17 June 2021
The 90s was a decade of bold fashion choices, classic video games and incredible music coming from every genre – from rock to pop, electronica and hip-hop. A heady mix of R&B divas, pop princesses and ethereal performance artists, the best 90s female singers set the world alight – and continue to keep it burning.
10: Beverley Knight
From the moment Beverley Knight brought us a flavour of the old school with her debut single in 1995, she marked herself out as one of the best 90s female singers to emerge from the UK. By echoing her musical heroes Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin on her debut album, The B-Funk, Knight laid the groundwork for one of the most successful R&B careers of any British vocalist. It’s follow-up, 1998’s Prodigal Sista, went gold off the back of the UK No.14 single Greatest Day (built on a sample from Fat Larry’s Band’s laidback funk cut Act Like You Know), and found Knight taking more control over her sound, pointing to even greater things to come in the 2000s.
Must hear: Greatest Day
Just 15 years old when her 1994 self-titled debut album yielded three Top 10 singles, Brandy Norwood saw great commercial success as an actress and a singer. In 1996, her timeless performance as Moesha Mitchell on the US television show Moesha made her a household name, catching the attention of Whitney Houston, who picked the fast-rising star to play the role of Cinderella in a TV special the following ear. Brandy’s sophomore album, 1998’s Never Say Never, cemented her place as a lucrative multi-media crossover artist among the best 90s female singers, and included a chart-topping answer to Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s 1982 duet, The Girl Is Mine. Recorded with Monica, The Boy Is Mine remained at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 13 weeks, becoming the best-selling song of 1998.
Must hear: The Boy Is Mine
Having already established herself as one of the best 80s female singers, Madonna’s knack for reinvention ensured her relevance in the decade that followed. Continually experimenting with her image and sound, she went from the sexual forthrightness of the Blonde Ambition tour and Erotica album at the beginning of the decade to the questing mysticism and experimental electronica of 1998’s Ray Of Light, picking up major film roles in Dick Tracey, A League Of Their Own and Evita along the way. Garnering multiple Grammys and a Golden Globe throughout the decade, Madonna proved she was right up there with the best 90s female singers when she became the biggest-selling female artist in the world in 1998. Unsurprisingly, Her Madgesty remains a pop fixture to this day.
Must hear: Ray Of Light
In both life and death, Selena Quintanilla-Pérez took her Mexican-American heritage into the mainstream. Establishing herself with a string of Billboard Latin-chart-topping hits lifted from her 1994 breakthrough album, Amor Prohibido – among them Bidi Bidi Bom Bom, No Me Queda Más and that album’s title track – the mononymous “Mexican Madonna” was poised to take over the English-speaking market, but her career was tragically cut short in 1995 when she was fatally shot by business associate Yolanda Saldívar. Selling over 175,000 copies in one day, the posthumously released Dreaming Of You album was an incomparable mix of R&B, pop, Tejano and cumbia music that made Selena the first ever Hispanic artist to debut at No.1 on the Billboard charts. Modernising the male-dominated Tejano scene from a female point of view, her legacy has inspired a movie biopic, a Netflix series and countless Latin American singers who have followed in her wake.
Must hear: Amor Prohibido
6: Kylie Minogue
Another contender among the best 90s female singers to have found fame in the previous decade, Kylie Minogue moved away from her pop-princess image to show that she could adapt to the changing times. Signing to the UK-based indie label Destruction, she pursued a more experimental sound on the Kylie Minogue (1994) and Impossible Princess (1997) albums, while also finding credibility with the indie crowd thanks to, Where The Wild Roses Grow, a hit collaboration with Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. Hailed by NME as one of the best songs of the 90s, the unlikely partnership showcased just how multi-faceted a star Kylie truly was, and paved the way for the chart-smashing reinvention of Spinning Around at the start of the 2000s.
Must hear: Where The Wild Roses Grow
5: Mariah Carey
Opening the decade with her self-titled debut album, Mariah Carey’s career started off on a high note. Spending 11 weeks at the top of the Billboard 200, the record went on to score Grammys for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Performance (for Vision Of Love), paving the way for future chart-topping performances from albums such as Music Box (1993) and Daydream (1995). In 1994, she gifted the world what’s still regarded as one of the best Christmas songs of all time, All I Want For Christmas Is You, and saw out the decade by moving into a more mature sound, with the notably breathy timbre of her cornerstone album, Butterfly (1997). Known for her five-octave vocal range and iconic whistle notes, Mariah Carey’s technical prowess alone makes her one of the best 90s female singers.
Must hear: Always Be My Baby
4: Missy Elliott
Having worn many hats in her career – among them producer, songwriter, rapper and singer – Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott started out in the early 90s as a member of the underrated and short-lived R&B group Sista, before becoming part of the Swing Mob collective with producer Timbaland. Stepping out as a solo artist in 1997, with the Timbaland-produced Supa Dupa Fly, she immediately established herself as one of the most original MCs of all time, creating a unique style built on comical free-association raps that steered clear of the East Coast-West Coast rivalry which still dominated hip-hop following the deaths of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.. Her follow-up album, Da Real World, left pretenders scrabbling to emulate its sound throughout the 2000s.
Must hear: The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)
Though Icelandic icon Björk began recording music in the 70s, at the age of 11, it wasn’t until she moved to London in 1993 that she began to fully hone her sound. Garnering attention for her outlandish makeup and costumes as much as for her dance-pop crossover music, she quickly established herself as one of the best 90s female singers, capable of turning out some of the best art-pop music of all time. Inspired by London’s club culture, her 1995 album, Post, blended techno and industrial music to become one of decade’s essential albums, and showcased her effortlessly eclectic range across songs such as the brutal Army Of Me and the mercurial novelty of It’s Oh So Quiet. Cited as an influence by artists as diverse as Madonna and Rush’s Geddy Lee, Björk’s unpredictability is the one thing fans can count on – the rest is always a surprise.
Must hear: Army Of Me
2: Lauryn Hill
Not just one of the best female 90s singers, Lauryn Hill is one of the most influential rappers of all time. Popularising a melodic vocal style as part of Fugees, Hill broke barriers for women in a male-dominated hip-hop scene. Standing apart from the glossy production styles that dominated much late-90s hip-hop, Hill’s solo album, 1998’s The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, brough her intricate rhyme schemes to the fore, revealing that she had the lyricism to match her vocal skills. At the 1999 Grammy Awards, she became the first woman to be nominated for ten categories in a single year, and though she still hasn’t released an official follow-up, Hill remains a figurehead for independence in the music industry.
Must hear: Doo-Wop (That Thing)
1: Alanis Morissette
Alanis Morrissette’s unapologetically honest songs voiced the angsty concerns of a generation. Starting out with local success in her homeland of Canada, Morissette became a global star with 1995’s era-defining Jagged Little Pill, which included scathing attacks on ex-lovers (You Oughta Know) and the auditory eye-rolls of Ironic, and immediately elevated Morissette to the upper ranks of the best 90s female singers. Her passionate expressions of emotions have empowered female artists ever since, helping to bring necessary conversations about mental health into the mainstream. A perfect balance of mainstream pop and alt-rock, her music is arguably the ultimate sound of the 90s.
Must hear: Ironic
You’ve seen the decade’s most iconic female singers, now hear the best 90s albums.
- Female Singers
Madonna is believed to have sold the most records among any female music artists in history, with 300 million records sold worldwide.Who is the most charted female vocalist of all time? ›
Madonna is believed to have sold the most records among any female music artists in history, with 300 million records sold worldwide.Who were the female singers of the 20th century? ›
20th century: Madonna, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, Janet Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton and Shania Twain had incredible success and fame in the 20th century, some longer and some shorter.Who are the most talented female singers? ›
1: Aretha Franklin
Topping our list of the best female singers of all time, Aretha Franklin also stands as the most-charting female singer in history. Starting out in the gospel choir at her Baptist church, in Detroit, Franklin began her career as a recording artist in 1960, aged just 18.
Oh come on, let's just take it all the way back to the late 1990s? Arguably the most popular female singer with red hair in 1997, Geri Halliwell was of course best known as Ginger Spice from the beloved group the Spice Girls.
Montserrat Caballé hits this note in Strauss' opera Salome. But it's Mariah Carey who takes the prize for the largest vocal range of all. She can reach a low F2 and hit an unbelievable G7, a note that dolphins would envy, and that only some dogs can hear.Who is the female singer with 5 octave range? ›
You'd be hard-pressed to find a singer who can sing higher than Mariah. This international superstar has a vocal range covering five octaves, which is not bad! Her whistle register is particularly impressive. Of course, she sings well in her chest and head voices, too.
Aretha Franklin: Universally recognized as the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin was the most successful female translator of gospel technique, jazz swing, and blues pathos in post-60s popular music.Who was one outstanding woman artist of the 20th century? ›
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) - A Mexican painter known for her self-portraits and depictions of Mexican culture and folklore. Kahlo's work often explores themes of identity, pain, and resilience, and she is considered one of the most significant female artists of the 20th century.Who is the female entertainer of the century? ›
Ross also saw success in the world of acting, winning the New Star of the Year award at the 1973 Golden Globes for her role as Billie Holiday in "Lady Sings the Blues." Her record-breaking musical career and award-winning acting career led Billboard to name Ross the "Female Entertainer of the Century" in 1976.
With 40 top 10 hits in the Hot 100 over her career, Swift surpassed Madonna as the woman with the most top 10s in the chart's history. (Madonna has 38 top 10 singles.) Swift is only surpassed by Drake, who counts 59 top 10 hits.Who has the greatest singing voice of all time? ›
- Michael Jackson.
- Elton John.
- Whitney Houston.
- Tupac Shakur.
- Shania Twain.
- Mariah Carey.
Pop. The American vocal group Backstreet Boys became one of the most commercially successful boy bands of the 1990s. Britney Spears became one of the most successful pop singers of the 1990s. Celine Dion became one of the best-selling singers of the 1990s.Who was the female vocals on 1999? ›
I only want you to have some fun." Prince shares lead vocals on the track with members of his band the Revolution, namely Dez Dickerson, Lisa Coleman and Jill Jones.Who is the most awarded vocalist of all time? ›
Michael Jackson is the most decorated artist in history by a long shot. Over his career and lifetime, he won 834 awards including 13 Grammy Awards and 26 American Music Awards. Also, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.Who has won the most CMA female Vocalist of the Year Awards? ›
The inaugural recipient of the award was Loretta Lynn in 1967. Miranda Lambert holds the record for most wins in the category, with seven, while four-time recipient Reba McEntire has a leading eighteen nominations. Anne Murray holds the record for most nominations without a win, with six.Who has the greatest voice of all time? ›
She is the second-most charted female vocalist during the rock era (1955–1999).