Wednesday, January 29, 2014


20 Songs by Women that Will Turn 20 in 2014

For better or worse, every year in this decade has become an occasion to consider the 20 years that have passed since the '90s, and to many of us, 1994 feels like it was yesterday—going to see Forrest Gump (or, if we were lucky, The Crow) in theaters, watching Puck and Rachel fight on The Real World, hearing the news that Kurt Cobain had died and then calling our friends on phones attached to long, curling cords, pulled through the hallway into the quiet of the bathroom.

1994, in particular, brought a diverse new wave of women to fame. With riot grrrl on the rise, the R&B girl group renaissance, and more female rappers being promoted by major labels, female musicians took over 1994's underground, commercial radio, MTV, mixtapes and school dance soundtracks. Their messages weren't always overtly political, but the women of 1994 were super empowering. In celebration of a legacy as real as it is not even old enough to drink, here are 20 awesome songs that will turn 20 this year.


1. Aaliyah, “Back & Forth

After her debut single at age 15—and its video featuring her ultra-cool baggy jeans-and-sunglasses style—Aaliyah went on to make feminist-leaning songs like “If Your Girl Only Knew,” and “More Than a Woman,” and she’s credited for helping to redefine R&B for a new generation.


2. Sheryl Crow, “All I Wanna Do

I can’t think of many other pop songs about a woman having fun getting drunk indoors all day with a man she just met on a Tuesday afternoon, and deeply not giving a fuck what the rest of the world thinks.


3. Lady of Rage,  “Afro Puffs”

Unapologetically female (I flow like a monthly, you can’t cramp my style/for those that try to punk me here’s a Pamprin child) and keeping Snoop in the background, she made a big statement in an industry that often preferred to make women's bodies objects rather than subjects.


4. Portishead, "Sour Times"

Nobody loves me, it’s true. We’ve all been there; Portishead tells sour times like they are.


5. Hole, “Violet”

I should probably just go ahead and say it: when I say “Violet,” I really mean the entire ’94 album, Live Through This. And I also mean Courtney Love’s go-fuck-yourself blend of red lipstick, shredded baby-doll dresses, and spot-on scream-singing. To say anything less would be sacrilege.


6. Brandy, "I Wanna Be Down"

At just 15, Brandy brought upbeat R&B hits and an irresistible, cool-yet-wholesome image. Let's pretend we all looked so dope swaying to this one at our junior high dances.


7. Ani Difranco, “Letter to a John

An Ani obsession was basically a requirement for a budding young 90s feminist—and this song about agency in sex work is a perfect example of why.


8. Team Dresch, “She's Crushing My Mind

With this song speaking to heartache in a lesbian relationship, riot grrrl pioneers Team Dresch gave queer punk girls a break-up anthem that spoke specifically to them.


9. Lisa Loeb, “Stay (I Missed You)

You already know all the words to this one——and it’s probably your karaoke staple.


10. TLC, “Waterfalls”

Speaking of karaoke classics, I salute anyone who can successfully perform the “Waterfalls” Left Eye solo rap. TLC’s hit song paired an irresistible beat (and dazzling girl group-as-water creatures special effects!) with socially conscious lyrics about gang violence, drugs and HIV/AIDS.


11. Mazzy Star, “Fade into You

Complete with echo-y organs, tambourines, and Hope Sandoval’s mesmerizing vocals, this unexpected hit served as a dreamy, semi-psychedelic lullaby and/or makeout soundtrack for 90s alternateens.


12. Liz Phair, “Supernova

I was just a liiiittle too young to catch Liz Phair’s foundational feminist album Exile in Guyville, so but I caught “Supernova” on the radio a year later instead. With lines like Your kisses are as wicked as an F-16./ You fuck like a volcano/ and you’re everything to me delivered in Phair’s trademark deadpan style, this song treated female sexuality like it is: a normal part of life.


13. Tori Amos, "Cornflake Girl"

Icon to '90s goth girls and budding young poetesses everywhere, Tori Amos was the first well-known singer-songwriter to speak up about her own sexual assault, and she went on to co-found RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network). “Cornflake Girl” touches on themes like betrayal among women—and don't miss the part in the video where women do a witch-dance in the desert around a shirtless cowboy who's slowly slicing pieces off of a large, thick carrot.


14. Queen Latifah, “U.N.I.T.Y”

Instinct leads me to another flow/ Every time I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or a ho/ Trying to make a sister feel low/ You know all of that gots to go. Now everybody knows there's exceptions to this rule/ Now don't be getting mad, when we playing, it's cool/ But don't you be calling out my name/ I bring wrath to those who disrespect me like a dame. A pioneer feminist voice in hip hop, Queen Latifah touches on domestic abuse and the word “bitch” in this hit—and preaches female empowerment like no one else.


15. Sonic Youth, "Bull in the Heather

Kim Gordon’s icy vocals and signature snarl made this song the band’s biggest commercial hit.


16. Veruca Salt, “Seether”

What specific part of your sexual desire do you now refer to as Seether?


17. The Cranberries, “Zombie

A scream-yodeling ballad about the horrors of war might make an unconventional pop hit for a female-fronted band today—but not in 1994.


18. Des'Ree, “You Gotta Be”

In 1994, there were no self-help books. There was just “You Gotta Be," whose aesthetic has proven evergreen.


19. Madonna, “Human Nature

After being criticized for her portrayal of sexuality in “Erotica” and “Justify My Love,” “Human Nature” was Madonna’s way of saying, “hell no, I’m not sorry. And now I’ll publicly mock you with an S&M-themed satire video.”


20. L7, “Can I Run

In 1992, L7’s main claim to fame was when singer Donita Sparks threw her bloody tampon into a crowd of mud-throwing, rowdy fans. Some may call this gross; it is also undeniably awesome. “Can I Run” is a great example of the band’s quintessentially riot grrrl aesthetic—it blends raw punk sounds with feminist lyrics about the dangers of stalking.


This list is just the tip of the iceberg. If I missed one of your favorites, let me know in the comments! ETA: Thank you to @Rachel_Dakarian, who went ahead and made a Spotify playlist for us.

Marisa Crawford is the author of the poetry collection The Haunted House (Switchback Books, 2010), and the chapbook 8th Grade Hippie Chic (Immaculate Disciples Press, 2013). She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Find her online at marisacrawford.net.

30 Comments / Post A Comment


Say what you will about Courtney Love, but Live Through This is fucking incredible. Also, if we're giving Hole the entire album, I ask the same treatment for Sonic Youth's Experimental Jetset Trash and No Star. Fucking. Incredible.


@Kalorama_Kat even if kurt did write "live through this," i don't care. 38 minutes of true greatness.


@madge this is one of those rumors that can never be proven or disproven and it doesn't matter. That album is so damn good. I found pieces of Jennifer's body just the other day.


@Kalorama_Kat I've come around to Hole in the last couple years. I always sooooorta liked their stuff, but was so annoyed with their aesthetic that I couldn't get past it. Now I just play them really loud while I'm on the treadmill (as Courtney Love intended).


@Kalorama_Kat Obviously, yes, Live Through This is the best. The other day for some reason I was talking to my husband " you know, that song where 'pee girl gets the belt'"? and then realized he wasn't a 12 year old girl when that came out and didn't have the whole thing memorized. I queued it up and was reminded also that she gets a blister from touching everything she sees which is so gross and amazing.


You might have noticed from some of my posts of the past few days that this week has been TRYING for me. Like. Really hard. :P

So I'm stopping to breathe. Deeply.

Thanks for your patience with me, peeps. :)@l


I tell you what, *this* 40-year-old suburban mom has made her little kids sit in the Highlander with her, strapped in their carseats in the driveway, till she finished listening to of a number of these songs, very loud, on Sirius's Lithium (90s alternative) channel. Oh Mazzy Star, I'll never ever be over "Fade Into You." On a related note: There really should be more songs about happily day-drinking with strangers while the workday world goes on around you.

Samantha Danger Sparkle@facebook

@Gleemonex friggin' right, sister...though, in my case it was the Ford Escape the kids were strapped into...


@Gleemonex WORD


And also Echobelly's "I Can't Imagine the World Without Me," which is just a fucking great song.


ALL OF THE ABOVE! And thanks for reminding me that it's been 20 years since I was a freshman in high school. Assholes.


@Brunhilde Ha! Or, you know, 20 years since I was a sophomore in college. OH THE HUMANITY


@Gleemonex Whelp. Guess I'm off to Carrousel. RENEW!


@Brunhilde Same.


@Brunhilde Me too!


okay it came out in late 93 but "rebel girl" by bikini kill -- that girl thinks she's the queen of the neighborhood / i got news for you / SHE IS"


@madge oh i like you


When I first read the headline I thought it meant "20 songs by women that will (THE WOMEN) turn 20 in 2014 (BECAUSE THEY, THE WOMEN, WERE BORN IN 1994)" and I was like :((((((((

(But then I read the whole thing and felt better about my increasing and inevitable obsolescence because at least it has a nice soundtrack)

Nancy Sin

Why was 1994 the best year ever?

The Murmurs, "You Suck"


Mary's sophomore album is her best, y'all. All I really want is to be happy.

Emma Carmichael

ATTN: Spotify playlist is here. Thank you Rachel!


I think I spent a lot of 1994 really earnestly watching MTv, as if it could redeem my inherent dorkiness, so it makes sense that I know so many of these by heart.


Oh man, The Murmurs "You Suck"! Such a good one -- can't believe I forgot it! Thanks for all the great additions!

Fear Biter

Re Veruca Salt: I graduated from college in '91. One of my given names roughly rhymes with Seether, and my BF at the time that song came out (still my BFF though no longer my boyf) made up a song for which the chorus was "Can't fight the (rhymes with seether)" which he sang loudly whenever I was a particular bad-ass. So, I guess my answer to #16 is - all parts. That is all.


@frenz.lo i begged my mother so hard to get me TLC's CrazySexyCool for my 10th birthday in hopes of making me less of a dork. she only got it bc 'waterfalls is such an inspiring song for a young lady your age' (my friends and i came up with the DIRTIEST dances to red light special)


@RachelTheC I remember looking so longingly at Oooooh on the TLC Tip when I was around that age but knew never in a million years I was getting my mom to buy me an album with a bunch of condom covered ladies on it. I even felt like she was going to get mad at me watching the video for Baby Baby Baby so I would like switch it on and off when she walked by. By the time CrazySexyCool came out I thought I was too cool for pop music (but of course, know every word to all the singles and have to acknowledge they are excellent jams!)

Ryan Sowden

Everyone loves what you guys are up too. This kind of clever work and reporting! Keep up the great works guys I've included you guys to my blogroll.Titanfall CD Key

Counter Clockwise

Am I the only one who was confused by the wording of the title?
Anyway, amazing list here...


@Counter Clockwise I definitely was! I thought the artists were turning 20 and I was like "Lorde isn't old enough, maybe CharliXCX is turning 20? How did they find 20 female musicians so young?"

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