to work on the floor like a wet mop" in a flow stiffer than his high-top fade. With this work, Ice undoubtedly set back the white (rapper) race a decade. -Andy Hermann
Follow the Leader (1998)
It's best to forget everything about Follow the Leader. Forget the braids, dreads, piercings, kilts, and the fact that Korn is from Bakersfield. Forget the pseudo-metal guitar riffs, banshee beat boxing, mind-numbing bass slapping, unwarranted record scratches, and horrible high-school locker room rhymes from Fred Durst and Jonathan Davis. Above all, don't attempt to decipher the meaning of the nebulous, angst-ridden "something" Davis keeps screaming about (the word appears over 40 times, but is never explained). And, if you can, forget Ice Cube rapping over "Children of the Korn." Godspeed. -Max Bell
5. Matchbox 20
Yourself or Someone Like You (1996)
What distinguishes Matchbox Twenty's bland alternative rock from every other post-grunge '90s band? Rob Thomas's nasally, faux-drawling voice. The lyrics of Yourself or Someone Like You are dullsville, save for the controversial "Push," which many mistook as an endorsement of domestic violence. Thomas rebutted the accusation by explaining that the chorus ("I wanna push you around, well I will, well I will") referred to a woman who abused her boyfriend, not vice-versa. We can vouch that this work does indeed make us want to hit people. -Linda Leseman
4. Spice Girls
"Girl Power," the mid-'90s catch phrase made famous by the Spice Girls, was first used by Riot Grrrl icons like Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill. So in effect Spice doesn't just embody everything wack about manufactured mainstream pop, it represents poser feminism. The group members -- picked by their management to compete with boy band mania -- offered diluted, sugarcoated R&B with all the nourishment of a mouthfull of Pop Rocks and Diet Coke. Attempts at rapping ("Last Time Lover", "Wannabe") are pretty weak, and the thin harmonies ("Say You'll Be There") can't even be redeemed by the glossy production. The shocking conclusion: The Spice Girls are not, in fact, spicy. -Linda Leseman
3. Crash Test Dummies
God Shuffled His Feet (1993)
In 1993, alt rock was so damn popular that the monotonous, depressing, grating "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" managed to climb to number four. While Crash Test Dummies singer Brad Roberts' deep baritone isn't totally uninteresting, his annoying humming of the song's hook is enough to make Canadians flee south of the border. The worst part is that the track somehow vaulted this band into the mainstream consciousness, spawning three additional singles from the album, including the even more ridonkulous title track. Considering how difficult these songs are to get out of your head, hearing one once is the aural equivalent of being waterboarded. -Daniel Kohn
2. Limp Bizkit
Significant Other (1999)
Rap rock hit bottom in a splash of bong water and a clatter of wallet chains with the arrival of Fred Durst and co's second album, Significant Other. If it had just been full of mindless mosh-pit fodder like "Nookie" and "Break Stuff," it might have been merely forgettable. But Durst also tried to get all Shakespeare-quoting deep on "Re-Arranged" ("Heavy is the head that wears the crown") and loverboy-hurt on "Don't Go Off Wandering," which made the album cringeworthy even by the abysmal standards of late '90s rap metal. -Andy Hermann
Human Clay (1999)
Everything wrong with the 1990s as a decade is encapsulated here, and it's fitting that it was released at the end of 1999, like a careening avalanche of suck collecting the worst of so-called alternative rock. Borrowing from vague tautological Christian pop and adding a glassful of grunge "flavor" rung out of a Hot Topic cashier's sweaty unwashed flannel boxer shorts, Human Clay is in fact a human cultural nadir. It's the soundtrack to every slatternly vague rocker-asethetic-guy whose first instinct when confronted with nature is to stand arms outstretched and marvel at their own perceived self-majesty, reflected in inanimate rocks, trees and water.
From the my-first-guitar-lesson chord progressions to the super serious middle-school poetry to the singing that sounds like grunting through half-swallowed lumps of peanut butter, there's an impossible to scrub free air of entitlement to each note, each lyric. Human Clay cements frontman Scott Stapp's position as the vanguard of a race of humorless greaseballs scraped from the frighteningly shallow gene pool that includes dudes like the guy from Staind and all of your sister's singer-songwriter ex boyfriends. Suffice to say, this is the only time this record ought to be in the top 20 of anything. -Paul Bradley
See also: The 20 Worst Albums Of The '90s: 20-11
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