In 1998, Google was born, Japan hosted the Winter Olympics, and “Titanic” won a record 11 Oscars. While that may feel like a lifetime ago, the decade’s best music is still relevant as ever.
And as streaming data from these 1998 albums proves, we’re still listening.
There was no singular music trend that defined the year. As commercial, candy-coated pop began to dominate the charts, rising artists across genres like electronic, indie pop, punk, and alternative made their marks behind the scenes. Meanwhile, global superstar Madonna defended her title as queen of reinvention, and budding hip-hop masterminds OutKast pushed the limits of rap for a new generation.
Maybe you were front row at 1998’s biggest concerts—or maybe you weren’t born yet. Regardless, check out these 10 iconic records from the year that still hold up.
Air, “Moon Safari”
Released January 16, 1998
2018 Total Streams: Over 3.3 million
“Moon Safari,” the debut from French duo Air, is appropriately light and breezy—but it’s far from fluff. Across 10 delicate tracks, Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel experiment in soft, playful electronica with instruments from synths and organs to bongos and castanets. The result is a gentle assessment of space and atmosphere; elevator music for the time-traveling hipster set of the future.
Neutral Milk Hotel, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”
Released February 10, 1998
2018 Total Streams: Over 10.6 million
An indie rock concept album inspired by Anne Frank? Sounds like a hard sell, and yet the tender, explosive power that drives “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” has mesmerized listeners for two straight decades. An unlikely cult classic from a band that only released two studio albums, “Aeroplane” is a sweeping epic fueled by the dense, gut-wrenching lyricism of Neutral Milk Hotel leader Jeff Mangum.
Madonna, “Ray of Light”
Released February 22, 1998
2018 Streams: Over 2.2 million
Madonna’s “Ray of Light” didn’t so much mark a comeback as it did a full-blown renaissance; at the time of the record’s release in early 1998, the pop superstar was basking in the glow of a whole new identity. A new mom, Madonna embraced spiritual practices like yoga and Kabbalah and underwent extensive vocal training before recording her seventh studio album. As a result, she sings in a wider, fuller tone that complements her newfound maturity and lush, techno-pop sound.
Massive Attack, “Mezzanine”
Released April 20, 1998
2018 Streams: Over 7 million
In the ’90s, Bristol, England, became known for its experiments in trip-hop, a chill blend of hip-hop and electronic. Massive Attack’s landmark “Mezzanine” was born from this rich scene, but ultimately transcended the city limits. Shrouded in eerie tension and cold, sparse beats, “Mezzanine” highlighted the talents of guest vocalists like reggae legend Horace Andy and Liz Fraser of Cocteau Twins; Fraser lends her ethereal vocals to “Teardrop,” a soft anti-ballad that became the album’s biggest hit (and the title sequence song for the TV show “House”). The album’s hypnotic legacy can be found coursing through the work of contemporary artists like James Blake and The xx.
Lauryn Hill, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”
Released August 25, 1998
2018 Total Streams: Over 29.7 million
“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” begins with the ring of a school bell—a familiar sound to anyone who remembers (fondly or otherwise) back to the time when they were figuring out who they wanted to be. In many ways, Lauryn Hill’s debut solo album is a coming-of-age story. There’s the love and anxiety of being a young mother (“To Zion”), the ache of broken relationships (“I Used To Love Him”), and exploration of feminism and equality (“Doo Wop (That Thing)”). In breaking with her band Fugees, Hill shifted between singing and rapping with effortless ease, bursting solo into the boys club that is hip-hop with her own strong yet vulnerable style.
Elliott Smith, “XO”
Released August 25, 1998
2018 Total Streams: Over 1 million
1998 was a turning point for Elliott Smith, the wistful crooner whose untimely death five years later would leave his legacy shrouded in myth. Months after he appeared at the Academy Awards to perform his nominated song “Miss Misery” (from “Good Will Hunting”), he made his major label debut with “XO,” a characteristically melancholy release. And yet, even as he battled increasingly present inner demons, there was hope and light to be found on “XO”; from the tender, jubilant “Sweet Adeline” to the cheery flourishes of “Baby Britain.”
Belle & Sebastian, “The Boy With the Arab Strap”
Released September 7, 1998
2018 Total Streams: Over 1 million
To this day, Belle & Sebastian is one of the most prolific indie bands in the game, but their “brilliant career” first took shape with their third album, “The Boy With the Arab Strap.” A curious collection of enchanting sonic fables, the record saw Belle & Sebastian expand from a solo project into a full-fledged band, with Stuart Murdoch and company touching upon issues of isolation and angst across a quirky dream-pop landscape. They remain the poster children for Glasgow’s weird and wonderful art scene, a hub for artists like Camera Obscura, CHVRCHES, and Franz Ferdinand.
Hole, “Celebrity Skin”
Released September 8, 1998
2018 Total Streams: Over 3 million
The spotlight isn’t easy for anyone, but when you’re one-half of a tragic and infamous rock couple, it’s especially hard to keep it together. Courtney Love did that and more on her band Hole’s third record, “Celebrity Skin,” released just a few years after the death of her husband, Kurt Cobain. Driven by the force of the record’s fiery title track, “Celebrity Skin” became the band’s most popular release, a sophisticated departure from the rough, fuzzed-out grunge of their previous records.
Released September 29, 1998
2018 Total Streams: Over 8.7 million
At a time when hip-hop was all about East Coast versus West Coast, OutKast brought it home to the Dirty South with their acclaimed third album, “Aquemini.” An awesome and adventurous saga, the record fuses elements of funk, jazz, soul, blues, and electronic in its long, jazzy meditations and free-flowing verses. Incorporating thoughtful elements like spoken word, rootsy harmonica, and clever skit interludes, the modern masterpiece put Southern rap on the map for good.
Fatboy Slim, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby”
Released October 19, 1998
2018 Total Streams: Over 4 million
Nineties British dance music hit peak fun with Fatboy Slim, the DJ whose global anthems like “The Rockafeller Skank” and “Praise You” soundtracked the turn of the millennium. “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby,” a nonstop, hedonistic romp through surf rock, funk, techno, and more, pioneered a signature big-beat sound that was equal parts campy and cool. Listening back, the record is still a sign of the times, but 20 years later, we haven’t stopped dancing.
For even more hits and deep cuts from the ’90s, stream our “All Out 90s” playlist here.