Leading Ladies of '90s Rock Left a Lasting Impression

Garbage's Shirley Manson at Houston's Revention Music Center, October 2015
Garbage's Shirley Manson at Houston's Revention Music Center, October 2015
Violeta Alvarez

Garbage front woman Shirley Manson was never one to adhere to convention. Take away the fact that her career choice was somewhat unconventional, in that rock has traditionally been a genre dominated by male lead singers; Manson bucks convention in numerous other ways as well.

This is a woman who, as a child, renounced religion during dinner with her father – who happened to be her Sunday-school teacher (the two continued to engage in theological dinner debates moving forward). Manson, who just turned 50, never caved to the pressure that accompanies being a sex symbol; she has never had and said she would never consider plastic surgery. She didn’t even have children, not because she couldn’t find a man, but because she simply didn’t feel the urge. For Christ’s sake, Manson's most famous lyric is, “I’m only happy when it rains.”

In short, Manson — whose band plays Revention Music Center on September 9 — is a badass. But she’s not alone, particularly as it came to bands and artists who emerged in the '90s. While pioneers like Chrissy Hynde, Joan Jett, Debbie Harry and others certainly set the standard as far as female rockers go, the ladies of the '90s branched out and did it their own way. Here are some women who, like Shirley Manson, distinctly made their mark on rock music and established a legacy that lives on to this day.

Who else to lead with than rock’s own wild child? Courtney Love isn’t just one of the biggest female badasses; she’s one of the most rebellious figures in rock history. From her drug-addled time with late husband Kurt Cobain to her feuds with everyone from Marilyn Manson to Madonna, Courtney Love is the poster child for infamy. Of course, lost in all the tabloid drama is the fact that Love has carved out a much better career than many think. Hole’s catalog is underrated in retrospect, and Love even showed some acting chops in films like Man on the Moon and The People vs. Larry Flynt, the latter of which should have garnered her an Academy Award nomination.

If you were a teenage boy in the mid-'90s, it’s a 50/50 bet you wanted to one day marry Gwen Stefani, lead singer of '90s breakout band No Doubt. Led by Stefani, No Doubt's 1994 breakthrough album, Tragic Kingdom, detailed a painful breakup with Tony Kanal (who was also in the band!); the record went on to sell more than 16 million copies. Stefani, who blended ska roots with California-chic style, became a music and fashion icon, as well as a role model for young girls who wanted to follow in her musical footsteps. No Doubt hasn’t put out an album of consequence in 15 years, but Stefani has hardly slowed down. As a solo artist, she has sold nearly 10 million records and produced myriad hit singles. In short, she could totally do better than Blake Shelton.

When you blend good looks, charisma and legit singer-songwriter chops, you get Sheryl Crow, who absolutely exploded in the early-ish '90s with her first two records, Tuesday Night Music Club and a self-titled sophomore release, which have since combined to sell more than 15 million copies. Crow struck a chord with '90s audiences, who still wanted something of substance but also wanted it to be catchy (this also explains the rise of the grunge movement a few years earlier). She delivered in spades, as singles like “All I Wanna Do,” “Strong Enough” and “If It Makes You Happy” owned the charts, and with good reason: they told good stories and provided some depth, but did so in three to four minutes. It’s no wonder Crow has sold more than 25 million records over the past two decades.

It’s become commonplace for female pop stars to embrace their sexuality in their music; Liz Phair was doing it long before it was cool. Her 1993 breakthrough, Exile in Guyville, is Phair preaching what many women already thought but dared not say — namely, that she wanted to get laid and sleep around just as much as any dude. This isn’t even subtle innuendo; Phair doesn’t have time for that, not with lyrics like “I want to be your blow job queen/ I'll fuck you and your minions too,” or “Even when I was 17/ fuck and run, fuck and run/ even when I was 12.” Or there’s choice fare such as “Every time I see your face, I get all wet between my legs/ every time you pass me by, I heave a sigh of pain.” Give Phair credit; she’s not dull.

Um, have you heard Jagged Little Pill?

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