20 Songs by Women that Will Turn 20 in 2014

by Marisa Crawford

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.