EQUALITY DUOS EPISODE IV: 1990s "AN ERA OF CHANGE IN MUSIC"
Updated: Mar 10
We reach the last chapter of this May special dedicated to the most relevant female/male duos, which left us the most influential decades in the history of music until today. Throughout these four weeks, we review the most relevant characteristics of each era, how the music evolved, and what legacy it left, but like everything, it has an end.
We decided to close this special in the 90s, the decade that undoubtedly marked a new course in the musical era, not only for artists but also for the new world of technology that year after year was becoming more present in the industry. In the 90s new sound formats appeared, new musical genres, and new bands from all over the world that offered a renewal of styles with modern proposals for that time. A clear example of this is the genre born in Seattle, better known as "grunge", a style that came from alternative rock influenced by punk, and although it refers to its origin in the mid-80s, it was consolidated as a musical genre in the early 90s with bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, among many others.
Another musical boom of the decade came with the much-loved cassette, an audio format that also allowed for recording, a real innovation at the time, and although the format was introduced by the Phillps brand in 1963, it wasn't until the late 80s and especially the 90s that it had its heyday, thanks to the appearance of recorders and walkmans that allowed you to walk the streets listening to your favorite music. Or didn't those who lived at that time have an inherited tape recorder, in which they made their own cassettes with music recorded from the radio? Of course, until the tape came out, that was almost a reason to cry, although sometimes it was repaired with the help of a pen. The musical memories that the 90s left us to refer to much more than a band, or a singer or an album, it was the last decade where that nostalgic effort we made to get and enjoy music became a ritual that isolated you from the reality around you.
Here are some of the musical duos composed by women and men who have created and made their legends in the 90s.
Michael & Janet Jackson
Origin: United States
Genres: R&B, Pop, Electrorock, Funk
Years active: 1994-1995
Before "Scream", the only meeting Michael and Janet had ever had in a recording studio was in 1982 during the recordings of "PYT" for Thriller. Since then, the two have had separate successful careers.
After Michael was accused, and later acquitted, of child sexual abuse charges in 1993, the brothers reunited to record "Scream," the first single from Michael Jackson's ninth studio album, "HIStory: Past, Present, and Future - Book I," a song that finds the brothers spouting harsh words against the tabloids, which Michael had been dealing with for more than a decade as a result of his eccentric life. This musical background of dedicating songs to the media that criticized him had already been raised a few years earlier in 1989, with the song "Leave Me Alone", where he also mentioned his perceived victimization at the hands of the press.
Scream became one of the top five hits in all major music markets.
Despite poor press reception, the song was a worldwide success. In the United States, it was the first song in Billboard's 37-year history to debut at number five, reached number one in Italy, Spain and New Zealand, number two in Australia and Norway and number three in the UK, becoming one of the top five hits in all major music markets. In 2009, after Michael's death, it re-entered the UK charts. In the video, directed by Mark Romanek, you can see the brothers hypermodern spaceship for the time, which contained an indoor zen garden, and a futuristic squash court, where you can see Janet Jackson in a role unusual for what she was known for, acquiring a darker personality, never seen before. "Scream" received 11 nominations for the MTV Video Music Awards, more than any other music video, and won "Best Dance Video", "Best Choreography" and "Best Art Direction". To this day, it is still considered one of the most expensive in history.
These are some of the absurd expenses:
Computed spacecraft animation: $65,000.
Gibson Guitars: $53,000.
Morphing effects: U$S 50,000.
Michael Jackson's make-up: US$ 8,000.
Choreography: US$ 40,000.
Giant videos: US$ 80,000.
Lights: US$ 175,000.
Eleven scenographic sets: U$S 5 million.
Recording cost for eleven days: U$S 636,000.
After her brother's death in 2009, Janet performed the song on several of her tours.
Nick Cave & …….
Origin: Australian, UK
Genres: Rock, folk-rock, post-punk
Years active: 1995 -1996
As it happened with Marvin Gaye in the first chapter of this special, Nick Cave is another great artist who collaborated with the most relevant female artists of the time. In this case he did not record entire albums, but he did record songs that would later become hymns for many generations, including for the Australian artist's catalog. Technically, they are all collaborations between Nick Cave and his band the Bad Seeds, however, they are classified as duos.
"We are two fiercely creative souls who cannot share the same space." This is how Nick Cave defined his separation from Polly Jean Harvey, after more than a year of romance, which made them one of the most important and envied couples in the rock world of the 90s. Last August through "The Red Hand Files" a site that Nick created in September 2018, where he invites his fans to ask him anything, presenting their thoughtful answers, he confessed after the question "Why did you abandon PJ Harvey?":
"The truth is I didn't give up, PJ Harvey was the one who didn't want anything anymore. One day I was at my Nothing Hill house sitting on the floor and sunbathing when I got a call from Polly to tell me that she wanted to leave and that it was all over. I was so surprised that I almost threw the syringe away."
Until that moment, and for more than two decades, both had kept silent about the causes of their breakup.
This love story became a legendary song in Cave's career.
While the story had a sad ending for the Australian musician, the way this love story began became a musically legendary piece for Cave's career to this day. It was in 1995, Polly was in the early years of her solo career, and was going through one of the most curious musical stages when Nick invited her to record the melancholy waltz "Henry Lee", a variation of "Young Hunting", a traditional Scottish folk song. The single, in which both share a similar melancholic sensibility, is part of Cave's 1995 album "Murder Ballads".
The song was crystallized in a video clip directed by Rocky Schenck loaded with a high passionate content through the body language of both artists, whispers, caresses, kisses, dances, and romantic messages through their eyes, characterize all videos where Nick plays the role of Henry Lee, and Polly the role of his lover. This intense visual approach was what culminated in the romance between the two singers.
The breakup left one of Nick Cave's most successful songs, "Into My Arms".
But "Henry Lee" wasn't the only iconic song that left the relationship. In 1997, Cave's broken heart led him to compose one of his most successful albums, "The Boatman's Call". The pain caused by Polly's abandonment was captured in the lyrics of the album, including the melancholy "Into My Arms," arguably Cave's most successful song to date. "The breakup filled me with lunatic energy that gave me the courage to write songs about common human experiences (such as broken hearts) in an open, bold and meaningful way, a kind of writing that I had been free from up until that point, feeling the need to hide my personal experiences in character-driven stories. It was an accelerated growth that pushed me in a direction and style of composition that has remained with me ever since, albeit in different forms," confessed Nick Cave.
Although they never worked together again, in 2014, PJ Harvey recorded a new version of Cave's 1994 song "Red Right Hand" for the Peaky Blinders series.
But that wasn't the only duo on the "Murder Ballads" album.
Both native Australians were in the music scene of their country, however, they did not know each other. The paths of Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave crossed for the first time in the mid-1990s thanks to the also Australian and then-boyfriend of Kylie, Michael Hutchence, singer, and leader of INXS, who was responsible for bringing the two stars together. "Michael said to me: "My friend Nick wants to do a song with you', I didn't know who Nick Cave was then and just said: 'Oh, that's good' (with a wry smile on her face)" remembered Kylie once in an interview years later. At that time Nick already had the song ready, the obsession for Kylie's beauty and talent went back a few years, however, he had not found the way to get to it. Two decades later he confessed in an interview: "Where The Wild Roses Grow" was written very much with Kylie in mind. I'd wanted to write a song for Kylie for many years. I had a quiet obsession with her for about six years. I wrote several songs for her, none of which I felt was appropriate to give her. It was only when I wrote this song, which is a dialogue between a killer and his victim, that I thought finally I'd written the right song for Kylie to sing. I sent the song to her and she replied the next day.”
From the beginning, their friendship made them inseparable.
Sometime later, Nick sent the tape of the song to Kylie, and then see each other for the first time in a recording studio in the city of Melbourne, not knowing that from some time later, would become one of the most unexpected friendships of music, as the two have become inseparable for a long time.
On October 2, 1995, the single "Where The Wild Roses Grow" was released, also inspired by a traditional song, in this case, the Irish song "Down in the Willow Garden". The song became the first single from the already mentioned Cave album "Murder Ballads" and immediately reached the top of the charts in countries like Norway, Australia, Germany, New Zealand, and also in the whole United Kingdom. To this day, it continues to be one of the most commercially successful singles. Twelve years after the release of the single, precisely in 2008, the song returned to the charts after being used in a German TV soap opera.
In 1996, Kylie joined the "Big Day Out" tour as a special guest of Nick Cave.
While "Where The Wild Roses Grow" never appeared on one of Kylie's studio albums, it was later included on three of her greatest hits compilations and she gives Cave great credit for influencing her career and changing the public's perception of her and her music. "Everything I did with it was so sweet and epic and close, it's amazing and loving, and it's one of my favorite things I've ever done," Kylie admitted.
Unlike his later relationship with PJ Harvey, Nick still has a very good relationship with Minogue. Over the years they have performed the song together live several times. The most recent was at the 2019 Glastonbury Festival, where Nick made a surprise appearance on stage during Kylie's concert. The admiration, respect, and affection that they both feel for each other, could be seen reflected in their looks while they sang the single that consecrated them as a duo 23 years ago, together with an audience flooded with red roses in their hands:
Puff Daddy & Faith Evans
Origin: United States
Genres: Hip Hop
Years active: 1997
Hip-hop reached its peak in the nineties thanks to artists like Dr. Dre, or Snoop Dog, but above all thanks to two of the rappers who led the different coasts of the United States. On the West side Tupac Shakur, and on the East side Biggie Small, better known as Notorious B.I.G. It was two months after the murder of the latter in 1997, that his close friend and producer Sean Combs, better known as Puff Diddy, along with rapper Faith Evans, Notorious's partner until the time of his death, joined for the recording of "I'll Be Missing You", a single in memory of Biggie. Although the duo is the protagonist of the song, the American R&B quartet 112 also has a small part in it.
The song sold seven million copies.
The song uses as base the famous sample of the song "Every Breath You Take" (1983) of the English band The Police, however, Puff Daddy never asked the band for permission to use the melody. This made that due to the copyright law, the English singer and composer Sting, was able to claim 100 percent of them. The single spent eleven weeks at the top of the US Billboard Hot 100 and reached number one in 15 other countries, selling seven million copies and becoming one of the best selling singles of all time. The song won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. There are different versions of this song, an extended version with a chorus at the beginning, another without the chorus, and an instrumental version. There is also a slightly altered version made by Diddy in the Concert for Diana at Wembley, UK.
The White Stripes
Origin: United States
Genres: Garage rock, Blues-rock, Rock Alternativ, Punk blues, Indie rock
Years active: 1997 - 2011
While considered by many to be a band of the 2000s, The White Stripes began their musical career in early 1997. In the early 1990s John Anthony Gillis, later known as Jack White, met Meg White at the Memphis Smoke restaurant in Detroit, while both were high school students. Meg was working as a waitress and Jack went to read poetry at open mic night, soon they became good friends and started frequenting coffee shops, music venues and record stores in the city. By that time (1994) he was the drummer of a band called "Goober & the Peas".
The first concert of The White Stripes was held in August 1997.
In September 1996, after a two-year courtship, Jack and Meg were married, and contrary to tradition, Jack defied tradition and took Meg's last name. It was during this period that Meg learned to play the drums, and they immediately became a band. At first, they considered calling themselves "Bazooka" and "Soda Powder", but eventually the duo took the name of The White Stripes. The duo held their first concert in August 1997, at which time, just eight months before releasing their debut EP, "Let's Shake Hands" they recorded two covers “Signed D.C” of Love and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” of Otis Redding.
In June 1999, with Meg on drums and Jack as lead guitarist and vocals, The White Stripes released their eponymous debut on a 17-track album that hit harder than most bands of the time without featuring any bass. Without a doubt, the group was destined to be a hit on the American rock scene. In addition to their undisputed talent, and a trademark for blues and classic country artists that Jack admired, the band was immediately characterized by their visual presence, as they always wore a combination of red, black, and white.
Although they divorced in 2000, the band continued to produce successful records as part of the garage rock renaissance scene, and the duo's unbridled energy and unbridled stage presence made them stars very quickly. The White Stripes burned through a decade of unstoppable force only to crumble in 2011.
Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson Candy
Origin: United States
Years active: 1990
"Candy" was without a doubt one of the most successful singles performed by a duo of the decade. In Iggy's own words, it was their first "great pop song" and it couldn't be any other way, since Kate Pierson, singer, and leader of B'52s, was the one who accompanied him in this melodic love story full of drama. The single became the first major success of Iggy's solo career, following a successful career with the Stooges, as well as consolidating itself as one of the most listened to songs of the decade, thus becoming the highest record of his career, making his first appearance on the Billboard Top 40 in the U.S. charts. The song was included in Iggy Pop's second solo album "Brick by Brick", an album that included other great collaborations such as Slash by Guns N Roses, or the American musician John Hiatt.
The song was characterized not only by the duo itself, nor by the voices of both combining surprisingly, but also by the content of the lyrics and how it was interpreted by both artists. "Candy", begins by telling a story with Iggy's voice as the narrator in which he describes and misses a lost love from the past, while Kate, answers him about the same situation from the woman's perspective, basically a conversation between two people with different visions about what their love was.