though the pop decade would be dominated by boy bands such as nkotb, take that and the backstreet boys until girl power hit, on the r&b scene, girl bands were always big business in the 90s.
after the spice girls, many tried to emulate their cartoony characteristics to achieve crossover success, but the truly talented chose credibility over advertising deals.
the integration of hip hop beats into r&b tracks was first heard on en vogue’s hold on in 1990 and the influence of the grittier hip hop scene saw some bands adopt a more casual or comedy image, notably tlc and jade, mostly via their clothing, to identify themselves with the more credible hip hop scene.
by 1995, it became more acceptable for girls to be girls and a more glamorous side emerged, eventually becoming the perfect complement to bad boy’s patented late 90s bling scene. despite this, many of the girls were tied to bad record deals and failed to recoup much of the reward for their success.
but this is the a list. you can check out the b list and the one-hit wonders too. imagine how much cash these girls didn’t make. and how much fame these z listers didn’t get.
these girls were on top of their game in the 90s – download here
en vogue – lies
in 1990, en vogue sounded like nothing else. slickly manufactured 80s soul had given way to new jack swing but some were finding the music over-produced. enter four girls, looking like the supremes, but singing over the kind of beats associated with bands like nwa and public enemy. in a rare faux pas, smash hits labelled en vogue one hit wonders in their round up 1990 – quote “…their second single currently ‘lies’ (arf) in the discount bin at woolies…” I think the only reason I remember this is that it was actually quite funny. but wrong.
tlc – ain’t too proud to beg
colourful, cute and individual, tlc burst onto the scene in 1992. condoms flying. their first album ‘oooh on the tlc tip’ was slightly overshadowed by their loud image, but by the time ‘crazysexycool‘ was released in late 1994, the girls were all grown up. if it were possible to wear out a cd i would now be on my 25th copy. though chilli and t-boz tried to carry on without left eye, it was visibly painful and they’re now working on solo projects.
destiny’s child – show me the way
hands up who preferred destiny’s child back in the day? beyonce‘s voice is natural and the four girls harmonise perfectly. this track is from their debut, at age 15, and letoya is rumoured to be singing on the first verse. it does sound like her. maybe one day all six members will reunite, dreamgirls style….or not.
swv – i’m so into you
inspiration of many of today’s current female r&b singers and the crown queens of new jill swing. swv were young, but looked older due to some hard times growing up. famously sampled wacko on ‘right here’ and went on to release five singles from their successful first album. band member lelee has recently alleged that they left their contract penniless in 1998, mirroring tlc‘s experience with laface.
jade – i want cha baby
game attempts to look sexy in lumberjack shirts five sizes too big paid off for jade, whose worldwide hit ‘don’t walk away’ put them up there with swv for a time. for years, the intro to that song featured on many an answerphone. after a second successful album, like swv and tlc, jade suffered from mismanagement and split in 1994 with little financial return.
702 – steelo
in the mid 90s, 702 tried to fill the gap left by financially ruined girl groups before them. against the odds, and with scant vocal ability, they have survived well into the 00s, partly due to the clout of longtime compadre missy elliott. still, they are responsible for some nice tracks.
eternal – stay
when they arrived, eternal were revered in the uk as a band the american record buying public would lap up. their success, whilst sizable, remained slightly more local so it was rumoured that single white member louise was offloaded to improve their chances in the us r&b market. unlikely, but in any case it turned out in her favour and she’s the only member still getting work. unless you count kelle bryan’s appearance on celebrity love island. which is precisely the opposite of being in demand.
xscape – understanding
underrated girl group who favoured mid and slow tempo jams that allowed their vocals to shine. another young group, the then mid-teens sang at jermaine dupri’s birthday party in 1991 and got a contract for their efforts. split in 1998 but now regrouped.
total – no one else
total were a bad boy project, originally singing choruses on hip hop joints for artists such as biggie smalls and ll cool j. had they stuck with this strategy, they could have disguised the fact that neither kima keisha or pam can actually sing. their debut album was painful listening and i dread to think what the untouched demo sounded like. the beats of course, were bad boy’s, and wasted on them.
brownstone – if you love me
this group managed to negotiate the obvious pitfalls of being signed to wacko‘s label and became reasonably successful with this track in 1995. after replacing a member who left due to bronchitis (read: girlfght) they failed to recover.