2019 is a big year for anniversaries, as so many memorable songs turn 20. Most are still played today, showing just how glorious 1999 was in the world of music. The year marked the last of the 20th century, but saw the rise of many international superstars like Eminem, JLo and Christina Aguilera. There were plenty of one-hit wonders too, whose lasting lyrics and hooks are still embedded in our brains two decades on. Looking back at the charts that year, it’s easy to see how eclectic we were. From pop heavy anthems to smooth hip-hop beats to huge dancefloor fillers, the music of 1999 is well worth a trip down a memory lane.
Have a scroll below to indulge in the nostalgia of the nineties, and prepare to feel old!
1. Mariah Carey ft Jay Z – Heartbreaker
Carey’s catchy pop-meets-r’n’b track is one of her most memorable (once the Christmas period has passed at least). ‘Heartbreaker’ faced a mixed reception by critics claiming she had just recycled her former releases ‘Fantasy’ and ‘Dreamlover’, but nevertheless it soared to number one of the Billboard charts and secured the singer’s 14th number one to date. Not to mention it made it into the charts for being one the most expensive music videos of all time. ‘Heartbreaker’ is timeless, and seemingly so are Carey’s iconic ripped jeans that the singer still owns today.
2. Destiny’s Child – Say My Name
While Jay Z was busy breaking hearts with Mariah, an 18-year-old Beyonce was celebrating success with her power girl group Destiny’s Child. The song won two Grammy Awards and helped the band break into the Asian market. The video was controversial, as the band’s former bandmates LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson claimed they didn’t know they were out of the group until seeing two new members featuring. Despite this, Kelly Rowland revealed to Pop Justice that it was so much fun to record and remains her favourite DC track.
3. Eminem – My Name Is
From one controversy to another, 1999 was the year Eminem released this beast. To this day, the song is one of the most popular by the rap icon, so much so he reportedly only plays a snippet of it during shows before declaring he’s sick of it. The song marked the introduction of the Slim Shady, and was a firm f*#k you to the world as he raps about popstars and dresses as politicians in the video. The tongue-in-cheek track won Eminem his first Grammy and regularly places in ‘top songs of all time’ lists.
4. Jennifer Lopez – If You Had My Love
Still going strong, and still refusing to age, Jenny from the block first hit the music scene with this silky, infectious track. It was first intended for Michael Jackson, who claimed it had a ‘really great groove’ and liked the song, but thankfully for Lopez it wasn’t for him. Having launched the Latin singers pop career, we can’t imagine the song being sung by anyone else. It remains one of JLo’s greatest, as she merges musical genres of r’n’b, pop, Latin, salsa and more.
5. Ricky Martin – Livin’ La Vida Loca
From the launch of one Latin superstar to another, 1999 was the year Ricky Martin entered the English music world with what is now one of the best-selling singles of all time. Livin’ La Vida Loca emerged following the passing of Frank Sinatra, one of the writers Desmond Child’s heroes. For this reason the track has lots of horns, and a swing influence. The song was further popularised following Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas’ rendition for Shrek 2.
6. Fatboy Slim – Praise You
Norman Cook, aka Slim, was browsing through a Camden record store when he came across seventies soul singer Camille Yarbrough’s ‘Take Yo’ Praise’. The isolated vocal introduction of the song, and particularly the phrase ‘We’ve come a long, long way together through the hard times and the good’ inspired Cook to create what is now known as one of the most celebratory, immortal tracks with universal appeal. ‘Praise you’ has been used in politics, sports, festivals and pretty much everywhere – we just couldn’t get enough. The 20 year old song has lots of layers, lots of authentic scratches and sounds, and plenty of big beats iconic of 90’s dance music. It’s no wonder we’re still sing the song’s praises twenty years on.
7. Lou Bega – Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit Of)
He may have been a one-hit wonder, but Lou Bega certainly left his stamp on the world of music. Taking on the King of Mambo, Perez Prado’s, 1952 hit, Bega added his own lyrics and tributed his song to a long list of ladies he referred to as ‘names of my past’ to Fox News. Angela, Pamela, Sandra, Rita, Monica and so on made singing along a challenge, but after spending so many weeks at number one, including a mega 20 weeks at the top of the charts in France, Bega’s track was at the tips of everyone’s tongues. It also became a number one hit for Bob the Builder years on, and was reportedly part of Bill Clinton’s Democratic Convention until someone realised ‘Monica’ would not be an appropriate name to feature! Today, the German Mambo star (also known as David Lubega) is still recording music, but of course, still enjoying the royalties of his biggest song to date.
8. Christina Aguilera – Genie in a Bottle
After fellow Mickey Mouse Club performer Britney hit the big time with Baby One More Time in 1998, it was the perfect opportunity for another blonde popstar to emerge. ‘Genie in a Bottle’ caused quite a stir when an 18-year-old Aguilera began singing about being rubbed in the ‘right way’. Regardless, it won over audiences in the US and the UK, and the 20 year old song remains her biggest-seller in the UK despite going on to release anthems such as ‘Beautiful’, ‘Dirrty’ and ‘What a Girl Wants’.
9. Backstreet Boys – I Want It That Way
We all know the lyrics, and we probably all know the video – as images of five guys dressed in white suits and dancing to a choreographed routine pops into mind. But if anyone has actually given much thought to what they’re singing, they’ll realise it doesn’t make too much sense.
“Tell me why, Ain’t nothin’ but a heartache
Tell me why, Ain’t nothin’ but a mistake
Tell me why, I never want to hear you say
I want it that way”
It went on to become a parody for Blink 182 that year, and has been covered by many different artists over time. ‘I Want It That Way’ remains the bands most popular track in the UK, and like their 20 year old song; the video continues to epitomise the image of 90’s boy bands.
10. Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Californication
One of the best tributes to 90’s pop culture, the title track of their seventh studio album features references to the likes of Kurt Cubain, Foo Fighters and David Bowie. It also paints the picture of superficiality in Los Angeles, nodding to things such as plastic surgery, buying your way to fame and that destruction is nigh (‘Alderaan’s not far away’ refers to the planet of Princess Leia in Star Wars that was destroyed). Despite being somewhat tragic and melancholy in its outlook, the cleverly-written lyrics and mesmeric melody have made it one of the Chilli’s most iconic songs ever. It’s also arguably one of the most popular of songs turning 20 still blasting radios.
11. Britney Spears – You Drive Me Crazy
Fresh from the success of her debut singles, Britney released her third which – aptly named – drove everyone crazy. It was the soundtrack to the teen flick ‘Drive Me Crazy’ starring Melissa Joan Hart (aka Sabrina the Teenage Witch) and Adrian Grenier, who apparently had to be convinced to be in the Spears’ video! Though not her most famous, which is largely due to Spears’ incredible catalogue of hits in her career, ‘You Drive Me Crazy’ is the perfect throwback song turning 20 that epitomises the young and innocent Spears at the beginning of her journey.
12. Dr Dre ft Snoop Dogg – Still Dre
Bouncing cars and an unforgettable piano lick, ‘Still Dre’ is the definitive west coast-style hip-hop anthem of the 90’s. Featuring two of the genre’s biggest artists, the record celebrated the return of Dre, who hadn’t released an album for seven years. The song’s lyrics certify Dre’s return, establishing how he’d been busy on his break signing Eminem and grieving over friends that he’d lost, but that he’d returned with ‘another classic CD for y’all to vibe with’. Also 20 years old, the song’s music video features sneak peeks of a host of big names with youthful faces; Eminem, The D.O.C, Pharrell and Shaquille O’Neal.
13. TLC – Unpretty
With raspy r’n’b tracks such as ‘No Scrubs’ and ‘Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls’, TLC’s ‘Unpretty’ was a softer song inspired by band member T-Boz’s poem. She wrote it while recovering in hospital from sickle-cell anemia treatment, which left her feeling ‘bruised and frail’. It was then transformed into a musical number by Dallas Austin, who kept the melody friendly and warm to ensure the meaningful lyrics surrounding inner beauty shone through. T-Boz was reportedly surprised about how well the song resonated with fans, not realising when she wrote it that so many people felt the same way. The song may be 20 years old, but T-Boz and Chilli are still making music to this day, continuing the TLC legacy in honour of the late Lisa Lopes (Left Eye).
14. S Club 7 – Bring it All Back
Their debut single and the soundtrack to the super seven’s CBBC show, Miami 7, ‘Bring It All Back’ really does bring us back to the cheesy pop of the 90’s. This energetic, uplifting 20 year old song catapulted the group to international fame when it was released, beating pop queen Madonna’s ‘Beautiful Stranger for top spot of the charts. Though it didn’t live to be their biggest-seller, humbled by ‘Don’t Stop Movin’ in 2001, which sold 130,000 copies more, ‘Bring It All Back’ was their only track where you can hear all four females’ vocals take the lead. Turning 20, the song is instantly recognisable and considered iconic of the band.
15. Santana ft. Rob Thomas – Smooth
The erotic, enchanting ‘Smooth’ is perhaps one of the legendary guitarist’s most memorable. It paints a picture of a hot steamy summer, thanks to the sepia-toned video, Latin vibes and raw vocals from Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas singing out ‘And it’s a hot one’ to set the mood. According to Thomas, who co-wrote the 20 year old song with Itaal Shur, the song was first intended for George Michael as vocalist, however this didn’t play out and so Thomas did his best to emulate the ‘Faith’ singer. Released in 1999 along with the Latin-pop craze leveraged by JLo, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias who were all on the scene, ‘Smooth’ secured Santana a Grammy for ‘Song of the Year’, ‘Record of the Year’ and ‘Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals’ in 2000.
16. Westlife – Flying Without Wings
Perhaps the most famous song of their career, the Irish boy band spent a whopping 13 weeks at the top of the charts as ‘Flying Without Wings’ became their third number one track. It was rumoured to be Boyzone’s Stephen Gately’s debut single, but was ultimately part of the Westlife legacy. Over the years, the song has become a karaoke classic, while also gaining fame with American Idol winner, Ruben Studdard’s cover. It also became a standard song for both weddings and funerals in recent years. As for Westlife, who disbanded in 2012, the Dublin group came back as a foursome in 2018 – minus Brian McFadden – with new music and a mega tour.
17. Will Smith ft. Dru Hill and Kool Moe Doe – Wild Wild West
Taken from Will Smith’s album ‘Willennium’ (1999), Wild Wild West is the soundtrack to Smith’s movie of the same name. The epic 7-minute long music video featured Stevie Wonder and Enrique Iglesias, as well as the film’s stars Salma Hayek and Kevin Kline, while Smith adorns an all-white cowboy getup as he spills out ‘Wickidy Wickidy West’ several times. It all sounded great and the song reached number one of the Billboard Hot 100, but the movie was such a huge flop at the box office that it left Smith apologising two decades on for being part of it. Luckily, Smith went on to star in acclaimed films such as ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ and ‘I Am Legend’ to regain his leading star status.
18. Offspring – Why Don’t You Get a Job
The Californian ska band perfectly blended sounds of the Beatles (Ob-la-di, ob-la-da) and Simon and Garfunkel (Cecilia) with angry, blunt and sarcastic lyrics. Offspring gained widespread attraction following the release of ‘Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)’ in 1998 and ‘Why Don’t You Get a Job’ in 1999, and further mass appeal through their abrupt use of the word ‘bitch’ in the opening lines of the latter. The band became the perfect antidote for teenage angst of the 90’s, while also opening eyes to unproductive and non contributive members of American society. Though 20 years old, the song is still a great remedy for letting it all out.
19. Blink 182 – All The Small Things
A song that still frequently gets people on the dance floor, ‘All The Small Things’ is recognised by the Rolling Stone as one of the greatest pop songs. Corny and catchy, the track is actually a love song written by guitarist Tom Delonge for his girlfriend (now wife) Jennifer Jenkins. It also brought bassist Mark Hoppus together with his wife, where they met on the set of the video. Despite being a fan favourite and one the punk band’s most memorable, DeLonge can’t figure out why everyone still loves it “Blink has some really great songs to stand around for a long period of time, but that’s not one of them and it haunts me!” We don’t care what he says, it’s a vintage tune that forever takes us back to 1999.
20. Sisqo – Thong Song
Made famous by singing about underwear, Sisqo aka Mark Andrews aka former member of R&B group Dru Hill achieved temporary fame with the song no one forgets. Difficult to believe this song has made the ‘Songs turning 20 list’, ‘Thong Song’ combined his soulful vocals with striking lyrics, making for an everlasting hit that defined him as an artist to this day – sadly Sisqo failed to release future hits but he did relive the magic of ‘Thong Song’ at his wedding in 2018. “I initially sang Thong Song about the first thong I ever say, so it was only right to sing it about the last one I will ever see…in private that is.” the 40-year-old singer reflected. Thong Song is a definitive tribute to 1999’s epic music, released on New Year’s Eve to cement a century of enduring hits.
1999 was such a monumental year for music, spawning the careers of many and witnessing the release of what are now considered ‘classics’. We couldn’t fit them all on our list, so here are few smash hit songs turning 20 that are definitely worth a mention:
Jamiroquai – Canned Heat
Dido – Here With Me
Moby – Porcelain
Lonestar – Amazed
Vengaboys – We’re Going to Ibiza
Macy Gray – I Try
In fact, 1999 was so good, artists today are even making music about it! For more nineties throwbacks, take a look at Charli XCX and Troye Sivan’s ‘1999’ below: