Top Ten Teen Angst Pop Songs From The 90s

Nobody did melodrama quite like the 90s. Let’s travel back to a time when curtains were a legitimate hairstyle, and nobody understood you like Billy Corgan...
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Nobody did melodrama quite like the 90s. Let’s travel back to a time when curtains were a legitimate hairstyle, and nobody understood you like Billy Corgan...

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It’s 1999, Britney Spears is still innocent, wanting to zig-a-zig-ah is a ‘thing’ and cargo trousers are the best thing since yellow bananas. I’m 14 years old and living on a diet of chips, Dawson’s Creek and broken dreams – life is complicated.

Being a teenager in the 90s was tough. When the entire world was against us (basically all the time except when Saved by the Bell was on), we didn’t have Facebook to channel our tantrums into dramatic status updates and type ‘OMG totes understand hun’ at each other. We did teen angst properly - by drinking cheap cider in a field and listening to nihilistic, angry, tortured pop songs. IN THE RAIN. Nothing spells rebellion quite like shouty, sweary emo rock stars whose album cover boasts a picture of a dead antelope and Parental Advisory stickers, yeah Mum?

While present day adolescents get to blow off steam to the likes of Paramore, Skrillex and My Chemical Romance, I can’t help but think that the poor little delinquents are missing out. Where are the mid-melody, tragic He-Doesn’t-Love-Me-Anymore-And-My-Rabbit-Just-Died key changes? Whatever happened to staring wistfully out to sea in front of a wind machine for the entire duration of a song? These kids wouldn’t know good teen angst if it smacked them in the face with a Tamagotchi.

So here are the top moody pop songs to shape the hormone-driven peaks and troughs of my teenage years – pull up a purple blow-up chair, crack open some White Lightning, and enjoy.

10) Garbage – I’m Only Happy When It Rains

Punctuated with simple, recycled rhyming couplets this one gets straight to the point - opening with the chorus and eventually drifting off into a repeated refrain of ‘pour your misery dooooown’. God Shirley Manson was cool. She taught me that eyeliner was completely pointless unless it was three inches thick, and that it was OK to match green eyeshadow with a neon pink dress. ‘I only smile in the dark’ she drawls against a throbbing guitar backdrop – being this miserable had never been so hot.

9) Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name

Featuring charming lines like ‘Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me’, this is the perfect soundtrack for a boy from the home counties refusing to do the hoovering. Whether you actually knew the meaning behind the lyrics – a diatribe against racism in the police force - or not, this song was the ultimate, angry disregard for authority and ideal if you fancied yourself as a budding teen revolutionary. Loads of swearing, heavy guitar riffs and a bit of shouting...what’s not to love?

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8) Soundgarden – Black Hole Sun

Sedate, haunting sounds and a pretty disturbing video, which at one point features Barbie on the barbeque, made this track a teen angst essential. It was oh-so-easy to get lost in these dark, swirling melodies – at least until your Dad opened the bedroom door to ask if you wanted a Ribena.

7) Placebo – Nancy Boy

Nancy Boy marked Placebo’s first foray into the mainstream and the gender curiosity theme must have struck a chord with confused teens worldwide. At the time I had no idea what ‘Alcoholic kind of mood, lose my clothes, lose my lube...’ was referring to, but Brian Molko spat the lyrics out like an angry coyote, wore eyeliner and was REALLY COOL.

6) Radiohead – Creep

This one is pretty self explanatory – beautifully pathetic lyrics like ‘I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo, what the hell am I doing here’ and a Johnny Depp cameo in the music video. JOHNNY DEPP. My work here is done.

5) No Doubt – Don’t Speak 


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4) Nirvana – Smells like Teen Spirit 


Fluctuating between loud jump-around-the-room bits where Kurt Cobain shouts about being an albino mosquito or something, and more mellow interludes, this song acts as a mirror for teenage mood swings. You didn’t really need to search for any hidden depths, it was all about head banging and screaming ‘HELLO’ a lot. Good times.

3) Smashing Pumpkins – Bullet with Butterfly Wings

Only the Pumpkins could get away with singing something as emo as ‘Despite all my RAGE I am still just a RAT in a CAGE’, and get a Grammy for it. The malevolent crescendo of guitar, drums and general anguish made this a fantastic listen in times of turmoil, like when the microwave wasn’t working or you couldn’t get a lift to the train station.

2) Meredith Brooks – Bitch

This song gets top marks for opening with ‘I hate the world today’. Singing about being a bitch, lover, child and mother all at once while simultaneously throwing the curveball that ‘you know you wouldn’t want it any other way’ made this tune irresistible to hysterical girls wanting to proudly show off the B word worldwide. Meredith was a high maintenance pain in the arse and she didn’t give a flying squirrel’s bollock about that – we absolutely loved it.

1) Alanis Morissette – You Oughta Know

No 90s teen angst musical countdown is complete without the Queen of Pain herself, Alanis Morissette. Never have I heard a breakup song where the line ‘I wish nothing but the best for you both’ is so obviously untrue and a prelude to rage of epic proportions. We’ll let her off for previous complete misuse of the word ‘ironic’, as the over-pronunciation of ‘motherrrrrr’ and ‘dinnerrrrr’ on this track and lyrics like ‘would she go down on you in a theatre?’ (she would, the slag) made You Oughta Know an absolute masterpiece of angst.