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The 10 Essential Female Artists of the ’90s

In her new book Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music, Marisa Meltzer takes readers on a journey from the moment when Tobi Vail first transfigured the word “girl” to “grrrl” all the way to the current cultural supremacy of all things Miley. As she explains in the preface: “The story of girl power kicks off with riot grrrl, but this isn’t a book just about riot grrrl, or even the nineties. It’s also a book about how everything that happened afterward was just as, if not more, important: how an underground movement trickled up from punk-rock utopias to teen girls’ bedrooms around the world.”

To celebrate its release, we asked Meltzer to provide a list of the most essential female artists from the ’90s — the decade that birthed the girl power revolution. Chime in with your own music heroes in the comments.

Veruca Salt

Is it okay to love a band just for one song? I think when you make a song as perfect for karaoke as “Seether,” it totally is.

That Dog

A dreamy California band that was a breezy alternative to their grungy Pacific Northwestern sistren. The Spike Jonze-directed video for “Old Timer” — in which they dress up in the tacky/beautiful uniforms worn by Hot Dog on a Stick employees — is criminally under-appreciated.

Juliana Hatfield

She was on the cover of Sassy and dated Evan Dando, which should be enough to cement her nineties infamy. Plus, with songs about spin the bottle, listening to Nirvana, and going to all-ages shows, she spoke about the pleasures — and the pain — of adolescence. Admitting that she was a virgin into her mid-twenties probably only endeared her to her teen girl fan base.

Elastica

Some questions: Is there anyone cooler than Justine Frischmann? Has any other band ever made music more well-suited for waking up in the morning? Remember how hot it was for girls to have short hair in the nineties?

Breeders

A band with twin sisters! One of whom was in the Pixies! All of their albums are excellent, but is there a single song of Last Splash that isn’t flawless? Start listening to “Divine Hammer” and it will be stuck in your head forever and ever. In a pleasant way.

Hole

This is a band that found their bass player through an ad seeking “a whore from hell” and also sold heart-shaped glittery barrettes on their Live Through This Tour. Contradiction, thy name is Courtney.

Liz Phair

She sang, “Every time I see your face/ I get all wet between my legs,” and all the girls were like, “FINALLY!” Memo to Liz: please finish that novel you’re supposedly writing.

Sleater-Kinney

Riot grrrls all grown up: They stuck to their indie values and still played stadiums. And sang songs about coyotes!

Kim Gordon

She obviously deserves some kind of lady lifetime achievement award for all the feminism she injects into Sonic Youth albums, particularly “Tunic (song for Karen),” “Swimsuit Issue,” and the lyrics “male white corporate oppression.” Also worth noting is Free Kitten, her side project with Pussy Galore’s Julie Cafritz.

Bikini Kill

They were rebel girls, and they were the queens of our world. I still want Revolution Girl-Style Now.

If you live in New York, join Marisa Meltzer, Sean Fennessey, Emily Gould, and Elizabeth Spiridakis for “What It Feels Like for a Girl”: Women, Music and the Girl Power Revolution” at the 92YTribeca on March 3rd.

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