In 1998, Bill Clinton was President, Monica Lewinsky was the most famous intern on the planet, the world had come down with Titanic fever and a show on MTV called Total Request Live was about to alter the sound of popular music. One such superstar who rose up through TRL‘s glittery ranks was Britney Jean Spears, a then-16-year-old performer who had last been seen as a series regular on Disney Channel’s The Mickey Mouse Club.
To celebrate the 15-year anniversary of Britney’s debut single “…Baby One More Time” — a three-and-a-half-minute dose of pop-funk that put Spears on the fast track and cemented songwriter/producer Max Martin as a music’s go-to maestro — we took a deep look in the mirror, realized how old we were and began sobbing uncontrollably. Then we composed ourselves and whipped up a fairly pop-filled playlist that is guaranteed to give you an accurate depiction of what radio sounded like in 1998.
So head below to get an earful of what people were listening to while checking their pagers and worrying about the Y2K Bug.
1. Britney Spears, “…Baby One More Time”: Things could have gone either way for this onetime Mouseketeer. Lucky (ba-zinnngg) for her, there was a window open for a female counterpart to all the TRL-viewing public’s favorite boy(band)s in fall 1998. Then-16-year-old Britney jumped through it head first, and never looked back.
2. Cher, “Believe”: On the flipside of the Britney Spears revolution that was just beginning, Cher was 52 and onto her twenty-third album by the time “Believe” was released. That in no way impeded the legendary diva from topping the Billboard Hot 100 with the song or ushering in the age of Auto-Tune.
3. Lauryn Hill, “Doo Wop (That Thing)”: Ms. Hill’s Grammy-winning debut solo single established her as a musical force outside of The Fugees and gave the world of hip hop another strong female presence to be reckoned with. Sadly, her reign didn’t last long, but we’ll admit we still have a thing for “That Thing.”
4. Madonna, “Ray Of Light”: Just ahead of her 40th birthday — and after the birth of daughter Lourdes — Madge reinvented herself once again, this time as a cosmic goddess of electronica.
5. Spice Girls, “Goodbye”: The four remaining Spice Girls upheld their mantra of “friendship never ends” by unleashing this tearjerker following the departure of Geri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell from the group.
6. Hole, “Celebrity Skin”: Courtney Love was at her peak here, after having transformed from grunge doll to Hollywood glamazon all within a matter of three years. Credit Smashing Pumpkins frontman (and Love’s ex) Billy Corgan for the song’s slick sound.
7. Jay Z, “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”: Hova + Annie = one powerful ghetto anthem. The song eventually reached #15 on the Hot 100, making it Jay’s highest-charting single at the time.
8. Jennifer Paige, “Crush”: Disney’s Hollywood Records label didn’t always have the shiny roster it does today. But it did have this kick-ass one-hit wonder.
9. New Radicals, “You Get What You Give”: This act may have only eked out one hit — power-pop anthem “You Get What You Give” being it — but frontman Gregg Alexander would go on to write hits for other artists, like Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Murder On The Dancefloor” and “Game Of Love” by Santana and Michelle Branch.
10. Garbage, “I Think I’m Paranoid”: If you think this modern rock classic is amazing, do yourself a favor and give Garbage’s sophomore LP Version 2.0 another listen. We guarantee it sounds just as fresh in 2013 as it did in 1998.
11. The Goo Goo Dolls, “Iris”: Yes, Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” was also released in 1998, but we’re giving “Iris” props for being the inescapable movie soundtrack power ballad of that year. It’s not the only tune from the Meg Ryan/Nicholas Cage film City Of Angels to make our list, however…
12. Five, “When The Lights Go Out”: Here’s a curveball for you: anyone remember Five? Probably not. The British boy band released three albums and racked up nearly a dozen hits in their home country of the UK between 1998 and 2001, but this Gold-certified single was their only track to make the Top 10 here in the States.
13. Ace Of Base, “Cruel Summer”: This Swedish pop quartet’s debut LP The Sign tied with the Lion King soundtrack for best-selling album in 1994. Four years later, their stateside popularity was waning, but they still managed to land this Bananarama cover in the upper reaches of the Hot 100.
14. B*Witched, “C’est La Vie”: These lasses aimed to be the Next Big Thing out of Ireland, and made quite a splash with debut single “C’est La Vie” (and their supporting slot on *NSYNC’s American tour the following year). Just overlook the fact that the song is pretty much indistinguishable from Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.”
15. Alanis Morissette, “Uninvited”: When haunting City Of Angels soundtrack gem “Uninvited” hit radio, it had been a moment since Alanis’ blockbuster Jagged Little Pill and its army of hit singles invaded the public consciousness. Really, we can’t think of a better way to wrap up this look back at 1998…
16. Brandy & Monica, “The Boy Is Mine”: …except for this.