It’s a bit sad that feminism and music go so perfectly hand in hand. The movement shouldn’t have to be twisted into a countercultural phenomenon driven by defiance. After all, in any reasonable world, the equality and representation of women and marginalized groups should be inherent.
As it stands, though, feminism depends on rationally minded renegades to lend their voices. And what better community to draw from than that of the alternative sphere? Even prior to the 1990s, artists had started using their platforms to project their malcontent. But with the decade’s propulsion of the genre into the mainstream, so too did such messages get uplifted. Of course, these themes soon dispersed throughout the scene and beyond. We’ll dive in deeper…
Here are 10 ‘90s albums that helped drive the feminist movement through music.
Pretty On The Inside – Hole
There are few song titles that speak to the edge of feminist punk music quite like “Teenage Whore.” So, the fact that Hole kicked off their debut album, Pretty On The Inside, with the track is pretty telling. The album doesn’t wind back over the course of its tracklist, either, navigating through brazen but vulnerable themes of tumultuous relationships, sexuality and less-than-delicate femininity.
Bricks Are Heavy – L7
If, by the early ’90s, anyone still had doubts that women could deliver scathing punk rock, L7 went ahead and shattered that sexist fantasy. They notably began dishing out raw, feminist edge following their inception in 1985. However, it was their third studio album, Bricks Are Heavy, that really started garnering traction. The record dropped shortly after the band founded the Rock For Choice concert series that supported abortion rights. Needless to say, they quickly earned a standing as feminist icons of the decade and beyond.
Exile In Guyville – Liz Phair
Liz Phair‘s Exile In Guyville proved to be massively influential in more ways than one. Not only did the style contribute to the progression of indie rock as we know it, but the lyrical narratives present feminist themes that are impossible to ignore. They weren’t heart-wrenchingly sentimental or aggressive but rather boldly honest. And with such pared-back instrumentals, listeners had no choice but to home in on the lines and unpack them as they came.
Pussy Whipped – Bikini Kill
There’s no talking about feminist alternative albums, from the ’90s or otherwise, without bringing up Bikini Kill‘s Pussy Whipped. The driving force behind the riot grrrl movement, the band put out no shortage of rallying cries throughout their tenure and significantly influenced other women and nonbinary artists, including Miley Cyrus, well into the modern era. Of course, their 1993 debut record set the precedent. Seriously, we can’t even start to imagine the punk faction without the lesbian anthem “Rebel Girl” deeply embedded in its foundations.
Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette
You didn’t think that we’d discuss ’90s feminist music without touching on Alanis Morissette‘s Jagged Little Pill, did you? This record may be among the more controversial on the list, presumably because of its immediate mainstream success. That’s the beauty of it, though. Morissette reached the masses with her explicit, unabashed brand of empowered and angry lyricism. Regardless of what you think of it, there’s no denying that both the release and its creator have maintained lasting legacies within the movement.
Tragic Kingdom – No Doubt
No Doubt‘s Tragic Kingdom bridged the gaps between punk aggression and the sort of mainstream accessibility boasted by Morissette. Ever-relatable without sacrificing edge, the album delivered gritty social commentary wrapped in a radio-ready bow. If you’re not already picking up what we’re putting down, go give “Just A Girl” a concentrated listen and get back to us.
Lovelife – Lush
Admittedly, Lush had graced the ’90s alternative scene with more than a few visceral narratives prior to their 1996 album, Lovelife. This one proves a bit divergent from some of the other albums we’ve explored on the list. There’s a marked contrast between the songs, which swing between soft, upbeat deliveries and something better likened to new-wave dismality. And the lyrical themes are just as shifty. While one, such as “Ladykillers,” may hold up a grimy mirror to society, it’s soon followed by an ode to a car in “500.” To this point, the record isn’t emblemized as a beacon of social reform but rather masterfully weaves an essence of female empowerment throughout.
Dig Me Out – Sleater-Kinney
Sleater-Kinney‘s third album, Dig Me Out, reads like an open letter of raw vulnerability. It presents inward-facing navigation of societal norms that resonates even 20-plus years following its release. Despite being confrontational in its delivery, it’s not exactly aggressive—and that’s where its particular beauty lies. Where many feminist punk albums might bite back with rage-inducing fervor, this one simply inspires the question, “OK, but why?”
FanMail – TLC
“No Scrubs” is an iconic and unashamed feminist hit in its own right. Add it to the context of other tracks such as “Silly Ho” and “My Life,” though, and you’ve got a damn empowering compilation. Admittedly, TLC had been changing the game for nearly a decade prior to FanMail and have continued to do so. Still, there’s no understating the nature of the record’s forthright advocacy of individuality and self-esteem through an alternative-accented blend of pop and R&B.
Le Tigre – Le Tigre
Founded by Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna after the group’s late-’90s disbandment, Le Tigre barely squeezed out their debut self-titled album prior to the turn of the century. We’re glad they did because there are few records that are so quintessentially representative of ’90s feminist music as a whole. The album is a surprising whirlwind of foundational pop-punk energy, delivering Hanna’s signature edge with outright danceability. No doubt, it got her inspiring messages to brand-new corners of the alternative scene.
What are some of your favorite feminist albums to come from the ’90s? Let us know in the comments below!