Was late 90s pop music significantly different from early 90s and 2000s?

When I say pop music, I mean the type of music typically heard on Top 40 type radio stations. Here are some examples of artists and groups that I’m referring to. In the early 90s some of the popular artists and groups that I’m thinking about include Paula Abdul, Color Me Badd, REM, Expose, and Mariah Carey. By 2000 some of the popular artists I’m thinking about include Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Marc Anthony, and N Sync. While both of these groups are different, I would still classify them and the music they played in those time periods as as typical pop musicians and typical pop music. The late 90s, however, seems like the music was significantly different. The music seemed more depressing. I’m specifically thinking about artists like Alanis Morissette, The Verve Pipe, Paula Cole, Edwin McCain, and Joan Osborne.

Is my perception that late 90s pop music was distinct correct? The reason I ask is that the late 90s, from 1995 through 1999, was when I left home for college. I was probably depressed during those years, and that may be coloring my perception of the music from that era. Was the music from the late 90s more depressing than the music from the early 90s and early 2000s?

I think you’ve forgotten when these groups/singers were popular. All of your 1995-1999 picks were indeed popular in the late 90s, but so were all the groups/singers you chose to represent the early 2000s.

NSync and Britney Spears both had their first big hits in 1998. Both even showed up on the scene before Edwin McCain.

Christina Aguilara and Marc Anthony debuted a year later in 1999.

I would put 1999 with the early 2000s. The way I would divide it is 1990-1994, 1995-1998, and 1999 on as the three different time periods I’m looking at.

You still had songs like “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It” by Will Smith, “Barbie Girl” by Aqua, “Fly Away” by Lenny Kravitz, and all of the stuff from acts like the Spice Girls, Mariah Carey, Barenaked Ladies, Blues Traveler, and to a lesser extent, Hootie and the Blowfish.

I’d say that the darker pop element took over from the grunge rock bands (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains) sometime in the mid-late 1990s, but that the darker, depressive undercurrent of pop music was always there.

And… most of your early 1990s bands were actually 80s bands, just like your 2000s bands were also late 90s bands.

I probably remember the late 90s as having a lot of depressing music because the artists I listed as late 90s were what most of the people I went to college with were listening to at the time. It probably is selection bias. I just wanted to confirm that it was a bias on my part and not a genuine phenomenon from the time period.

Seems to me there were a fair amount of rock songs on pop stations in the early to mid 90s. I remember Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, etc. on top 40 stations then. By 1998, that was all gone, and it was back to pure manufactured synth-pop, instead of just mostly. I wasn’t into R&B at the time, but I seem to recall that was more prevalent on pop stations in the 90s than nowadays, though I can’t recall when it changed.

The only times I’ve listened to pop stations since about 1993, though, are when other people force me to. I’m only vaguely aware of what music is popular at any given time.

Popular music in late nineties was not distinguishable from that of say 2000-2001. But very different to that of the early nineties, for sure. Hard to really dates on these kind of things, and there will always be some overlaps in terms of genre or artist. Some artists vanish, while others survive and are on the scene.
Radio music in 1998-1999 was not different from 2000. But it was very much different from prior to 1995.

Dr. Cube mentioned some bands, but while he has a good point, it is not always accurate. The Chili Peppers were pretty strong on pop radio like around 1999-2000, with songs like “Californication” and “Otherside”. Even Pearl Jam had a hit around 1999 with a cover of “Last Kiss”.

But for sure many rock bands of the early 90’s and grunge period had vanished by the late decade.

That’s basically how I divide up 90s radio, although there were always overlaps and exceptions. I tend to think of '90-91 as an extension of the 80s before grunge exploded.

Early 90s: Grunge, gangsta rap and new jack swing (Boyz II Men, Color Me Badd, etc.)

Mid-to-late 90s: Lilith Fair artists and alternative rock (this is where I’d put artists like Alanis Morrissette, Paula Cole, Goo Goo Dolls, Counting Crows, etc.)

1998-99: Teen-friendly pop (Aguilera, Spears and Backstreet Boys)

Overgeneralizing of course, but I’d say 1992-1996 were the years when radio was the “darkest.”

This is perhaps not terribly helpful, but one of my all-time favorite YouTube comments was that this reworking of MMM-Bop in a minor key “Sounds like a shitty late 90s song instead of a shitty mid 90s song.” It succinctly captures a general feeling which is hard to quantify.

My experience is similar to the OP’s. While there was some good quasi-alternative music and some good hip hop on the radio, it seemed like actual pop music had vanished by 1994 or so. Then the Spice Girls had a major 1997 hit with “Wannabe,” and that song seemed so refreshing. It reminded me of a more-fun era in pop music like when I was a kid in the 1980s. Unfortunately the Spice Girls helped make the ground fertile for the boy bands, but I don’t hold that against the Spice Girls.