Design Time Capsule: The ’90s in Music Videos

published Aug 10, 2015
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(Image credit: Taryn Williford)

Ah, the ’90s. If you find yourself longing for inflatable furniture, Jnco jeans and the Delia*s catalog (which is back!), might we suggest a little journey down memory lane with these 10 music videos from the 1990’s–one for every year. From grunge to hip-hop to boy band pop hit machines, here are the music videos that totally capture the style of the ’90s.

1990: “Nothing Compares 2 U” – Sinéad O’Connor

We can shut the list down right now. When you’re talking about iconic 90’s music videos, Sinéad O’Connor takes the trophy right out of the gate (those tears!). This video was awarded Video of the Year at the 1990 VMAs, the first time ever for a woman.

1991: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Nirvana

This anarchist high school pep rally became the ultimate Nirvana hit, changing the world of music videos along with it. Amy Finnerty, formerly of MTV’s Programming department, claimed the video “changed the entire look of MTV” by giving them “a whole new generation to sell to.” Something that would have no doubt totally ticked Kurt Cobain off.

“Scenario” – A Tribe Called Quest, 1992

Talk about a time capsule. This video brings back a peek at an interactive desktop interface circa 1992. Also, lots of 90’s headwear. You’ve been warned.

1993: “Cryin'” – Aerosmith

Arguable 90’s it-dude Steven Dorff, plus consummate 90’s it-girl Alecia Silverstone… equals 90’s video perfection. Plus this video probably had a hand in ushering in the decade’s massive trend of navel piercings. Thanks, Aerosmith!

1994: “Undone (The Sweater Song)” – Weezer

It was tempting to choose Weezer’s other 1994 hit, “Buddy Holly,” for this spot, but that video was more of an ode to the 1950’s set of Happy Days than anything else. “Undone,” meanwhile, looks like it could have been shot in somebody’s basement with four guys you went to school with. The video was done in one unbroken shot (this cut was somewhere between shot 15 and 20, of 25), and marks one of Spike Jonze’s first directorial efforts.

1995: “Waterfalls” – TLC

One of the most socially conscious videos of the era, it speaks for two 90’s epidemics–illegal drug trade and HIV/AIDS.

1996: “Wannabe” – Spice Girls

Another one-take wonder (this seems to be a theme for the 90’s), “Wannabe” is the ultimate pop hit, a steadfast girl power anthem and–admit it–still your go-to song at the karaoke bar.

1997: “Mo Money, Mo Problems” – The Notorious B.I.G.

Released posthumously, Biggie isn’t actually in this video, except for some well-orchestrated video clips. What is in this video is Puff Daddy, Mase, and plenty of appearances by the pinnacle of 90’s hip-hop fashion: the baggy, plastic-y, supa’ flashy jumpsuit.

1998: “…Baby One More Time” – Britney Spears

Britney may not have written her own songs, but she definitely took control of her image. It was her idea to dress up in a schoolgirl outfit and move the set to a school, so it was relatable to her young fans. Director Nigel Dick said “Every piece of wardrobe in the video came from Kmart, and I was told at the time not one piece of clothing in the video cost more than $17. On that level, it’s real. That probably, in retrospect, is a part of its charm.”

1999: “I Want it That Way” – The Backstreet Boys

While I believe ‘N Sync won the boy band war, The Backstreet Boys definitely won the battle for the quintessential 90’s boy band song with this hit. It’s been covered and parodied over and other, holding its place as an iconic 90’s jam.