If you were a teenager in the 90's, I am going to tell you something that will shock and disturb you.
If you were not a teenager in the 90's, you already know this, but stay with me.
The 1990's were rock's worst decade. The absolute nadir of the sixty-year history of rock and roll, including the current decade in which rock has joined jazz as a largely dead genre drawing old people to listen to even older performers. And yet even this sad current state of affairs is preferable to the 90's, when a number of factors came together to produce a decade that is an embarrassment to rock and roll.
Why is this? Why did this decade cough up bad band after bad band? Why did its awfulness infect bands that had been good in the 80's?
My theory is that when the mainstream finally conquered punk in this country, it just opened the floodgates for the boring, mediocre, 2nd-raters to take over. Because with few exceptions, being boring and mediocre is the way to sell a lot of product. You have to inspire people who don't buy a lot of music to buy your music, which means sanding off the hard edges and burying all the interesting parts.
Of course, there had always been boring rock. But 90's boring rock is even worse than earlier boring rock. I believe this is because of the pseudo-punk aesthetic that infected corporate rock. So while earlier boring rock--let's take Foghat's "Slow Ride," for example, but we could just as easily go with Foreigner's "Hot Blooded" or, like, any Loverboy song--was at least celebratory in nature, praising rock's holy trinity of sex, partying, and rock, 90's boring rock, aiming at faux authenticity, did away with fun and swagger and celebration and left us with the dogs beginning to smell her.
And yet because there are such a large number of people who were teens in the 1990's, the myth persists, at least among them, that the 90's were a great musical decade.
Stuff and nonsense. That is why I have created this bracket: so that those of us whose adolescence came either before or after the 1990's can at last have our say and crown the worst rock act of the worst decade of rock.
I toyed with a 64-act bracket, but I ultimately decided that this was going to force me to include a lot of bad acts, but ones that weren't bad in a specifically 90's kind of way. So the jam bands are out because no one who is not currently high will argue that any of them are any good. The annoying singer-songwriters are out, because they are squarely in the tradition of annoying singer-songwriters that dates back to the first generation of Dylan imitators. Also, history has largely forgotten them. (Let us take a moment to pity Tori Amos, once a big star, now not even first on the list of annoying red-haired musicians associated with Neil Gaiman.)
I've chosen acts that achieved some level of popularity in the 90's and that are, for better or worse, associated with the 90's. So Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, both of whom were good in the 80's, are included here because they rose to megastardom (and fell to shittiness) in the 90's. I toyed with the idea of including Aerosmith, since Get a Grip is one of the worst rock albums ever, but they did release Pump in the 90's, and that's hilariously horny, so they're out.
I have not chosen one-hit acts that are easy to shit on because nobody liked them all that much even then. So your Eve 6, your Seven Mary Three, your Three Doors Down, and the rest of the one-hit wonders of the 90's are not included. They've been punished enough.
I have included many sacred cow acts here. This is not simply to troll 90's kids, although that is fun. I genuinely believe these bands are terrible, and I will be happy to explain my choice in the comments if you wish to question me. (Remember though: this is a safe space, which means I brook no dissent from my views. Just kidding. But I will delete you if you're abusive but not funny. Abusive and funny is fine. Encouraged, even.)
(Sorry it's a little hard to read. The "fillable PDF" kept saving as a blank, so I had to do a screenshot. So yes, I am old.)
If you prefer it in non-graphic form:
- Nirvana vs. Rage Against the Machine
- Pearl Jam vs. Sublime
- Bush vs. Third Eye Blind
- Red Hot Chili Peppers vs. Weezer
- Hole vs. The Black Crowes
- Radiohead vs. Foo Fighters
- Primus vs. Blues Traveler
- Alice in Chains vs. Metallica
- The Wallflowers vs. Garbage
- Dave Matthews Band vs. Barenaked Ladies
- Liz Phair vs. Smashing Pumpkins
- Oasis vs. Toad the Wet Sprocket
- 311 vs. Live
- Stone Temple Pilots vs. Blink-182
- Jane's Addiction vs. Tool
- Green Day vs. The Offspring
How to Vote
You may vote in one of two ways: through the comments here (please just include the number of the matchup and your winner.) I will put up a new post with the first round winners filled in on March 30, 2016, and you can vote on 2nd round winners there.
I will also be posting all the matchups as Twitter polls. You can just head over to https://twitter.com/bhalpin and cast your vote there. Twitter polls stay open for 24 hours, and I'll start posting tonight.