Unbearable pop acts of the 1990s best dead and buried

Why did the Nineties produce so many truly awful pop bands? From the Spice Girls to Hanson, Limp Bizkit to Boyzone and The Goo Goo Dolls, JOANNE SAVAGE would relegate them all to hell

Saturday, 19th June 2021, 8:00 am
Girl power? The jury's out

The Nineties were definitely the era of disposable, corporate-manufactured, bubblegum, nay cheese-on-toast, pop acts.

From the meteoric rise of the Spice Girls who became the most successful British pop act to dominate the American market since The Beatles (one can only be deeply ashamed that a band whose dreadful zeitgeist song Wannabe and toothless synthetic message of girl power - which amounted to being liberated to wear platform trainers with a bikini top, wearing excessive lipstick and giving the peace sign while lauding Thatcher as an original member - managed such a feat), to the chart-bothering ballads of Take That in their best chest-baring moments to their Irish counterparts Boyzone, who crooned Love Me For A Reason and other such saccharine pap and seemed to win the hearts of hapless tweenies to, even worse still, The Backstreet Boys, the Justin Timberlake-fronted NSync and the ever present Ace of Base whose All That She Wants seemed to blare from every functional radio.

And there was yet worse sonic torture from the likes of American brothers Hanson and their ear-worm of a song MMMBop delivered with gusto while sporting the blonde curtains hair-do of the era, clambering about stages when they should really have been at school but were instead selling millions of records as hormonal nymphets swooned over life-sized posters of their pubescent chops yet to be troubled by acne (I doubt their voices had yet broken); Limp Bizkit fronted by Fred Durst who sang about his beloved as a “butterfly, sugar, baby,” so much that you wished to smash any ceramics in the vicinity and be locked in a cell listening to white noise to eradicate the memory. (They probably do torture inmates at Gitmo with 24/7 mixes of 90s horrorshow pop between beatings).

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Then the ever schmaltzy, vomit-inducing Goo Goo Dolls who sang plaintive twaddle like Iris (‘I’d give up forever to touch you’ - well, please don’t), Nickelback, whom everybody but everybody loved to hate and, oh no, The Saw Doctors (I have no words for what they were up to, let’s not go there). This was also the era of Brit pop, of Blur and Oasis facing off (you always had to swear allegiance to one or the other but never both), and really their alt-pop lacked punch and the Gallagher brothers were certainly more full of aggro than musical talent because Wonderwall is more like the wail of a gender-confused banshee with a tambourine who has smoked too many fags and then been forced to sing the same sodding lines with maximum strain on the vocal chords, while Damon Albarn and co’s Park Life was jaunty but vapid, archly ironic and if you didn’t get it you weren’t cool (I didn’t), not to mention the sheer tedium of The Holy Bible by The Manic Street Preachers whose Design for Life is probably used as lift music in some supermarkets in a subcontinent of the furthest reaches of the seventh circle of the underworld.

What saved the 90s was grunge, and most obviously Nirvana, when Kurt Cobain sang with an achingly cool Seattle twang about lithium, teen spirit, Leonard Cohen afterworlds where you could sleep eternally, heart shaped boxes, aneurysms, doing the twist and finding Polly some crackers.

I would not have survived the 90s without Nirvana’s seminal Nevermind album, although have never forgotten Christmas 1996 when the one thing I asked my late Uncle Sean for was a copy of the masterpiece only to open the CD case to find it empty. He swears it was a miracle of a disappearing act since he saw the woman at our local branch of Golden Discs put the much sought after CD into the sleeve. I wept until said CD was made manifest after Boxing Day and quickly listened to it so much that to this day I could sing you every line. I thought myself a true grunge queen, and obviously Kurt was only with Courtney Love because he had never met me, or perhaps he might indeed have preferred my best friend Laura, who has always been prettier than me and did have a more accurate grasp of the entirety of the lesser known Incesticide album and the famed MTV Unplugged Concert. (Though, to be honest, I did rather dig Courtney and her song Violet, when she sang about having no soul, or rather, “one above and one below”, which I perceived as a profoundly punk-apocalyptic statement and man, did she have attitude before she started going nuts with fillers, veneers, face lifts, cosying up to the LA elite and having affairs with Steve Coogan after too much champagne at the Chateau Marmont).

Grunge was the antithesis of manufactured candyfloss pop fare; it was raw, moody, visceral, unafraid to plumb the depths of depression, darkness, longing and isolation. Plus grunge gave us followers the licence to go about with greasy, stringy hair and cardigans with holes and ripped jeans and a sort of anarchic, devil-may-care attitude that gave two fingers to conventionality and corporate pop-rock.

Nirvana - consisting of Kurt, the effervescent Dave Grohl (now of Foo Fighters fame) on drums and affable bassist Krist Novoselic, didn’t just go on stage and play their set like obedient, contracted, preened rockstars. They trashed the stage and made an entire generation of disaffected, alienated youth feel like they had found a new prophet.

Rock on out, Kurt Cobain, for death shall have no dominion and the spirit of grunge - the highest cultural achievement of that decade in my considered opinion - will endure long after the tawdry pop confections of Boyzone and Take That have been relegated to history, for they were transient, corporate, media-friendly popstars, while you were a poet, a seeker after truth and one cool dude whose words reach into eternity.