It’s trendy to be nostalgic about the ’90s, but even the most nostalgic of Buzzfeed readers must admit that decade, like every other, saw the release of some truly terrible pop music. The explosion of grunge in the early-90s brought alternative rock into the mainstream, which eventually turned the underground genre into an overproduced jumble of rap-rockers and watered-down Nirvana imitators. For every genre-defining record that hit the charts, there were seemingly three or four that turned out to be total embarrassments that somehow turned into hits anyways. Let’s wade into the ugly side of ’90s music, beginning, of course, with…
1. Limp Bizkit
Alternative rock and hip-hop were suddenly mainstream cultural forces in the ’90s, which means it couldn’t be long before white bros got their hands on both genres and merged them into an unholy, unlistenable hybrid. The biggest and most obnoxious rap-rock (or nu metal) group of the decade was unquestionably Limp Bizkit, a band whose macho bravado was only exceeded by their ugly brand of distorted anti-melody. Even Limp Bizkit’s singer Fred Durst has confessed his hatred for the band that made him famous, saying in 2009 that fans were “using my music as fuel to torture other people, even dressing like me. The music was being misinterpreted, and the irony affected me and we stepped away . . . I don’t even listen to any type of music that’s like Limp Bizkit at all. I love jazz music and sad music. I’m a sentimental guy. I’m a romantic guy.” If only he had expressed his jazzy sentimental side instead, and spared us songs like “Break Stuff.”
2. Dave Matthews Band
The Gen-X frat boy’s answer to The Grateful Dead, the Dave Matthews Band has been going strong since their formation in 1991, churning out disposable records of soft rock nonsense with just enough instruments to permit the band members to jam on and on for absurd lengths of time when they play their songs live. The defanged jam band is still beloved by plenty of frat boys-turned-working professionals who use their concerts as their excuse to get high once a year while they listen to the most painfully whitewashed funk music you’ve ever heard with Matthews himself crooning affectedly above it all.
It’s astounding to realize there was once a time when people actually liked Creed, a band that almost perfectly embodies the utter joke that grunge became in the wake of Nirvana’s landmark record Nevermind. Like many other bands, Creed borrowed that album’s crisp production, slurred vocal stylings and overblown, overproduced guitar tones but robbed them of any edge or songwriting talent. Their horrendously incompetent repetitive riffing manages to match the depths of quality reached by singer Scott Stapp’s unfathomable vocals. Thankfully, despite a brief stint of success, Stapp and Creed have become poster boys for bad ’90s music, so much so that lack of interest for their 2009 reunion tour forced promoters to lower ticket prices for one show down to 75 cents.
4. Spice Girls
Girls can do it too, y’all! And by it, we mean make shockingly terrible, mass-produced music pioneered by clueless focus groups and record execs hoping to make a quick buck off the “girl power” trend. While similarly soulless boy bands like Nsync occasionally managed a compelling melody, their British female counterparts only churned out absurdly overproduced — just listen to those synthetic chimes! — and repetitive singles with forced group vocals like “Wannabe” or “Say You’ll Be There,” as well as a shockingly terrible movie your sister probably owned on VHS.
5. 4 Non Blondes
This is what the ’90s did to alternative rock. A band whose sound is only outmatched in terribleness by their name, 4 Non Blondes are most remembered for their hit single “What’s Up,” a song so engineered it makes an acoustic guitar sound like a mechanical device. Of course, it’s no worse than singer Linda Perry’s warbly, showy vocals. Every line is like nails on a chalkboard, backed by a go-nowhere melody that wouldn’t even pass for competent playing at a suburban open mic. This was the kind of sanitized folk rock that littered radiowaves in the 90s, and somehow it’s better than the rest of the band’s dire discography, which occasionally delved into funk, God help us all.
6. The Offspring
Hey, grunge wasn’t the only subversive rock subgenre that got mutilated in the ’90s! Punk music was put through the mainstream shredder as well, thanks in large part to the success of middle school skater-friendly pop punk acts like Blink 182 and Green Day. The Offspring made punk music lame before it became cool, turning the once-dangerous genre into a mess of grating vocals and creatively bankrupt guitar riffing that helped eighth grade suburban kids feel a whole lot tougher than they probably were. You may have liked them in 1997, and I know nostalgia is a powerful thing, but two decades on, it’s time to admit The Offspring were never really any good.
Follow Jeff Rindskopf on Twitter @jrindskopf
Check out Entertainment Cheat Sheet on Facebook!