The Hit '90s Song 28% Of People Consider To Be The Absolute Worst

Ah, the 1990s. If you're a rock fan, there was so much to love about the decade, with Nirvana and Pearl Jam spearheading the Seattle grunge scene and alternative rock in general dominating the airwaves for several years. Rap fans also may have a lot of fond memories of the '90s, with edgier acts such as Snoop (Doggy) Dogg and Tupac Shakur breaking out into the mainstream. And let's not forget the most mainstream genre of them all — pop music — and the rise of boy bands (Backstreet Boys, NSYNC) and girl bands (Spice Girls) that marked the second half of the decade. Regardless of your preferred genre, the '90s produced tons of memorable songs, and if you were a youngster back then, you may or may not have a hard time accepting how Generation Z largely considers '90s music to be "classic," as recently noted by Global News.

On the other hand, the '90s churned out its share of musical clunkers, and there are several songs from the era that most people still can't stand to this day. That's why Grunge polled 665 readers across the U.S. and asked them which '90s song they dislike the most. The choices varied from genre to genre, but there was one thing in common with the songs you chose — they were virtually inescapable back in the day. That said, let's take a trip down memory lane and count down your picks for the absolute worst songs of the 1990s.

Plagiarism and anti-feminism aren't cool with '90s music fans

The year was 1990, and with gangsta rap still a few years away from becoming mainstream, inoffensive pop-rap was the best option for any young rapper hoping to make it big in the music scene. Enter one Robert Van Winkle, who topped the Billboard charts with his very first single, "Ice Ice Baby." You probably know him much better as Vanilla Ice.

In our survey, "Ice Ice Baby" was tied for fourth with 14.89% of the vote, and much of the scorn may be related to how similar it sounds to a far more beloved tune — Queen and David Bowie's 1981 hit "Under Pressure." Per Rolling Stone, Ice defended his, um, masterpiece by claiming he added a beat to the main bass line to make it more unique. Naturally, that didn't hold up when he was sued for copyright infringement, and Ice ended up with a much lighter wallet after an out-of-court settlement.

As for the other song that shared fourth place with the Iceman, Aqua's "Barbie Girl" has been panned, especially in recent years, for lyrics that are largely seen as anti-feminist. In 2017, Bustle called attention to how the titular Barbie presents herself as a "blond, bimbo girl" to the libidinous Ken inviting her to "go party" with him. "[T]he fact that this is sung by a woman who is practically chirping with cheer makes the message feel even more crass and un-feminist," the outlet opined.

A nonsense band name at third and a nonsense chorus at second

The third- and second-place songs in our survey were fairly close to each other, and it's interesting that nonsense appears to be the one thing tying the two disparate acts behind these tunes. Chumbawamba's 1997 hit "Tubthumping" (aka the "I get knocked down" song) was chosen as the worst of the '90s by 20.90% of those who answered our survey, and as the band members themselves admitted to Jacobin in 2012, their name "meant nothing, signified nothing, and it didn't attach us to any preconceptions." 

Why is "Tubthumping" so unpopular anyway? One music fan sought to explain this in a Medium blog post in 2019, opining that it "feels like 4 songs badly welded together," with each component so bad that they could individually count among the worst songs ever recorded. 

Meanwhile, the name Hanson is far more meaningful, as that's the surname of band members Isaac, Taylor, and Zac — three brothers who became instant teen idols thanks to the success of "MMMBop." One Reddit user probably put it best, writing that the song, which was picked by 21.05% of our respondents as the absolute worst of the decade, "was a dumb earworm song that made no sense," a tune that made it hard for people to take an otherwise talented group more seriously. Nonsensical chorus or not, though, "MMMBop" was pretty huge, going all the way to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May 1997.

That achy breaky song tops yet another worst songs list

We're finally down to the No. 1 most awful song of the '90s as selected by our readers, and with 28.27% of the vote, it wasn't close. Well before he became known primarily as Miley's dad, or as the older dude jamming with Lil Nas X on the 2019 mega-hit "Old Town Road," Billy Ray Cyrus was an unlikely country music superstar with 1992's "Achy Breaky Heart." While it was definitely a major chart success, peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1992, it has become a staple of "worst songs" lists since then — and we're not just talking the worst of the '90s, but rather the worst of all time.

Speaking to Urbo in 2018, music theorist Matthew Pace singled out "Achy Breaky Heart" as the "only truly bad song" on the site's list of worst songs, and that was a list that also featured the aforementioned "Barbie Girl." But it wasn't the tune's arguably corny, cheesy lyrics that turned Pace off. He pointed out that "Achy Breaky Heart" has only two chords, with those chords — as well as the phrase structure — remaining the same for both the verses and the chorus.

Then again, maybe you shouldn't be hating on Billy Ray Cyrus for foisting "Achy Breaky Heart" on the world. According to Taste of Country, the song was written by Don Von Tress and originally recorded (under the title "Don't Tell My Heart") in 1991 by an obscure band called the Marcy Brothers.