Sure, we've got Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake and Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift to jam to this summer. But let's never forget the magic songs that we played on our brand-new bulky CD players 20 years ago this summer, way back in 1998.
It was the summer that Windows 98 launched and also the summer of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal — it was also the summer that movies like Saving Private Ryan, Armageddon and There's Something About Mary killed at the box office.
As far as music went, it was a notable time. The grunge and alternative rock era was finally on its way out after dominating the scene for years. In its place were bright group pop, reenergized R&B and even a mini swing revival just to mix things up. Britney Spears would crash the music scene in mere months and start a music revolution, but before that happened, we had a summer of transition: away from the dark and gritty and toward the sparkle and fun of boy bands and classic pop.
"The Boy Is Mine" — Brandy & Monica
Let's start with the No. 1 uncontested hit of the summer: Brandy and Monica's competitive duet, "The Boy Is Mine." Inspired by the 1982 duet "The Girl Is Mine" by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, this R&B classic is all about the changing times and girl power — and it played on the radio all summer long (as a presidential sex scandal raged).
"Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" — the Backstreet Boys
The year 1998 was a time when grungy garage bands were losing ground and everyone was ready to have a little more fun — even if it was a bit mindless. In came the boy bands, led by the Backstreet Boys and their earworm single, "Everybody." Even 20 years later, the best way to tell if someone is from a different planet is if they can't sing this song's chorus.
"You're Still The One" — Shania Twain
Still Shania Twain's biggest hit, "You're Still the One" was the country crossover song of the year, snagging a Grammy for best country song and slimly losing out to Céline Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" for both record of the year and song of the year. In a time when country music was in a bit of a rut and looking for a new identity, Twain's pop-y ballad was not only refreshing, it also kept the genre relevant through tough times.
"Adia" — Sarah McLachlan
From her most successful album, Surfacing, "Adia" is a slow and soft ballad that was perfect for the chill parts of summer, from nighttime car rides to lazing on the beach. The song was also released at the height of the hugely successful female-led Lilith Fair musical festival, which McLachlan founded. Honestly, the summer of 1998 just wouldn't have been the same without it.
"Too Close" — Next
We aren't sure where the R&B group Next came from, and we also aren't sure where they went, but we are really, really glad that in the summer of 1998, their hit single "Too Close" swept the nation and hit No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. They even won Billboard's best new artist award in 1998 — even if they never quite topped this wonderful song.
"Doo-Wop (That Thing)" — Lauryn Hill
You can't possibly talk about 1998 without talking about The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and its first hit single, "Doo-Wop." She was nominated for a record-breaking 10 Grammys that year and was the first ever R&B artist to win best album. "Doo-Wop" was released ahead of the album to high praise — and we personally think it's the song from 1998 that best withstands the test of time. The song and the album are forever classics.
"Closing Time" — Semisonic
What did we have in the way of modern rock in 1998? "Closing Time" was about what happens when a bar closes at night, but also about ending any chapter in your life. It was chosen as the senior song at high schools around the country in 1998, and it's easy to see why. This one doesn't really hold up musically, but we still get nostalgic when we here it.
"My Way" — Usher
Usher's breakthrough album was released in the fall of 1997, but the singles on it took a while to gain popularity, with "My Way" finally becoming a smash hit in the summer of 1998. This song ushered in (ha-ha-ha) a long and prosperous career for the R&B singer, and we still remember it fondly.
"Uninvited" — Alanis Morissette
Released in the wake of her international smash-hit debut album Jagged Little Pill, "Uninvited" was one of the most anticipated songs of 1998 and immediately shot to the top of the charts just as summer was beginning. From the City of Angels soundtrack, the song isn't Morissette's best track ever, but fans were so hungry for a new song that no one much cared.
"My All" — Mariah Carey
In 1998, Mariah Carey was at the height of her long career and had just released her sixth studio album, Butterfly. The single "My All" was released at the end of April, just in time to be a breezy, perfect song of the summer.
"Crush" — Jennifer Paige
"Crush" was played nonstop during the summer of 1998 — and unbeknownst to all of us at the time, it was the biggest one-hit wonder of the year. Sung by Jennifer Paige, the unexpected hit rose within weeks to No. 3 on the charts, leaving the record producers to scramble to press copies of the album and single to sell. Rumor has it the song is about NSYNC member Joey Fatone, though Paige denies there was ever any crush.
"All My Life" — K-Ci & JoJo
This classic '90s R&B jam went platinum and topped the charts for three weeks during the summer of 1998 — months after it was originally released. The groovy ballad was just what the country needed after years of angsty grunge, and we still think it's a shame this soul duo never quite topped the popularity of their singular hit.