The 13 Worst Songs from the 90s
Real 90s kids will hate these songs.
Sure, the 90s gave birth to musical abominations like “Barbie Girl,” “Who Let the Dogs Out,” and “MMMBop” and yes, these songs all suck shit in their own right. But as we put over a decade and a half between us and the grunge haven that was the 1990s, we’ve got to admit to ourselves that even our once beloved songs—the ones that we’ve deemed to be Official Good Songs™—don’t stand the test of time. Or perhaps they never did. Maybe we rollerbladed so quickly through the 90s in our Roca Wear and chain wallets that we never stopped to properly judge the music that was spinning on our Discmans (Discmen?). That said, here are 13 songs from the 90s that we cannot even bear to hear at this point. What are yours?
Radiohead – “Creep” (1993)
Remember when Cher heard her ex-stepbrother Josh listening to Radiohead in Clueless and she strolled into the kitchen with the line: "Wah, wah, wah, what is it about college and cry-baby music?" Well, yup, she pretty much nailed it. OK she was talking about "Fake Plastic Trees," but honestly "Creep" is easily amongst the worst in Radiohead’s back catalog. It’s insipid and whiny and if any guy actually used the line “You're so very special” you’d projectile vom all over said dude’s Converse. You want a perfect body? Get out of the house, stop staring at your navel and hiding behind your self-imposed outsider status. Man up. This song broke Radiohead and we all know the Oxford band went on to write far superior songs, but consider this: As well as being overtly wussy, it was also a straight rip of The Hollie’s “The Air That I Breathe,” which was actually penned by one Albert Hammond Sr. (yes, The Strokes’ guitarist’s Dad). Don’t believe me? This robot-hosted video will explain the breakdown. Hammond Sr. now gets more money in royalties from “Creep” than three out of the five members of Radiohead. Cha-ching!
—Kim Taylor Bennett
Blink-182 – “All the Small Things" (1999)
Now that we have enough distance from the 1999 release of Enema of the State to step away from the argument about whether Blink-182’s rampant commercial success is killing punk, let’s admit that this album is pretty fun in its juvenile delinquency. There are some catchy jams that never got radio exposure like “Don’t Leave Me” and “Mutt” (which did make it to the American Pie soundtrack! Perfect pie-fucking music.). But the song that did become a number one Billboard hit right as the 90s turned into the 00s was “All the Small Things.” I’m too lazy to check if it was ever covered on one of those Kidz Bop albums, but there’s no way they could’ve made it sound any more like a song written by a gang of five-year-olds than it already does. Let’s take a look at some of the lyrical poeticism from Tom Delonge, whose voice is at its whiniest on this song: “Late night, come home, work sucks, I know.” Or “Say it ain’t so, I will not go na na na na na (100,000x).” And he wrote this song for his wife! Look, I’m not trying to get between a man and his lady but if you reach down into your heart to speak your love to someone and all that comes out is “na na na na na na,” you should maybe rethink the whole thing.
Sublime – “What I Got” (1996)
Put aside all the obvious complaints—all the whiffs of musty bong water, all the visions of hacky sacks slumping soggily through the air, all the fraying cowrie shell and hemp necklaces. Quiet down the voices of the guys in too-large backwards caps yelling tasteless jokes, the chorus of raspy girls with dreadlocks warning you of vague toxins, the smug reassurances of the bros a year older than you to just chill out, dude. Ignore the basic premise that this song is the collective belch of a million dickheads letting out their most profound thoughts, the golem-like incarnation of the dude at the party with the acoustic guitar, the absolute nadir of a decade of inexplicably adding record scratches to stuff that didn't need them. Don't even mention the whole white reggae band thing. Yet even absent its indefensibly douchey cultural associations, “What I Got” is a song that can't help but grate. It sounds like a bad camp sing-along, the kind where someone hits the guitar box for rhythmic accompaniment. The guitar ambles nonsensically, which turns the song's one marginally cool line, “I can play the guitar like a motherfucking riot,” into a joke. Elsewhere, the lyrics are equally self-defeating. Traditional reggae imagines love as a revolutionary act; here it's somewhere between a call for conformity (“I don't get angry at the bills I have to pay”; “love's what I got / don't start a riot”) and an act of nihilism. On one hand “What I Got” is a triumph of form, a song that is truly as lazy and aimless as the lifestyle it celebrates. Yet that, in the end, is also its gravest sin: How dare this song make the grand, noble pastime of dicking around sound so unbearable?
Metallica – "Fuel" (1997)
I was nine years old in 1997, and try as I might, I could not escape this fucking song. It was always on the radio, blaring out the tinny speakers in my mom's beat-up black Jeep or breaking up Bocephus marathons in my dad's pickup truck. A few years later, it became the official NASCAR theme song, so then it really was utterly inescapable in our house. That opening salvo—where James Hetfield gibbers out a string of gramatically-correct gobbledegook— launched a thousand memes, and nailed down the song's position as the lame-ass crown jewel perched atop the pile of steaming cow turds that is Reload. To think, only ten years earlier, they'd released ...And Justice for All, and now look where they'd ended up; this was pre-Lulu, but still. The mighty had already fallen by then, but Christ, even Avril Lavigne covered this bastard song—and while her lispy, limp version certainly wasn't better, it wasn't much worse.
Sir Mix-a-Lot – “Baby Got Back” (1992)
When Nicki Minaj put out "Anaconda" last year, a lot of people were disappointed by the fact that the song didn't meet the very high expectations set by the album cover. Personally, I was disappointed because it brought the worst song of the 90s back into the spotlight: "Baby Got Back." I know that it was an empowerment anthem created to spotlight women who went beyond Cosmo-approved proportions, but it's also an objectively terrible song that does more harm than good. Drake may like his girls BBW now, but Sir Mix-a-Lot wanted girls who had big butts while still maintaining a little middle. So while the song decries the standards of beauty set out by pop culture, it also goes as far as specifying the proportions for the ideal woman, a technique that would later go on to be perfected by Nelly during the second verse of "Ride Wit Me." So yes, Sir Mix-a-Lot, you may have predicted the appeal of ass in the 90s, but that shit would've happened without you anyway. Butts are great, and if an aging rapper didn't point that out, I'm sure someone else would've gotten to it eventually.
Smash Mouth – “All Star” (1999)
Smash Mouth is a stain on the human existence. What should be a song about being yourself no matter what, proudly embracing your uniqueness, is instead the only argument we need for why ska-pop should have never existed in the first place. It’s an argument for never listening to music again. It’s an argument for shutting down San Jose and maybe even California in general. In fact, all music should be deleted because of what we’ve done, what we did, to allow this song to happen.
Did you know that, total, 13 people can say they were in Smash Mouth? Thirteen people. This is a song that was featured in not one, but two movies in 2001. This song is in Shrek. Dane Cook is in the video for this song. Dane fucking Cook. I mean come ON.
Lou Bega – “Mambo No. 5” (1999)
Unlike some of the other songs here, which are plain old bad, German/mambo singer Lou Bega’s late 90s hit “Mambo No. 5” is objectively one of the worst songs ever conceived. It’s been distinguished by many a lists as one of the most annoying singles of all time and has the very rare distinction of being so bad it’s arguably the only song covered by Kidz Bop with no observable drop in quality. But what's most disturbing about “Mambo” is its seemingly supernatural ability to endure for over a decade and a half. Worming its disease accosted existence to a new host by showing up in every commercial and cricket game (?) imaginable— a constant reminder that “yes, I won’t die.” And in spite of all this, I still love it. I own the original version, the Disney re-work, have argued at lengths that it inspired the exhaustive female-naming spiel in DMX’s “What These B**ches Want.” Hell, after watching the video for the first time in years all I’ve done is go on about how great “Monica, Erica, Rita, and Tina” would be as baby names before realizing what I’d done.
Sarah MacLaughlin – “Angel” (1997)
This song has been permanently ruined by those horrifying PSAs to adopt starving and neglected animals from the shelter. I can't even think about listening to this song without actually wanting to die from sadness. The emotional ramifications of the song and that commercial, paired with the fact that you never know when it's going to show up as you're casually watching TV and completely ruin whatever good mood you thought you were in, is enough to make it the worst song EVER.
R.E.M. – “Everybody Hurts” (1992)
Wow, OK, sure R.E.M. were one of the most influential bands in the history of indie rock. And yeah fine this song probably has helped countless people through some of the worst periods of their lives. But if you’re ever wondering why people look askance at your extremely cool taste in alternative music that shows what a deep person you are and how far outside of mainstream norms and conventions you lead your life, your answer is: this song. Listen to that caterwauling! It is unbearable. It sounds like someone’s soul being poured down a drain. It sounds like a cute, lovable animal—a bunny, a pig, a cat, take your pick of whatever most tugs at your heart—getting strangled to death. And where did these lyrics come from? It’s like our pal Michael just started singing words out of Chicken Soup for the Whiny Teenage Soul. It seems like a stretch to imagine that hearing these words wailed from on high is going to make someone feel better about life. To quote another popular lyricist from history, the Buddha, life is suffering. But Buddha knew that there was a path to enlightenment. R.E.M. is just a path to the Garden State soundtrack and every other nasally, sadsack song that came after it.
The Verve – “Bitter Sweet Symphony” (1997)
Brit-pop is unequivocally the limp hand shake of music genres, and The Verve somehow managed to make that grip looser and clammier. For the past 18 years, The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” has been the kid brother to other annoying Brit-pop songs designed for commercials, like “Wonderwall” and that one song where the Blur man says “Woo hoo.” For every eight Mercedes or Volkswagen commercial an Oasis song has appeared in, The Verve might get thrown a 15-second online ad for an Altima. Even sadder is that every time Richard Ashcroft gets a check in the mail for the band’s one song, he has to immediately write and send another check to Keith Richards. Never once has Ashcroft ever picked up the tab when Liam Gallagher wants to go grab dinner. But that’s what happens when the only memorable thing you’ve done in your career is sample a string section that covered a Rolling Stones song, and have your song show up in the focal point of some shitty 90s movie.
Blur – "Song 2"
Blur allegedly has good ("good") songs, too, but will forever be known as "that band what did the 'woo hoo' song," and that's exactly what they deserve for inflicting that upon us. It was originally meant to be a send-up of grunge, but in attempting to mock something they thought was lame, Blur managed to instead give unholy birth to a musical entity more annoying than a phalanx of coked-out Eddie Vedders. Sure, it's catchy, but so was syphilis, and look where that got Hitler.
The Woo Hoo Song's reign continues, even as other 90s novelty hits fell into a graveyard of obscurity and Buzzfeed listicles. As long as car companies are allowed to make commercials about rich people looking slightly uncomfortable and rugged outdoorsy types blowing their mortgage payments on gigantic trucks, this song will live, and Blur will profit, and the excruciating pain of existential dread that is life will continue to drag on. Listening to this song makes me actively angry, and also, more than a little confused. Like, what the fuck are you so happy about, Blur? You're British.
Primus – “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” (1995)
You know, if you stripped away the fact that this song sounds like your bass instructor showing off to his stoned jabronis, and also the Cotton Eyed Joe vocals, and the repeated use of the phrase “big brown beaver,” and the three or so minutes that could easily be cut, and the fact that it makes you feel like you’re at a state fair attended solely by people on sex offender lists, this might actually be a pretty good song!
Nirvana – "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (1991)
Man, this song is trash. Why? Well, there’s the simple fact that there are countless other Nirvana songs that are way better than “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I won't tell them to you though, because even though your millennial ass once owned a pair of Converse All-Stars with Kurt's suicide note imprinted on them, you can't name another Nirvana song (except "Learn to Fly," obviously). Moreover, this song is often considered to be one of the best songs of all time, which is kind of weird considering it's like four chords and the lyrics don't make any sense and you obviously can't understand them. People love to talk about how much they love Kurt's message—but, like, what message? "Hello! How low! Mosquitos!" Nice. Anyway, the reason Nirvana has risen to the top of the alternative pile of garbage that was the mid-90s (sorry R.E.M.) and is considered important by this generation is because of two primary reasons: Videos of the band performing look like an Instagram filter and, well, Kurt Cobain killed himself and we're all assholes who love a poetic story, even one that's rooted in genuine tragedy and self-loathing and possibly could’ve been prevented (love that documentary though!). To the person who thinks this is the greatest song of all time? We get it, bro. You're alt.