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20 Biggest Songs of the Summer: The 1990s

Teen pop and R&B balladry dominate the Hot 100 in the Clinton years

hanson mmmbop

If you only looked at the album charts, the Nineties were defined by the mainstream breakthroughs of alternative rock and gangsta rap: angry men selling millions of records to each other. But the Hot 100 retained a youthful glow, particularly in the summer, with smash singles by teenage R&B heroes like Monica and Destiny’s Child, as well as pop prodigies like Hanson and Christina Aguilera. From New Jack Swing to New Kids on the Block, here are the biggest Nineties hits that dominated the charts between June and September, dictated by peak chart positions and total length of run on the Hot 100. We’ve also ignored all the unseasonal ballads – so our apologies to Elton John, Bryan Adams and more.

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12. EMF, “Unbelievable”

In 1990, Andrew Dice Clay released his most successful comedy album, The Day the Laughter Died, which peaked at Number 39 on the Billboard 200. A year later, the Diceman stumbled into his greatest chart success as a sample in this international chart-topper. Oh!

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11. New Kids on the Block, “Step by Step”

Teen pop sensations have a habit of flaming out in three years or so – and 1990 was year three for New Kids on the Block. The album, Step by Step, and its title track both topped the charts that summer, but it only spun off one more top 10 single before the group’s quick slide from prominence.

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10. Hanson, “MMMBop”

Perhaps the only Hot 100 chart-topper written by a couple of teens (and a tween) in a garage. A slower early recording of “MMMBop” first appeared on one of the Hanson brothers’ independent albums in 1996. A year later, Mercury Records put the boys in the studio with the Dust Brothers, then hot off of producing Beck’s Odelay, and wound up with the funkier uptempo track that took over the world.

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9. Monica, “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)”

Monica was introduced to the airwaves as a sassy, short-haired 14-year-old in 1995. But the attitude she displayed on “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days)” was helped in no small part by the hard-hitting LL Cool J and Public Enemy samples mixed into the track by producer Dallas Austin.

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8. Toni Braxton, “You’re Makin’ Me High”

Toni Braxton topped the Hot 100 in 1996 with a double A side of the lead single from her second album Secrets along with her Waiting to Exhale soundtrack hit “Let It Flow.” But it was “You’re Makin’ Me High,” and Braxton’s iconic catsuit in the song’s promo clip, that steamed up video channels all summer long.

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7. Jennifer Lopez, “If You Had My Love”

Jennifer Lopez’s film career exploded in 1997 when she played the titular Latin pop superstar in Selena, and two years later she expanded her own media empire with her first smash single. But “If You Had My Love” was the subject of some controversy when it turned out that producer Rodney Jerkins had written a nearly identical song, “If I Gave Love,” that had already been released by R&B singer Chanté Moore.

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6. Tag Team, “Whoomp! (There It Is)”

In one of the strangest arms races in pop history, Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There It Is)” and 95 South’s “Whoot, There It Is” battled it out for chart supremacy throughout the summer of 1993. But in September, Tag Team arose victorious, peaking at Number Two while 95 South topped out at Number 11, with the winner claiming the dubious prize of an Addams Family-themed movie soundtrack single.

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5. Christina Aguilera, “Genie in a Bottle”

In the early Nineties, the Disney Channel assembled an array of young talent for The New Mickey Mouse Club that served as a sleeper cell for the chart comeback of teen pop at the end of the decade. Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez were first out of the gate in 1998 with ‘N Sync’s initial U.S. hits, followed by Britney Spears in early ’99. Christina Aguilera completed the Mouseketeer takeover with her first Number One that summer.

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4. Sir Mix-A-Lot, “Baby Got Back”

When Rick Rubin encouraged one of his American Records artists, Sir Mix-A-Lot, to release his uptempo ode to backsides as a single, he also handpicked the video’s director, Adam Bernstein, who had helmed quirky clips for They Might Be Giants and the B-52’s. “[Mix-A-Lot] really wanted a giant ass in the video, and he wanted to be coming out of it,” Bernstein recalled in Vulture‘s recent oral history of the song. “I suggested that maybe wasn’t a great idea.”

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3. Los Del Rio, “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)”

The Spanish pop duo Los Del Rio had been together for three decades by the time they wrote their biggest hit, “Macarena,” in 1992. But it took four years and several different versions before a remix with English language verses became the worldwide dance phenomenon with the longest climb to Number One in Hot 100 history, peaking after 46 weeks(!) on the chart.

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2. TLC, “Waterfalls”

TLC’s signature song, a socially conscious ballad touching on drug addiction and the HIV epidemic, was produced by Organized Noize, then best known for their work with Atlanta rap groups Outkast and Goodie Mob. Cee-Lo Green of Goodie Mob sang backup on the track, a decade before he’d make blockbuster pop hits of his own.

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1. Brandy and Monica, “The Boy Is Mine”

Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney launched Thriller‘s singles campaign with “The Girl Is Mine,” playfully quarreling over a love triangle. Fifteen years later, two rising R&B stars created a more dramatic answer song, bigger than its inspiration, topping the charts for a whopping 15 weeks in the summer of 1998.

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