Think back to the days of oversized flannel, beanies, and moody teenage angst – it’s time to take a look at some of the female alternative singers who shaped the soundscape of the 90s.
Join us as we take a trip down memory lane and explore 10 iconic ladies shaking up alternative music in all its grungy glory during that decade. From classic rock stars to experimental avant-garde vocalists, you’ll want to rediscover these powerful women whose pioneering spirit transcends age and genre. So come on – let’s rock!
1. Sinéad O’Connor
The first on our list is of course Sinéad O’Connor, who shook up the music scene with her powerful voice and emotionally charged lyrics. With a shaved head and outspoken views to match, Sinéad O’Connor was a pioneering force in the industry who emerged as one of the most commercially successful female singers.
- Known For: Her striking appearance, political activism, and powerful, emotional performances that gave us chills.
- Memorable 90s Track: “Nothing Compares 2 U”, a tear-jerking ballad that had us all crying in our bedrooms as we listened to it on repeat.
- Biggest Accomplishment: Winning a Grammy Award and being one of the first artists to speak out about sexual abuse in the music industry.
- Total Record Sold: Over 10 million worldwide.
- Extra: Sinéad wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, even if it meant causing controversy. She famously ripped up a photo of the Pope on live television, causing quite a stir. But hey, you can’t deny her passion and dedication to making a difference in the world. Plus, her cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” is one of the greatest songs of all time, and we’ll fight anyone who disagrees.
2. Courtney Love
Next up on our list is the infamous Courtney Love, a true icon of the 90s alternative scene. Known for her wild antics both on and off stage, Courtney Love’s career was a rollercoaster ride of controversy, drama, and musical genius.
- Known For: Her punk rock attitude, grunge fashion, and raw, unapologetic lyrics that spoke to the disaffected youth of the era.
- Memorable 90s Track: “Doll Parts”, a hauntingly beautiful ballad that showcased Courtney’s vulnerable side amidst all the chaos.
- Biggest Accomplishment: Fronting the band Hole and releasing the critically acclaimed album “Live Through This”, which is still considered a landmark of the feminist punk movement.
- Total Records Sold: Over 3 million worldwide.
- Extra: Courtney was married to Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, and their tumultuous relationship was the subject of much media scrutiny. But through it all, she remained a fierce and independent woman who paved the way for a new generation of female rockers. Love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Courtney Love is a force to be reckoned with.
3. Tori Amos
Here we have the queen of alternative piano rock herself, Tori Amos. With her ethereal voice and unique blend of classical and alternative music, Tori Amos carved out her own niche in the 90s music scene.
- Known For: Her haunting piano melodies, powerful lyrics, and whimsical yet introspective stage presence that left audiences entranced.
- Memorable 90s Track: “Cornflake Girl”, a quirky, feminist anthem that became an instant classic.
- Biggest Accomplishment: Releasing the album “Little Earthquakes”, which cemented her status as a groundbreaking musician and earned her a legion of dedicated fans.
- Total Records Sold: Over 12 million worldwide.
- Extra: Tori Amos is no stranger to controversy either, as she’s spoken out about everything from the music industry’s treatment of women to her own experiences with sexual assault. But amidst all the serious topics, she still manages to infuse her music with a sense of whimsy and wonder that keeps us coming back for more. Plus, have you seen her play piano? It’s like watching a magician at work. All hail Tori Amos, the queen of alt-rock enchantment.
4. Dolores O’Riordan
Tragically, we lost Dolores O’Riordan in 2018, but her impact on the 90s alternative music scene can never be forgotten. As the lead singer of The Cranberries, Dolores brought her hauntingly beautiful voice and poignant lyrics to the forefront of the industry.
- Known For: Her ethereal vocals, poetic lyrics, and stunning stage presence that left audiences in awe.
- Memorable 90s Track: Of course, The Cranberries’ hit single “Zombie”! A soul-stirring protest song that still gives us chills to this day.
- Biggest Accomplishment: The Cranberries’ debut album “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?” which went on to become a massive success and catapulted the band to stardom.
- Total Records Sold: More than 50 million worldwide with The Cranberries.
- Extra: Despite her success, Dolores struggled with personal demons throughout her life, including mental health issues and substance abuse. Her untimely death was a devastating loss for the music world, but her legacy lives on through her timeless music and unforgettable performances. Rest in peace, Dolores O’Riordan, you will always be remembered.
5. PJ Harvey
PJ Harvey is a true artist who has continually reinvented herself throughout her career. Her music is often characterized by its rawness and intensity, with Harvey fearlessly delving into difficult and complex themes.
- Known For: Her poetic lyrics, distinct vocal style, and ability to seamlessly blend rock, blues, and folk influences.
- Memorable 90s Track: “Down By the Water”, a spine-tingling song that tells the story of a mother who drowns her child in a river.
- Biggest Accomplishment: Winning the Mercury Prize in 2001 for her album “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea”, and being nominated for the Grammy award a total of 7 times throughout her career.
- Total Records Sold: Over 2 million worldwide.
- Extra: Harvey is also an accomplished visual artist, and has created artwork for many of her album covers. She’s known for being intensely private and rarely giving interviews, preferring to let her music speak for itself. But when she does speak, her words are always thoughtful and insightful. PJ Harvey is a true original, and one of the most respected musicians of her generation.
6. Liz Phair
Moving on to our next 90s female alternative singer, we have the one and only Liz Phair. With her quirky lyrics and catchy melodies, Liz Phair became a cult favorite among indie music fans and proved that women could rock just as hard as the guys.
- Known For: Her unique storytelling style, deadpan delivery, and unabashedly sexual lyrics that made parents everywhere uncomfortable.
- Memorable 90s Track: “Never Said”, a guitar-driven anthem that perfectly captured the angst and frustration of being a young adult in the 90s.
- Biggest Accomplishment: Releasing her debut album “Exile in Guyville” which Rolling Stone ranked as one of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
- Total Records Sold: Over 2 million worldwide.
- Extra: Liz Phair was a breath of fresh air in a male-dominated industry, and her unapologetic approach to songwriting earned her legions of fans. She even had a song featured in the hit movie “High Fidelity”, cementing her status as a true 90s icon. Plus, not to mention her iconic hairdo that inspired many questionable haircuts in the decade.
7. Alanis Morissette
Next up on our list is the ultimate queen of angst and rage, Alanis Morissette! Armed with her signature fiery attitude and edgy lyrics, Alanis took the 90s music world by storm and made us all feel like it was okay to be a little bit angry.
- Known For: Her signature angry-girl-next-door vibe and her ability to turn a breakup into a chart-topping hit.
- Memorable 90s Track: “You Oughta Know”, the ultimate breakup anthem that had us all screaming into our hairbrushes.
- Biggest Accomplishment: Winning five Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year for “Jagged Little Pill”.
- Total Records Sold: 75 million worldwide.
- Extra: Alanis was never afraid to speak her mind, and her songs tackled everything from heartbreak to societal expectations to spiritual awakening. And who can forget that video for “Thank U” where she walks around naked in the streets of LA? That’s some serious DGAF energy right there. We may never fully understand the true irony of “Ironic”, but we do know that Alanis Morissette is a badass who will always hold a special place in our hearts (and our CD collections).
Get ready to enter the world of the unconventional and bizarre with the one and only Björk. A true icon of the 90s alternative music scene, Björk was a breath of fresh air in a decade dominated by pop princesses and boy bands. Her unconventional fashion choices and experimental sound, coupled with her unique vocal range, set her apart from the rest and made her a force to be reckoned with in the music industry.
- Known For: Her unique voice, eclectic style, and fearless approach to music-making that pushed the boundaries of what was considered “normal”.
- Memorable 90s Track: “It’s Oh So Quiet”, a jazzy, upbeat number that showed off Björk’s playful side and had us all dancing in our living rooms.
- Biggest Accomplishment: Winning a Best Music Video award at the MTV Video Music Awards for her surreal, visually stunning video for “All Is Full of Love”.
- Total Records Sold: Over 20 million worldwide.
- Extra: Björk’s music videos were just as weird and wonderful as her music itself. From dressing up as a swan to frolicking in a forest with giant mushrooms, she never failed to surprise and delight us with her creative vision. And who can forget her iconic swan dress at the 2001 Oscars – we’re still not sure if it was a fashion statement or a Halloween costume, but either way, we love her for it.
9. Gwen Stefani
No list of 90s female alternative singers would be complete without the blonde bombshell herself, Gwen Stefani. From her stint as the lead singer of No Doubt to her solo career, Stefani had a knack for writing catchy yet meaningful songs that spoke to the hearts of fans.
- Known For: Her incredible voice, captivating fashion sense, and undeniable charisma that made us all want to be her best friend.
- Memorable 90s Track: “Don’t Speak”, a heart-wrenching breakup anthem that had us all feeling the pain of lost love.
- Biggest Accomplishment: Winning three Grammy Awards and becoming the lead singer of the highly successful band No Doubt.
- Total Record Sold: Over 33 million worldwide.
- Extra: Besides being an amazing singer, Gwen Stefani is also a fashion icon who rocked the most outrageous and unforgettable outfits on stage. From her blue hair and bindi-wearing days to her iconic crop tops and cargo pants, she always kept us on our toes. Whether she’s slinging a guitar or strutting her stuff on stage, Gwen Stefani will always be the ultimate cool girl who knows how to have fun.
10. Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple is the enigmatic queen of indie rock, known for her smoky vocals, heart-wrenching lyrics, and a general air of “I’m too cool for this shit”. Born in 1977, this ethereal songstress burst onto the scene in the late ’90s with her debut album “Tidal”, and has been captivating audiences with her haunting melodies ever since.
- Known For: Her moody, introspective music, which is perfect for when you’re feeling emo and need a good cry.
- Memorable 90s Track: “Criminal”, a sultry, angst-ridden banger that made everyone wish they could smoke cigarettes in a bathtub like Fiona.
- Biggest Accomplishment: Being a master of the side-eye, and giving the best “I’m over this” face in the game.
- Total Records Sold: Over 5 million worldwide, which is impressive considering she’s spent most of her career avoiding the limelight.
- Extra: Fiona Apple is famously private and rarely gives interviews, but when she does, she doesn’t hold back. She’s been known to call out the music industry for its sexism and double standards, and once famously told a crowd at a concert: “This world is bullshit, and you shouldn’t model your life on what you think we think is cool.” Word, Fiona. Word.
So, there you have it – the 10 best female alternative singers of the ’90s. No matter what type of music you’re into, there’s something for everyone on this list. Whether it’s Björk’s eccentricity, Gwen Stefani’s coolness, or Fiona Apple’s no-f***s-given attitude, these women helped shape the alternative music scene of the ’90s and continue to inspire us today.