The '90s might be long one, but there are still so many things about the decade that resonate: Lisa Frank designs, all the TV shows that are getting reboots, and so much now-classic music. It doesn't matter what age you are — it's hard to forget the soundtrack to your own childhood. With that said, there are so many '90s songs whose lyrics you'll never forget, either because they are so darn catch or they've haunted you years later. From grunge and Ska to hip-hop and rap, '90s music had some pretty unforgettable tunes.
Sure, there were definitely some one hit wonders by artists who made a splash and were never heard from again, but some artists have fame that lasted all the way into the 2010s. You can also relive the '90s and see singers like Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, and Celine Dion in their Las Vegas performance residencies, reviving their best of the decade (along with their new music) on stage in Sin City. Such an iconic decade shouldn't — and probably won't — be forgotten anytime soon.
And neither will the words to certain songs. Check out some unforgettable song lyrics to some of the most memorable '90s songs below.
1. "You Oughta Know" By Alanis Morissette
'Cause the love that you gave that we made
Wasn't able to make it enough for you
To be open wide, no
And every time you speak her name
Does she know how you told me
You'd hold me until you died
'Til you died, but you're still alive
And I'm here, to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away
It's not fair, to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me
You, you, you oughta know
The iconic breakup song of a generation that you know deep in your soul — and if you don’t seriously oughta know. The 1995 song that taught you that it was OK to be upset and hurt after a breakup. And it was even more than OK to sing about it loud and proud in a song that was considered pretty edgy for the ‘90s.
You moved on, of course, but not after belting this tune in your car or at an impromptu karaoke event — just like in the movie Booksmart. And now in 2019, Morissette’s 1995 Jagged Little Pill album, which contains “You Oughta Know,” is headed to Broadway as a musical opening later this year. It just shows that the classic album and song are still here to remind you of how awesome it always has been, even decades later.
2. "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" By Green Day
Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test and don't ask why
It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time
It's something unpredictable but in the end is right
I hope you had the time of your life
For most of the ‘90s, Green Day set the standard for alternative music with the songs “Basket Case,” “When I Come Around,” and “Longview” from their hit album Dookie.
The rock band went from being alternative to the singers of everyone's graduation song for a decade. It was something unpredictable, but in the end, “Good Riddance” was actually a song about lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s ex. “It’s about an ex-girlfriend who had moved to Ecuador,” the singer told Guitar World, according to Louder Sound. “In the song, I tried to be level-headed about her leaving, even though I was completely pissed off. So I named it ‘Good Riddance’ just to express my anger.”
3. "...Baby One More Time" By Britney Spears
My loneliness is killing me (and I)
I must confess, I still believe (still believe)
When I'm not with you I lose my mind
Give me a sign
Hit me, baby, one more time
The words that launched Spears' career in the '90s. But what exactly does “hit” mean in the song? According to the Huffington Post in 2015, songwriters Max Martin and Rami Yacoub thought the word “hit” was slang for giving someone a call. So basically, the song is about someone who is lonely hopes their former significant other will call them and come back.
4. "I Will Always Love You" By Whitney Houston
I hope life treats you kind
And I hope you have all you've dreamed of
And I wish to you, joy and happiness
But above all this, I wish you love
And I will always love you
Originally by Dolly Parton, this country song went mainstream when Houston sang a cover of it on the soundtrack to the 1992 movie The Bodyguard, in which she starred with Kevin Costner. The song landed in the movie because Costner and his secretary were fans of Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” “The effect that it had on the whole world was amazing,” Parton told CMT in 2011. “It’s been one of the biggest songs ever.” The Bodyguard remains the top-selling movie soundtrack, selling 45 million copies and it has been certified platinum 17 times, according to Ebony.
5. "My Heart Will Go On" By Celine Dion
Near, far, wherever you are
I believe that the heart does go on
Once more you open the door
And you're here in my heart
And my heart will go on and on
This iconic song played on and on in the '90s as the movie Titantic topped the box office and took home 11 Oscars in 1997, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Song for “My Heart Will Go On.” But you may not have known that Dion actually didn’t like the mega-hit song at first. “When I recorded it, I didn’t think about a movie; I didn’t think about radio,” she told Billboard in 2017. “I thought, ‘Sing the song, then get the heck out of there.’”
6. "Wannabe" By The Spice Girls
I'll tell you what I want, what I really really want
So tell me what you want, what you really really want
I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really
Really really wanna zigazig ha
If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends
Make it last forever friendship never ends
If you wanna be my lover, you have got to give
Taking is too easy, but that's the way it is
Just the beginning of Spice-mania. “I think the only pre-planned thing with Wannabe was wanting to represent them as a band as well as the essence of what they were: that fearless, headstrong, fantastically intimidating essence. They were outspoken, right from the start,” songwriter Richard “Biff” Stannard recalled to The Telegraph. “Just a case of, ‘these girls are bonkers and I love them. Let’s just record and listen and write a song and see what happens.’”
7. "Baby Got Back" By Sir-Mix-A-Lot
Tell 'em to shake it (shake it) shake it (shake it)
Shake that healthy butt
Baby got back (L.A. fits with the Oakland booty)
The song about backsides that has inspired many parodies and even Nicki Minaj’s hit song “Anaconda.” Sir-Mix-A-Lot enjoys the legacy of the 1992 hit. “It’s amazing. That a song like that is still around,” he told Seattle Magazine in 2017. “I’ve learned lessons from other people who’ve abandoned their big hits. I told myself I’d never do that. The song keeps living!”
8. "Tubthumping" By Chumbawamba
I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down
The never-surrender anthem of the '90s. It’s also a track that was meant to represent “the resilience of ordinary people,” Chumbawamba guitarist Boff Whalley told The Guardian in 2016. The band’s vocalist Dunstan Bruce told the publication that the song was also an essential part of putting the group back on track. “The song changed everything,” he told The Guardian. “Before Tubthumping I felt we were in a mess: we had become directionless and disparate. It’s not our most political or best song, but it brought us back together. The song is about us – as a class and as a band. The beauty of it was we had no idea how big it would be.”
9. "All My Life" By K-Ci & Jo-Jo
And all my life I've prayed for someone like you
And I thank God that I, that I finally found you
All my life I've prayed for someone like you
And I hope that you feel the same way too
Yes, I pray that you do love me too
That perfect song to provide the soundtrack for your fantasies of bumping into your crush in the middle school hallway and making conversation of any kind. The 1998 hit peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 1998 and was one of K-Ci & Jo-Jo’s three Top 10 hits on the charts.
10. "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" By Aerosmith
I don't wanna close my eyes
I don't wanna fall asleep
'Cause I'd miss you, baby
And I don't wanna miss a thing
A declaration of love that works with or without Armageddon. The song famously appeared in the 1998 action movie starring Bruce Willis, Liv Tyler, and Ben Affleck. Songwriter Diane Warren told ABC News in 2018 that the title was inspired by Barbara Steisand and James Brolin’s 1997 interview with Barbara Walters. “It was an interview he gave about how he misses her when he sleeps, you know? Like, he can’t wait to see her,” Warren said. “And I wrote down the title. I didn’t write the song, but I just thought, ‘I don’t want to miss a thing.’ That’s just a cool title, you know.”
11. "Truly Madly Deeply" By Savage Garden
I want to stand with you on a mountain,
I want to bathe with you in the sea.
I want to lay like this forever,
Until the sky falls down on me
Love never sounded so poetic. Billboard declared this 1998 hit track the No. 1 Adult Contemporary single of all time in 2011. Darren Hayes, one half of the duo, told the publication that an early version of the song was recorded on their first demo tape. “The verses were exactly the same, but I'm rather embarrassed to admit the chorus did not exist. Instead, I'd written a rather awful lyric about magical kisses!” he said. “There was always something incredibly magical about the song, however, and when it reached the ears of producer Charles Fisher, who produced the first Savage Garden album, he proclaimed it to be a potential hit.”
12. "Kiss From A Rose" By Seal
Baby, I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the grey
Ooh, the more I get of you, the stranger it feels, yeah
Now that your rose is in bloom
A light hits the gloom on the grey
Not entirely sure what all of this means, but the imagery is beautiful and has made it one of the most recognizable songs of the '90s. The song was first released to little fanfare in 1994, but it became a hit in 1995 when the tune was included in the movie Batman Forever.
“It was exactly the same song — it wasn’t remixed, it wasn’t recut, I didn’t sing it again — it was exactly the same song that had failed,” Seal told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 2019. “ The only difference was at the end of that movie, hundreds of thousands of people all over the world when they were leaving the theater, the last thing they heard was, ‘Baaaaby!’ And then people started to go, ‘That’s actually an interesting song.’”
13. "One Sweet Day" By Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men
And I know you're shining down on me from heaven
Like so many friends we've lost along the way
And I know eventually we'll be together
One sweet day
What do you get when you put together two amazing '90s acts? One catchy monster hit song which was also a combination of two incomplete songs — one by Carey and Walter Afanasieff, the other by Nathan Morris of Boyz II Men. “Mariah sang the verse she had already written,” Morris said in the book The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. “The lyrics and the idea and [a song I had written] coincided. Which was awkward, because I didn’t know she was writing a song that pertained to what I was writing as well. I told her I had a song I had written two months earlier which was in the same vein.”
14. "I Don't Wanna Wait" By Paula Cole
I don't want to wait for our lives to be over,
I want to know right now, what will it be?
I don't want to wait for our lives to be over,
Will it be yes or will it be...sorry?
Perfectly captured all the raging hormones of Dawson's Creek, for which this song served as the theme throughout the late ‘90s and early 2000s. But if you marathon the theme show on streaming services or in an international market, you’ll hear the song “Run Like Mad” by Jann Arden as the opening credits tune instead, due to music rights issues, according to the Huffington Post.
“I ended up swapping out a good chunk of unclearable music for the later DVD releases,” Dawson’s Creek exec producer Paul Stupin said. “And then there came to be a point, where the studio said, ‘Listen, we can’t afford the Paula Cole song.’ That’s when Jann Arden was put back in.”
15. "Return Of The Mack" By Mark Morrison
All those times I said that I love you
(You lied to me) Yes, I tried, yes, I tried
(You lied to me) Even though you know I'd die for you
(You lied to me) Yes, I cried, yes, I cried
Master of None recently declared this song as the "best song ever" and Aziz Ansari is not wrong. In the 2002 MTV documentary I Love the 1990s — 1996, Morrison said the song is about “sexual betrayal” and compared the tune to the classic song “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye.
16. "The Boy Is Mine" By Brandy & Monica
You need to give it up
Had about enough
It's not hard to see
The boy is mine
I'm sorry that you
Seem to be confused
He belongs to me
The boy is mine
These R&B singers try to work out their boyfriend's mess in this hit 1998 tune. Unfortunately, some of the song’s drama spilled out into real life, with the singers reportedly having some drama between them since.
17. "Iris" By the Goo-Goo Dolls
And I don't want the world to see me
'Cause I don't think that they'd understand
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am
Oh the ~emotions~. This 1998 single was on the soundtrack to the movie City of Angels starring Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan. The track had ubiquitous airplay on the radio in the late ‘90s — but even then, Goo-Goo Dolls lead singer John Rzeznik told Stereogum in 2018 that he “never once got sick of playing that song” and was grateful for its success. “People used to come up to me all the time and go, ‘I love that song man but I’m really sick of hearing it every two minutes,’” he said. “I had to think to myself, I mean I was just trying to be modest with myself or whatever, but I’m grateful that something like that song came into my life. That song really literally changed my life and it certainly was a part of a lot of other people’s lives.”
18. "Waterfalls" By TLC
Don't go chasing waterfalls
Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to
I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all
But I think you're moving too fast
In 2018, band member Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas explained to The Guardian, “Anything that’s self-destructive, that’s chasing a waterfall. We wanted to make a song with a strong message – about unprotected sex, being promiscuous, and hanging out in the wrong crowd. The messages in Waterfalls hit home. I think that’s why it’s our biggest hit to date.”
19. "Killing Me Softly" By The Fugees
Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
Killing me softly with his song
Telling my whole life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
These feels are real for this Grammy-winning 1998 hit single, which was a cover of the Roberta Flack version released in 1973, based on a 1971 recording of the song by Lori Lieberman as “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” The song itself was added to the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1999, according to Paste Magazine.
20. "No Diggity" By Blackstreet
I like the way you work it
No diggity, I got to bag it up, bag it up
No doubt, this track was a big hit in 1996. But it took the group a bit of convincing to record the song. Band member Teddy Riley told SoulCulture in a 2010 interview, “None of the guys liked ‘No Diggity’. None of them. They would even say it. That’s why I’m singing the first verse,” he said. “You know how they say they pushed the little one out there to see if it tastes good and see if he would get egged? Well they pushed me out there – and it became a hit. And now they wish they were singing the first verse, so that they can have the notoriety like me.”
21. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" By Nirvana
With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido
Grunge at its finest, but lead singer Kurt Cobain actually had pop in mind as he wrote the song. “I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it,” he told Rolling Stone in 1994. “When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band — or at least in a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.
And with these lyrics, the '90s live on and on.
This post was originally published on July 4, 2016. It was updated on June 5, 2019.
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