Female-Fronted Bands from the ’90s (That We Should Still Be Listening To)Steven Folkins

My boyfriend, Ian, told me a story a couple weeks ago that made me really sad. He works in a clothing store and it had been really busy with back-to-school shopping and stuff. He was ringing people up non-stop for a couple hours when a teenage boy (he guesstimated between 14-17) dropped a pile of clothes on the counter. Ian proceeded to look at the stuff and ring it up. He said something to the effect of, “Your clothes look like they came from Kurt Cobain’s closet.” At this point, I could totally picture the clothes in my head. The teenager, on the other hand, looked at him blankly and said, “Who?”

I thought, “Steven, you need to do something about this.” So I played some Nirvana for my children. They needed to be educated early. After playing Nirvana, I asked them who their favorite bands or singers were and my youngest (age: 7) immediately said, “Katy Perry and The Wanted.” My mouth went dry. I didn’t say anything because I like Katy Perry too, but … favorite? My 8 year-old told me he was thinking and needed to “think about it some more.” This is when I knew I needed to expose them to more than just what’s on popular radio. Capitalizing on the fact that both of my boys like Katy Perry, I decided to put together a mix of some of my favorite and most important female-fronted bands from the ’90s. These bands, like Kurt Cobain, should not be forgotten and should be listened to often.

I’m going to go ahead and assume everyone that reads this knows who Courtney Love is. Remember when she and her band, Hole, put out an amazing album (Live Through This) just four days after Courtney’s husband (Kurt Cobain) committed suicide? Live Through This is a classic and should be in everyone’s collection.

Additional Reading:
Official Website

Essential Album:
Live Through This

Veruca Salt
Veruca Salt was formed in Chicago in by Nina Gordon and Louise Post. The band had only played a few shows when they were signed to a record label and released what would be their most famous single, “Seether.” On the strength of this single and before even releasing their first full-length record, they were asked to tour with Hole. In 1994, they recorded and released their first record, American Thighs, which eventually went gold.

Additional Reading:
Veruca Salt’s Official Website
Veruca Salt’s Wikipedia

Essential Album:
American Thighs

L7 was an all-female grunge band from Los Angeles. Their third album, Bricks Are Heavy, was released in 1992 and contained their biggest and most well-known hit, “Pretend We’re Dead.” I saw them play live at Lollapalooza in 1994. They were an hour late for their performance and when they came on, they were pretty drunk – but they played such an amazing live show, I felt lucky to have seen them.

Additional Reading:
L7’s Wikipedia
L7’s Website

Essential Album:
Bricks Are Heavy

I am partial to bands from Boston, as this indicates, and this is one of my favorites from the ‘90s. The band was fronted by Mary Timony and was known for their sound as much as their lyrics. I would liken it to an all-female game of Dungeons and Dragons, set to music. Timony is now a member of the band Wild Flag.

Additional Reading:
Helium’s Wikipedia

Essential Album:
The Dirt of Luck

Velocity Girl
Velocity Girl was a Washington, D.C.-based band lead by Sarah Shannon. The band was heavily influenced by pop music and the shoegaze genre. Sarah would often share lead vocals with guitarist Archie Moore. They released three albums and were known for releasing multiple 7” vinyl singles. They broke up in 1996.

Additional Reading:
Velocity Girl’s Wikipedia

Essential Album:

that dog
This L.A.-based rock band were known for their catchy songs and layered harmonies. Fronted by Anna Waronker on guitar and vocals, along with sisters Rachel (bass/vocals) and Petra (violin/vocals) and Tony Maxwell on drums. They released three albums before dissolving in 1997.

Additional Reading:
that dog’s Wikipedia

Essential Album:
Totally Crushed Out

Bikini Kill
Bikini Kill are considered to be the founders of the “riot grrrl” movement. They were formed in Olympia, Washington in 1990 by vocalist and songwriter Kathleen Hanna, guitarist Billy Karren, bassist Kathi Wilcox and drummer Tobi Vail. The band was famous for their radical feminist lyrics as well as their live performances. They disbanded in 1998 and Kathleen Hanna eventually went on to for the band Le Tigre.

Additional Reading:
Bikini Kill’s Wikipedia
Blog Archive

Essential Album:
Pussy Whipped

The Breeders
The Breeders formed as a side project for Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly. At the time, Kim was still in The Pixies and Tanya was in Throwing Muses. Eventually, The Pixies broke up and Kim recruited her twin sister, Kelley, to replace Tanya (who left to form her own band, Belly). The Breeders recorded and released the album Last Splash in 1994. It went platinum.

Additional Reading:
The Breeders Wikipedia

Essential Album:
Last Splash

Belly was formed in 1991 and led by Tanya Donelly. They released only two albums before dissolving in 1996. Tanya has since recorded a bunch of solo albums.

Additional Reading:
Belly’s Wikipedia

Essential Album:

In the ’90s, there was a second British Invasion of sorts with Radiohead, Blur and Oasis leading the way. There were a slew of other bands (especially female-fronted bands from England) that gained popularity during that time period. Elastica was one of those bands. Elastica formed in 1992 and released their first album in 1995. The lead singer of the band also provided tabloid fodder because she dated the lead singer of Blur, Damon Albarn. Elastica broke up in 2001.

Additional Reading:
Elastica’s Wikipedia

Essential Album:

One of my favorite bands from the ’90s (and still a fave) is Tuscadero, an indie rock group from Washington D.C. The band sang nostalgic pop songs about the pop culture of their youths. They had (and I imagine still do) a cult following based on the catchiness of a few of their songs, most notably “Nancy Drew.” They were dropped from their label in 1998 and then broke up in 1999.

Additional Reading:
Tuscadero’s Wikipedia

Essential Album:
The Pink Album

Cibo Matto
Cibo Matto was a band formed by Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda in New York City in 1994. The two women wrote songs about food on the first album, Viva! La Woman. For their second album, Stereo * Type A, they recruited additional members (including Sean Lennon) and expanded their songwriting. They broke up in 2001 and are rumored to be working on a new album.

Additional Reading:
Cibo Matto’s Wikipedia

Essential Album:
Viva! La Woman

What other female-fronted bands from the ’90s do you wish were around and popular?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1214109246 Luiz Marcondes

    You gotta say they went platinum, they went gold… Can´t you just say how creative and interesting they were? And give the kids some examples? I guess that´s a sign of our times. Everything is a hit parade of some sort. No one would give a fuck about that shit in the 90s, tho. Trust me, I know. I was there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001921082075 Cyndi Di Bravo

    How can you forget Babes in Toyland! Kat was amazaing <3 The Headcoates and Sleater Kinney too

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1469612044 Eva Kalenska

    definitely Garbage are missing there in the list. as well as The Cranberries and other artists, but you’re right: nowadays kids just seem to know Nirvana and other iconic artists because of the t-shirts with their names on and all of the fashion comebacks (punk, grunge and so on.). i feel like us that grew up in the 90s or even earlier, knew both the older and newer hits. there was a genuine interest in searching for records and gigs instead of just listening to what’s on mtv or top 40.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1047751041 Monica Murphy

    Great article! I can’t wait for one about Tori Amos, Bjork, PJ Harvey, and Fiona Apple. These singer-songwriters were my solace in the 90’s, and I still love their music.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1047751041 Monica Murphy

    Connect with Facebook to post a comment

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000182269646 Tiffany Arnold

    Sleater-Kinney, Bratmobile, Le Tigre, 7 year bitch,Cub, lunachicks, slant 6 are missing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=24006691 Samantha Warren

    I’m so glad someone appreciates Hole like I do!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553550779 Christopher Dufour

    Created a Spotify playlist with a lot of the bands mentioned here. Couldn’t in good conscience include Hole, however. :)


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000196288055 Danielle Dominique Debrule

    I’m a huge Throwing Muses / Tonya Donelly / Kim Deal fan. I really miss Mazzy Star and (The) Tribe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1009432878 Oriol Garcia Casas

    question, anyone knows of rock groups Latinos (Spanish speaking)…… :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000518971668 Grace Rulloda

    Why didn’t anybody mention The Corrs? Loved them, still do. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=722884710 Michael Lee Elmendorf

    Veruca Salt, yes. L7, yes. The Breeders, yes. I know of Bikini Kill. I do not know their music, but yes. The other bands I sadly am not hip enough to know of, with that said, i will say, yes. Hole, even tho I like*d their music, i must say no to them. Learning of courtney’s antics against her fans during shows, for me, really put a damper on the festivities. Like most people, and myself, she has issues. I would avoid her at all costs. Sorry Kurt, your wife is ill. I miss hearing, on a regular bases, Veruca Salt. L7. and The Breeders on the radio of the 90s. Them –and Hole, really set an edgy womanly sound. Sorry, there is no comparison to them today

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553550779 Christopher Dufour

      Totally with you on Veruca Salt. I still have an unhealthy obsession with Nina Gordon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1079452430 Bryon Lotario James Bean

    Wow… you totally left out Lush.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=657905745 Aaron Bass

    Sahara Hotnights

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1621548387 Callie Ruth Ream

    Ok, one more thing, Zooey, please consider covering Halah or Give You My Lovin’ by Mazzy Star on your next album. <3

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1621548387 Callie Ruth Ream

    OH! And Echobelly, another amazing band from that era, fronted by Sonya Madan.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1621548387 Callie Ruth Ream

    Please give some love to Johnette Napolitano and Concrete Blonde!!! Seems like Bloodletting should be having a revival right about now . And Louise Wener from Sleeper-I saw them play with Belly in the early 90s and it made me a fan for life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681961453 Carly P. Key

    The Donnas are missing! Garbage, and No Doubt too! You say these are female fronted bands but it seems like you only listed mostly female only bands

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553550779 Christopher Dufour

      NO Doubt and Garbage, yes, but The Donnas were more of a 2000s band.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1314030999 Polly Maestro

    Babes In Toyland! Lunachicks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=770315646 Ruth Andrews

    No Doubt!

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