While many may say that gentlemen greatly populate the rock genre of music, the 90s showed the emergence of a surprising number of female rock singers who left indelible marks on the genre.
Best Female Rock Singers of the ’90s
Their powerful vocals, unique style, and performances left fans thinking they just had a touch of heaven. In this list, we will do the honor of compiling the 15 famous 90s female rock singers you’ll never forget.
1. Alanis Morissette
- Alanis Morissette
The Canadian-born singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette is a name that is synonymous with the 90s rock scene. Her breakthrough came in 1995 with her third studio album, “Jagged Little Pill.” Most describe the album as a well-received creative detour from her previous dance-pop albums.
This alternative rock album, filled with post-grunge elements, sold over 33 million copies globally, making her a cultural phenomenon. Listen to her songs, and the feeling of raw emotion and brutally honest lyrics return you to that era. With her hit single “You Oughta Know,” she cemented herself as the angry poster girl of the alternative rock genre.
2. Courtney Love
- Courtney Love – Hole
Courtney Love, the lead singer of the alternative rock band Hole, was a prominent figure in the 90s rock scene. Known for her grungy style and unabashedly candid lyrics, Love‘s influence on the rock scene is set in stone.
Despite personal struggles, this female rock singer’s raspy vocals and punk attitude perfectly captured the spirit of 90s rock music. While her melodies on the mic were smooth, her life outside of her music was not. Her marriage to Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was rocky to say the least, and to many, her marrying him was the major cause of his death.
Tragedy strikes the famous female rock singer’s family
Kurt was sadly found dead in his Seattle home on April 5, 1994. All that was found was a shotgun across his body and a suicide note nearby. The Seattle Police Department confirmed Cobain‘s death as a suicide, but this did not stop conspiracy theories from circulating.
3. Shirley Manson
In the 90’s, whenever a lead singer with fiery red hair mount the stage, you could tell it was Manson. As lead vocalist of the rock band Garbage, she was a force to be reckoned with. Her strength shows in the record sales her band has racked up, selling over 17 million albums worldwide.
Her unique voice and forthright style brought a unique blend of alternative rock, electronica, and trip-hop to the scene. Tracks like “Stupid Girl” and “Only Happy When It Rains” are still remembered as classics of the 90’s.
Not just a female rock singer – this famous 90s star also acts
Many are unaware that Manson also acts. She was featured from 2008 to 2009 in the television series, Terminator: The Chronicles of Sarah Connor.
HeR fame also led to her recording the theme to the 1999 James Bond movie, ‘The World Is Not Enough‘.
4. Gwen Stefani
To many Gen Z’s, Gwen is that elegant judge on “The Voice.” But way before reality TV, Gwen Stefani was the energetic lead singer of the ska-punk band No Doubt. She had a dynamic stage presence and an impeccable fashion sense to match. And when she released her hits, “Don’t Speak” and “Just a Girl,” many were quick to label her, and rightfully so, as the sound of 90s rock. They had every reason to.
Stefani sings her way to triple platinum
The hit single, “Don’t Speak” sold over 16 million copies worldwide and was certified diamond in the United States and Canada. Additionally, it went platinum in the United Kingdom, and triple platinum in Australia. In total, Gwen Stefani has been associated with selling over 35 million albums in her musical career.
The enigmatic female rock singer’s success didn’t stop with No Doubt. Stefani transitioned into a solo career, releasing hit songs that have gone on to top the Billboard charts. Her artistry and success led her to a spot as a coach on the hit television show, “The Voice,” where she used and still uses her experience and knowledge to guide other aspiring female rock singers.
5. PJ Harvey
English musician PJ Harvey was, to many, the darling of the 90s rock scene. Her music had a fine fusion of punk, blues, and indie rock, and along with her thought-provoking lyrics, she earned herself a dedicated fan base. Here prolific writing ability helped create a deep discography.
Harvey earns accolades as a female rock singer.
Harvey has released nine albums since 1995, including collaborations with many former bandmates. Rolling Stone awarded the female rock singer with 1992 Best New Artist and Best Singer Songwriter. Furthermore, they followed up in 1995 awarding her Artist of the Year. Albums like “Rid of Me” and “To Bring You My Love” are considered some of the most powerful works of the decade.
6. Liz Phair
Unlike other female rock singers who had to be patient before fame came their way, Liz Phair struck gold with her debut album “Exile in Guyville,” in 1993. On the album, Liz came through with very explicit lyrics about Love, sex, and insecurity. To Liz, this was her creative way of lending her voice to the experiences of young women in the 90s.
Phair cracks the Billboard Top 10
Phair‘s second album, “Whip-Smart,” also didn’t disappoint, receiving substantial media attention and debuting at #27 in 1994. The album’s first single, “Supernova,” became a Top 10 modern rock hit, and its video was frequently featured on MTV. Another notable song from Phair‘s discography is “Divorce Song,” which topped the list of her best songs according to a 2021 ranking by indieheads.
Phair‘s music was a fine blend of indie rock and lo-fi. Couple that with her bold approach to songwriting, her unique sound, and it’s crystal clear why she’s on this list.
7. Tori Amos
Tori Amos built her trade around her expressive piano-based sound and confessional lyrics. With her songs, fans felt like they were granted melodic access to her life and personal experiences. Her hauntingly beautiful songs like “Cornflake Girl” and “Silent All These Years” were Tori‘s way of showing just how impressive of a vocal range she possesses, alongside a songwriting prowess to match.
Amos‘ music, which combined elements of pop, alternative rock, jazz, and show tunes, was both innovative and deeply personal. She had a natural ability to convey complex emotions through her music, which earned her a dedicated fanbase in return.
8. Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple‘s breakthrough came with her debut album “Tidal” in 1996, and in no time, she became the name on everyone’s lips. Her soulful voice and thought-provoking lyrics on songs like “Criminal” and “Shadowboxer” had many listeners clutching their radio boxes in delight. Apple‘s brutally honest and vulnerable approach to songwriting, coupled with her unique blend of jazz, alt-rock, and pop, was her way of creating her trademark style of music for herself.
Despite facing criticism early in her career, there was no denying this female rock singer‘s talent. The music world agreed when she earned herself a much deserved Grammy at just 20 years old.
9. Sheryl Crow
Why do rock alone when you can do rock, country and pop? That’s Sheryl Crow in a nutshell. Sheryl Crow began her career by recording jingles for advertising clients before working as a backup singer for stars like Michael Jackson and Rod Stewart.
All this female rock singer wants to do is have some fun
She hit the big time with her 1993 debut album, Tuesday Night Music Club, and continued to rack up accolades and massive sales with follow-up efforts like Sheryl Crow and The Globe Sessions. With nine Grammy Awards, Crow announced that her 2019 album “Threads,” would be her last.
10. Joan Osborne
Joan Osborne is a seven-time Grammy nominee that came into the limelight and the pop charts with her hit single “One of Us” and the multi-platinum album, Relish (1995). A soulful singer, on any given night, Osborne exudes a “Whole Wide World” of joy in her performances that include a signature mix of rock, soul, R&B, blues, gospel, country, funk, and pop.
The famous female rock singer goes it alone
In 1991, she formed her own record label, Womanly Hips, to release her first full-length album, Soul Show: Live at Delta 88, and she began to tour around the Northeast, building a devoted regional following.
11. Natalie Merchant
Everyone who tuned in and listened to the band, 10,000 Maniacs, back in the 90s was very familiar with the voice of their captivating lead vocalist. The lead vocalist’s name was Natalie Merchant. Despite being a male-populated band, Natalie‘s voice soon became the band’s signature, creating a unique brand of alternative rock music.
In 1993, she decided to go solo, producing hit songs “Carnival” and “Wonder.”
12. Dolores O’Riordan
Dolores O’Riordan, was an Irish singer, musician, and songwriter. She was the lead vocalist and lyricist of the alternative rock band the Cranberries. Their 1993 debut, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, would lead to crashing-wave hits like “Linger” and “Dreams,”.
Zombie still has legs
“Zombie” was such a successful song for this female rock singer that it had many artists cover it, including pop sensation Miley Cyrus.
Each song is powered by the blend of the band’s guitar shimmer and O’Riordan’s luxurious, haunted voice. That album and its 1994 follow-up, No Need to Argue, sold millions of records, and the Cranberries even taped an MTV Unplugged.
13. Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart
With the two sisters right at the heart of the band, “Heart“, it always felt that the band had something to prove. Heart, the band not only proved that hard, glam-infused rock had a place in mainstream stardom, but that the success could be accomplished with women — gloriously permed — at the helm.
Raised in Bellevue, Washington, Nancy Wilson began playing music as a teenager. During college, she joined her sister, Ann, who had recently become the singer of Heart. The first hard rock band fronted by women, Heart released numerous albums throughout the late 1970s and 1980s; the albums Dreamboat Annie (1975), and Little Queen (1977) generated chart singles such as “Magic Man“, “Crazy on You“, and “Barracuda“.
Ann Wilson and Heart’s longevity translate to commercial success
The band also had commercial success with their eighth, ninth, and tenth studio albums, Heart, Bad Animals, and Brigade, which were released in 1985, 1987, and 1990 respectively. Heart has sold over 35 million records and Ann Wilson has become one of the most famous female rock singers of all time.
14. Stevie Nicks
She is Stevie Nicks, a member of Fleetwood Mac and a successful solo artist was another female rock singer whose legacy we can never forget. Known for her distinctive raspy voice, Nick‘s music was a mix of rock and pop that was enchanting yet very relatable.
Her 90s singles like “Sometimes It’s a B***h” and “Rooms on Fire” had fans falling in love with her musical versatility. She is the first woman to have been inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: first as a member of Fleetwood Mac in 1998 and then as a solo artist in 2019.
15. Sarah McLachlan
Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan was a key figure in the 90s adult contemporary and folk rock scene. She became famous for her trademark emotional ballads and her impeccable and soulful voice.
McLachlan founds festival to promote other famous female rock singers
In 1997 McLachlan helped found Lilith Fair, a concert that gathered some of the most talented and popular female rock singers in the music industry, including Jewel, Tracy Chapman, and Paula Cole. With the success of the festival, McLachlan proved to wary record executives that women artists were as marketable as their male counterparts. Lilith Fair toured until 1999.
McLachlan’s later albums included Mirrorball (1999), which featured live performances; Afterglow (2003); Laws of Illusion (2010); and Shine On (2014), for which she received the Juno Award for best adult contemporary album.