11 Iconic ’90s Female Frontwomen For Your Kickass Playlist

May 8, 2019
90s bands with female lead singers

At the end of the millennium, there was a huge wave of really decent rock bands. And in particular, a lot of 90s bands with female lead singers.

I was reminded of this era when I was sent a press release of The Cranberries’ new album, In The End, the last fragments of Delores O’Riordan’s distinctive way of singing. Listening to her voice, I remembered the first time I heard her sound, probably playing through a tinny car radio or on a perfectly square television set. It also reminded me of the other women who inspired me at that time.

These girls weren’t your typical choreographed mannequins singing about a ghost writer’s marital problems. They had personality, attitude and their own styles. They didn’t just sing for the band, they were a part of it. I think we could all take a few lessons from these women.

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Gwen Stefani

Lead Singer Of No Doubt

Before her shit was bananas, Gwenny Gwen Gwen was the energetic, platinum blonde lead singer of a band.

Her brother introduced her to ska music and, when he formed a new band, he asked her to sing. With her high toned voice and energetic stage presence, No Doubt became popular in the ska scene. They gained even more success when they created one of the best albums of the ’90s Tragic Kingdom. You may have heard the Stefani-penned ballad ‘Don’t Speak’ but there are so many more songs to put on repeat. Apart from ‘Trapped In A Box’. That needs to stay in the ’90s.

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Delores O’Riordan

Lead Singer Of The Cranberries

Delores O’Riordan didn’t just sing. She created her own unique sound by mixing mezzo-soprano with ‘keening‘ (a traditional form of vocal lament for the dead) and it worked. She cooed along nicely in the optimistic ‘Dreams’ and wailed to the dark undertones of ‘Zombie’. Although her life in the ’90s was that of an Irish icon, I was sad to read that the end of her life was laced in tragedy, alcohol and mental health issues.

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Hope Sandoval

Lead Singer Of Mazzy Star

Although Hope was a shy, introverted girl, she was completely endearing as a singer. On stage, she liked to perform in almost darkness and rarely talked to the audience. But people loved to hear her sing Mazzy Star’s most popular song ‘Fade Into You’ taken from So Tonight That I Might See. This album captures the ’90s style completely, even down to the album art.

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Courtney Love

Lead Singer Of Hole

When Courtney was young, she taught herself guitar and put an advert in the local zine for people to join her new band. The result was Hole. She threw herself into writing and worked relentlessly in strip clubs to pay for the band. Eventually, she gave up shaking her body exclusively for men and instead did it for the stage when they released their first record in the early ’90s. Courtney’s graphic lyrics, uncensored attitude and heroin addiction gained her notoriety. She also quickly gained a lot of hate for being reckless and the rumours surrounding her husband, Kurt Cobain’s suicide. But By 1998, Hole produced Celebrity Skin, an album that showed you who she was without apologising.

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Cerys Matthews

Lead Singer Of Catatonia

Cerys began her musical career by playing the guitar and singing Welsh folk songs. Staying true to her Welsh identity, she became a fan of the indie rock band Y Cyrrf and met singer Mark Roberts. Naturally, they began a relationship, wrote songs together and formed a new band called Catatonia. I wish all relationships were this prosperous. The most I get out of a new relationship is a dreadful hickie.

By 1998, they were all over the radio and Cerys was all over the free bars. One of my all-time favourite childhood songs was ‘Road Rage’ and I remember waiting patiently for the radio to play it so I could record it onto a cassette- the ’90s version of illegal downloading.

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Shirley Manson

Lead Singer Of Garbage

When I was younger, Shirley Manson was my idol. She was quickly scouted by the American band Garbage and she threw herself into co-writing their 1995 debut. Shirley’s rebellious attitude and grunge style were enough to capture this ’90s girl’s heart. To me, she was like a rock ‘n’ roll ginger spice.

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Nina Persson

Lead Singer Of The Cardigans

The Swedish rockers were a huge deal throughout most of the ’90s. You may have heard of ‘Lovefool’, the soundtrack song for Romeo & Juliette. But it wasn’t until the ’98 Gran Turismo record that I began to pay attention. I remember watching MTV and seeing her drive barefooted like a crazy woman, causing car crashes and wearing fake tattoos. She was the perfect role model for a 7-year-old like me.

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Lead Singer Of Skunk Anansie

Even though I only had heard of their well-known song ‘Weak’ in the ’90s, I have come to appreciate the whole of Skunk Anansie’s Paranoid and Sunburnt in more previous years. Skin’s en vogue style and heavy metal vocals have made her a major inspiration for women and less represented races in the world of rock.

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Harriet Wheeler

Lead Singer Of The Sundays

Harriet’s sunshine-dipped vocals are the main attraction of The Sunday’s sound. Their music is like a spring afternoon in a daisy field. I dare you to listen to Reading, Writing and Arithmetic without feeling like life isn’t so bad and maybe you should be nicer to strangers. Warning: the effects wear off instantly after listening. Strangers are arseholes.

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Kay Hanley

Lead Singer Of Letters To Cleo

Kay wholesomely named her band after her childhood pen pal Cleo, even though many of her letters were returned. The band gained a lot of airtime after their 1994 album Aurora Gory Alice but their big exposure came when they hugely featured as Julia Stiles’ favourite band in 90s romance movie 10 Things I Hate About You.

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Lead Singer Of Republica

By the end of the ’90s, people were loving the wave of female-fronted bands at their disposal. Because of this, Republica quickly gained popularity by having Saffron with her knife-edge-bob as the lead singer. Although Republica are dubbed as an electronica group, their 1996 self-titled album slipped them right into the Brit-rock box of the time.

One thing that unites these women is that they didn’t just sit back and let the band do all the creative work, they jumped right in. Most of them had a huge influence in the songwriting process whilst honing their own sound. They weren’t just thrown at the front of their bands as a cash cow in a crop top. They were the music.

Loving the Femme-rock vibes? Listen to my playlist to hear more:

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