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Which Songs Could Define The ’90s? A Study Attempts To Answer The Question

Which Songs Could Define The '90s?

Which Songs Could Define The ’90s?


Hits don’t last but some of them actually pass the test of time. I sometimes wonder: which popular song of today will still be recognized in 20 years by someone born in 2021? Only time will tell. A project by Matt Daniels and Llia Bliderman and published by ‘The Pudding’ tried to answer a similar question. They investigated which hit songs from the ‘90s are still recognized today, which songs could define the ’90s. They collected data via a music quiz – you can actually take it multiple times here, it’s a lot of fun as the songs are different every time you try it – asking people if they could recognize thousands of songs from different decades. They concentrated their study on millennials and gen Z and songs from the ‘90s, trying to find out which songs and artists could legitimately represent this music period.

Anyone can take the quiz but the authors examined the data regarding people who were either born or toddlers or very young teenagers at the moment of the release of plenty of ’90s hits, and unsurprisingly, more people recognized a song released when they were around 11 years old than a song released when they were born.

The authors then published a chart of all the songs recognized by more than 90% of people who were 13 to 15 years old when the song debuted, adding a line representing the popular average. Some hits didn’t do very well: for example, Billy Joel’s ‘The River of Dream,’ Will Smith’s ‘Wild Wild West,’ Shania Twain’s ‘You’re Still the One,’ Meat Loaf’s ‘I’d Do Anything for Love,’ Mr. Big’s ‘To Be with You,’ Michael Bolton’s ‘How I am Supposed to Live Without You,’ and Jennifer Lopez’s If You Had my Love’ are found well below the average, which means you will probably not find them on a Tik Tok video. On the other hand, Céline Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ Britney Spears’s ‘Baby One More Time,’ Cher’s ‘Believe,’ Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You,’ Michael Jackson’s ‘Black or White,’ R.E.M.’s ‘Losing My Religion,’ and House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ are way above average. Thinking back to the ‘90s, I would have never thought that Céline would do that much better than Meat Loaf, but you can never underestimate the Titanic effect of course. Each song has its own story and there are many other songs included in the graph but a constant trend can be noticed: whatever its popularity, the knowledge of a song erodes with time.

According to the authors, Will Smith’s ‘Wild Wild West,’ released in 1999, Shania Twain’s ‘You’re Still The One,’ released in 1998, Paula Abdul’s ‘Opposites Attract,’ released in 1990, Jennifer Lopez’s ‘If You Had My Love,’ released in 1999 and The Backstreet Boys’ ‘Quit Playing Games,’ released in 1997, may have been very popular at the time but are the ones fading far faster than any other ’90s hit.

Meanwhile, Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You,’ released in 1992, The Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe,’ released in 1997, Los Del Rio’s ‘Macarena,’ released in 1996, House Of Pain’s ‘Jump Around,’ released in 1992 and Coolio ‘Gangsta’s Paradise,’ released in 1995, seem to have endured time and they could be serious candidates for the songs defining the ‘90s.

Then, you have some irregularities as other ‘90s hits (Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories’s ‘Stay,’ released in 1994, K-Ci and JoJo’s ‘All My Life,’ released in 1998, Jewel’s ‘You Were Meant For Me,’ released in 1997, Bone Thugs N Harmony’s ‘Tha Crossroads,’ released in 1996) are mostly recognized by millennials and nobody else.

As for Gen Z, they are the next generation that will pass on their knowledge (or lack of) to the next generation. They define the culture and their ‘90s top songs will probably define the decade for the future. Here is Gen Z’s ‘90s top ten, but you can see the full list here:

Celine Dion – ‘My Heart Will Go On’ (1998)” recognized at 96% by Gen Z

Britney Spears – ‘Baby One More Time’ (1999): recognized at 96% by Gen Z

Spice Girls – ‘Wannabe’ (1997): recognized at 93% by Gen Z

Smash Mouth – ‘All Star’ (1999): recognized at 92% by Gen Z

Lou Bega – ‘Mambo No. 5’ (1999): recognized at 92% by Gen Z

Cher – ‘Believe’ (1999): recognized at 90% by Gen Z

Snap! – ‘The Power’ (1990:) recognized at 88% by Gen Z

Los Del Rio – ‘Macarena’ (1996): recognized at 87% by Gen Z

Backstreet Boys – ‘Everybody’ (1998:) recognized at 86% by Gen Z

Whitney Houston – ‘I Will Always Love You’ (1992): recognized at 85% by Gen Z




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