Chart Beat

Ask Billboard: What Are the Biggest Hits This Week From the '90s?

Nirvana Smells Like Teen Spirit
Courtesy Photo

Nirvana, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

Taylor Swift, Post Malone and Sam Hunt all draw on the decade in their latest hits.

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Let's open the latest mailbag.

Hi Gary,

The Weeknd's "Blinding Lights" and "Save Your Tears" are paying homage to the sounds of the 1980s, but there's a lot of '90s to be found in current hits, too.

Taylor Swift's Billboard Hot 100-topping "Willow" sums it up with the memorable line, "I come back stronger than a '90s trend."

As Darius Rucker is enjoying his latest Country Airplay No. 1, Post Malone's cover of the highest-charting Hot 100 hit by Hootie & the Blowfish, "Only Wanna Be With You" (No. 6 peak, 1995), debuted on the March 13-dated Hot 100 at No. 74. This week, the remake enters at No. 38 on Alternative Airplay (where the original reached No. 22).

Plus, Sam Hunt is rising with his latest hit, "Breaking Up Was Easy in the 90's." The song even debuted on the Hot 100 last week in the 90s, at No. 92.

Yada yada …

Pablo Nelson
Oakland, California

Hi Pablo,

Yeah, what's the deal with the '90s?! (Ok, I don't have a punch line here. Jerry Seinfeld made it look easy.)

The '90s are back stronger than, well, a '90s trend. Beyond those hits that you note, Tag Team's "Whoomp! (There It Is)," a No. 2 Hot 100 hit in 1993, has also resurged, having been tweaked by the duo itself for a new Geico ad. (Here's the full scoop.)

"We've been obsessed with this song since it came out in the '90s," said Roger Hailes, senior copywriter at the Martin Agency, which created the spot. "It has this magical ability to put people in a good mood no matter what. I remember in high school, if a party was lame, we'd put on 'Whoomp.' That's when parties just take off."

Beyond music, '90s nostalgia is also evidenced by forthcoming reboots of TV's Friends and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and the next film in the Jurassic Park franchise as well as, in sports, the NHL's new "retro reverse" sweaters, which bring back looks that had been on ice (actually, off ice) for over a quarter-century.

As Swift, Post Malone, Hunt, Tag Team and more keep the '90s current, and "Ask Billboard" is a charts-based mailbag, the discussion naturally turns to … What songs from the decade are currently faring the best?

Let's find out. By applying the Hot 100's airplay-, sales- and streaming-based methodology, here are the top 25 hits this week that were released in the '90s. (Ranks reflect songs' sales and streams in the week ending March 11 and airplay in the week ending March 14, according to MRC Data).

Let's party like its 1990 through 1999.

Top 25 Songs This Week From the '90s
1, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana
2, "Thunderstruck," AC/DC
3, "Under the Bridge," Red Hot Chili Peppers
4, "Iris," Goo Goo Dolls
5, "Enter Sandman," Metallica
6, "No Scrubs," TLC
7, "Santeria," Sublime
8, "Come as You Are," Nirvana
9, "Killing Me Softly," Fugees feat. Bounty Killer
10, "It Was a Good Day," Ice Cube
11, "I Want It That Way," Backstreet Boys
12, "Neon Moon," Brooks & Dunn
13, "Everlong," Foo Fighters
14, "All the Small Things," Blink-182
15, "Return of the Mack," Mark Morrison
16, "Mary Jane's Last Dance," Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
17, "Wonderwall," Oasis
18, "Time of Your Life (Good Riddance)," Green Day
19, "Don't Speak," No Doubt
20, "California Love," 2Pac feat. Dr. Dre & Roger Troutman
21, "Creep," Radiohead
22, "Waterfalls," TLC
23, "Always Be My Baby," Mariah Carey
24, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," Israel "Iz" Kamakawiwo'ole
25, "Scar Tissue," Red Hot Chili Peppers

What '90s trends emerge from the list above?

Nirvana's breakthrough classic tops the tally, with 4.3 million in airplay audience, 3.7 million streams and 600 downloads sold in the latest tracking week.

Nirvana is also the only act with two songs in the ranking's top 10, as "Come as You Are" places at No. 8, with 4.5 million in radio reach, 2.4 million streams and 500 sold. Both songs are from the band's 1991 album Nevermind, which spends its 515th week on the Billboard 200, with 8,000 equivalent album units in the week ending March 11.

Led by the band, rock rules the recap, with 15 of the 25 songs above having been hits on Billboard's Alternative Airplay or Mainstream Rock Airplay charts during their original runs.

R&B/hip-hop follows, with seven of the 25 having hit Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs or airplay charts in the genre.

Two others became pop/adult hits without rock or R&B/hip-hop crossover ("I Want It That Way" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow") and one charted on Country Airplay ("Neon Moon," its profile helped recently by a Houston softball team's joyous cover on TikTok).

Also notably, only four of the 25 titles above hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 (while two others topped Radio Songs but were ineligible to appear on the Hot 100 at the time as they were not available as commercial singles, only on albums). Two have never appeared on the Hot 100 or Radio Songs at all: "Thunderstruck" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

The ranking, thus, reinforces, along with its rock and hip-hop range and little pop in between, that it's hard to predict how songs will age. While some big hits remain prominent, others fade. At the same time, a song's hit potential practically never runs out, with any release perhaps just one viral video away from achieving new reach decades later.

As for Tag Team's signature song, "Whoomp! (There It Is)" drew 696,000 streams and 291,000 airplay impressions and sold 800 in the latest tracking week. After the Geico ad premiered Christmas Day, the song has sold 11,000 downloads in the first two-and-a-half months of 2021, already outpacing its entire 2020 total of 10,000 sold.

Less easily answerable … the Martin Agency's Hailes recalled of listening to the song in the '90s, "I would sing, 'Whoomp, there it is,' and my mom would say, 'There what is?' And I'd say, 'Doesn't matter!' "

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