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This Was the Hottest Pop Star the Year You Graduated

There can only be one. We broke down the pop stars that ruled your adolescence.

Do you remember the biggest pop song from the year you graduated high school? The singer who you heard whether you were turning on the radio or shopping in a store? Was there a slow jam that everyone danced to at your senior prom? A song you absolutely hated, but had to hear hundreds of times anyway? Those could all be clues as to who was the hottest pop star the year you graduated. Think you remember? Keep reading to see if your guess matches up. And if you have no idea, prepare yourself for a blast from the past.

The '70s saw groups like the Jackson 5 and the Bee Gees topping the charts. In the '80s, the King and Queen of Pop ruled the decade. And in the '90s, big ballads were all the rage before we greeted the new millennium with bubblegum pop, girl groups, and boy bands.

Click through to find out who the top pop star was the year you graduated high school and remind yourself of all the biggest pop songs from years past. You just might want to make the catchiest playlist ever after making it to the end of this list. (Or you might loathe me for getting that Tiffany song stuck in your head again.)

And to see what some of the most major icons from the '90s are up to these days, check out The Biggest '90s TV Teen Idols, Then and Now.

1970: Jackson 5

The Jackson 5
ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo

If you graduated in 1970, you probably heard a lot of the Jackson 5 during your senior year. The group had multiple hits that year with "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save," and "I'll Be There." With those songs, they were the first group to debut with four straight number ones on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

To find out who was the biggest teen dream overall when you were in high school, check out This Was the Most Popular Teen Idol the Year You Graduated.

1971: The Osmonds

Donny and Marie Osmond
ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo

The Osmonds were a big deal in 1971, particularly younger brother Donny Osmond, who started his solo career in the same year at only 14 years old. The group made it to the top of the charts with their song "One Bad Apple." Meanwhile, Donny's songs "Sweet and Innocent" and "Go Away Little Girl" helped him become a teen idol.

1972: Roberta Flack

Roberta Flack
Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix/Alamy Stock Photo

The biggest song of 1972 was Roberta Flack's "The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face." For the hit single, she won the Grammy for Record of the Year, a feat she would accomplish again in the following year for "Killing Me Softly With His Song."

For the scary flick you need to to put on your list, This Is the Best Horror Film of 2020, According to Critics.

1973: Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder
Historic Collection/Alamy Stock Photo

In 1973, Stevie Wonder released his sixteenth album—that's what happens when you start when you're 12 years old. Innervisions features two of his big hits, "Higher Ground" and "Living for the City." As if that's not enough, the same year he also had number one hits with "Superstition" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" from his previous album, Talking Book.

1974: Elton John

Elton John
Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy Stock Photo

Do you remember when Elton John came on to the scene? If so, you may have graduated around 1974. By this point, he'd been around for a few years, but some of his biggest singles were coming out. This year, he had hits with "Bennie and the Jets," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," and "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me."

For stars who love where they came from, check out 24 Celebrities Who Still Live in Their Hometown.

1975: Captain and Tennille

Captain and Tennille
Archive PL/Alamy Stock Photo

Graduates of 1975, I am sorry to get this song stuck in your head again after so long, but you must remember that Captain and Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together" was the biggest song of that year. In fact, it won the Grammy for Record of the Year.

1976: Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac
UtCon Collection/Alamy Stock Photo

Fleetwood Mac had a particularly big year in 1976. After the release of the album Fleetwood Mac the previous year, the band had hits with the singles "Rhiannon" and "Say You Love Me." The album also featured "Landslide," but it would not become one of their biggest songs until years later.

For terms you probably shouldn't be using anymore, check out The Best Slang Terms From the 1990s That Aren't Cool Today.

1977: Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart
Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy Stock Photo

The top song on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1977 was Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright)." He was releasing albums pretty much every year, which means that in 1977 fans were listening to both A Night on the Town and Footloose & Fancy Free.

1978: Bee Gees

bee gees
CSU Archives/Everett Collection

You didn't think we would skip disco, did you? Toward the end of 1977, Saturday Night Fever was released with music from the Bee Gees. Hits from the soundtrack album, which won the Album of the Year Grammy, include "Stayin' Alive," "How Deep Is Your Love," "Night Fever," and "More Than a Woman," all of which remained big songs into the following year. On top of that, the Bee Gees' younger brother Andy Gibb had a popular solo career at the same time with songs like "Shadow Dancing" and "An Everlasting Love."

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1979: Donna Summer

Donna Summer
ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo

In 1979, disco was still the thing (but not for much longer). Donna Summer's "Bad Girls" and "Hot Stuff" were huge hits at the end of the '70s, and the singer won the very dated awards Favorite Female Disco Vocalist, Disco Album, and Disco Song at the 1979 American Music Awards.

1980: Diana Ross

Diana Ross
Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

Diana Ross had been a massive pop star for years by the time 1980 rolled around, thanks to both her time with the Supremes and her solo career. But this was the year she released the hugely popular album Diana, which included the singles "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out."

1981: Kim Carnes

Kim Carnes
PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy Stock Photo

Kim Carnes is the top pop star of 1981 thanks to her biggest hit, "Bette Davis Eyes." It became the number one song in the country, and also won the Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

1982: Olivia Newton-John

Olivia Newton-John
MediaPunch Inc/Alamy Stock Photo

Olivia Newton-John put out music long before and long after her breakout acting role in 1978's Grease. And while playing Sandy will be a big part of her legacy, her biggest hit as a singer was the title track from her late 1981 album Physical. "Physical" became the number one song on the Hot 100 chart and was on the chart for a total of 26 weeks.

1983: Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson Thriller Cover

Thirteen years after being part of the biggest pop sensation in the country with the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson became the biggest pop star in the world as a solo artist. While his music was selling throughout the '80s, 1983 was a very big year. Thriller was released in late 1982, so his hit singles in 1983 were tracks from the album including "Billie Jean," "Beat It," "Thriller," "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin,'" and "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)."

1984: Cyndi Lauper

cyndi lauper in a captain's hat
PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy Stock Photo

When you think of Cyndi Lauper, there's a good chance you think of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" or "Time after Time." Both of these songs were popular in 1984, so if you graduated that year, you probably heard them at prom and every other event or party you attended.

1985: Madonna

Madonna performing in 1984
dpa picture alliance/Alamy Stock Photo

You can't have a list of the hottest pop stars without Madonna. In 1985, she had just released her second album, Like a Virgin, with tracks including "Like a Virgin," "Dress You Up," "Into the Groove," and "Material Girl." So, yeah, 1985 was a very good year for the Queen of Pop.

1986: Janet Jackson

Cover of Nasty by Janet Jackson
Records/Alamy Stock Photo

1986 was all about Janet Jackson—"Ms. Jackson, if you're nasty." Her music career reached new heights with the release of her album Control, which features the singles "When I Think of You," "Nasty," and "What Have You Done for Me Lately," all proving she was more than just the Jackson sister.

1987: Tiffany

MediaPunch Inc/Alamy Stock Photo

Then, 1987 was the year of Tiffany. The teen singer, whose full name is Tiffany Darwish, scored a number one hit with her cover of "I Think We're Alone Now," While her career didn't really flourish as the years went on, anyone who was graduating at the time of "I Think We're Alone Now" definitely remembers it.

1988: George Michael

George Michael
David Parker/Alamy Stock Photo

George Michael was already huge by the late '80s thanks to his time in Wham!, but at the end of 1987, he released his debut solo album, Faith, and a new chapter of his career began. The next year brought songs such as "One More Try," "Father Figure," and "Faith," which was the top song of the year.

1989: Paula Abdul

Forever Your Girl by Paula Abdul album art

Straight up now tell me… do you remember Paula Abdul being a really big deal in 1989? Around this time, the singer and future American Idol judge had hits including "Straight Up," "Opposites Attract," and "Cold Hearted."

1990: Wilson Phillips

Wilson Phillips
Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

When Wilson Phillips released their first album in 1990, they found massive success with the very catchy single "Hold On," which was the top song of the year. They had a second number one the same year with their second single, "Release Me".

1991: Bryan Adams

Bryan Adams
dpa picture alliance/Alamy Stock Photo

Bryan Adams is the biggest pop star of 1991 thanks to a song that you'll still hear all the time on any easy listening station today. In 1991 ,"(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" was a huge hit (thanks to the movie Robin Hood: The Prince of Thieves) from the singer's album Waking Up the Neighbors, along with "Can't Stop This Thing We Started" and "There Will Never Be Another Tonight."

1992: Boyz II Men

Boyz II Men 1992
Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

Graduate in 1992? You probably witnessed a lot of slow dances to Boyz II Men's "End of the Road." The song set the record for the longest run at number one, topping the chart for 13 weeks. This record was then broken twice by Boyz II Men themselves with "I'll Make Love to You" and "One Sweet Day," which featured Mariah Carey (more on her later).

1993: Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston
Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy Stock Photo

While Whitney Houston was a big deal throughout the '80s and '90s—and will be forever—she takes the 1993 spot. In 1993, she topped the charts with "I Will Always Love You." That alone would be enough to earn her this honor, but she also starred in The Bodyguard and had several other songs on the soundtrack. Two other songs from the movie, "I'm Every Woman," and "I Have Nothing," were hits in 1993.

1994: Ace of Base

Ace of Base 1994
dpa picture alliance/Alamy Stock Photo

Unless you're a huge fan of the Swedish group, every Ace of Base song you know hit the charts during this year. "The Sign," "All That She Wants," and "Don't Turn Around" were all hits in 1994. "The Sign" was particularly huge and appeared on the Hot 100 chart for a total of 41 weeks.

1995: TLC

Barry King/Alamy Stock Photo

One guess as to why TLC are the hottest pop stars of 1995… Yep, it's "Waterfalls." The singing trio's album CrazySexyCool was released at the end of 1994, so 1995 was their year. In addition to "Waterfalls," the group also had success with "Creep" and "Red Light Special."

1996: Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey Daydream album cover
Sony Legacy

Mariah Carey was one of the top pop stars of the entire '90s, but 1996 was especially career-making. That year, she and Boyz II Men broke the record for the longest time a song had been number one with "One Sweet Day." With 16 weeks at the top of the chart, it held the record until 2019. On top of that, Carey also had hits with "Always Be My Baby" and "Fantasy."

1997: Spice Girls

Spice Girls
PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

The Spice Girls hit the peak of their popularity in 1996 and 1997. In the U.S., "Wannabe" and "Say You'll Be There" were everywhere in 1997, and it was also the year that the group's Spice World movie was released. So, 1997 graduate, were you a Posh, Ginger, Baby, Scary, Sporty, or someone who thought they were too mature to pick a favorite?

1998: Backstreet Boys

Backstreet Boys
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As we reached the new millennium, boy bands and pop princesses ruled Top 40 radio. So, the 1998 spot must go to the Backstreet Boys, who were on the radio constantly with songs like "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" and "Quit Playing Game (With My Heart)." (Song titles with parenthesis were also big in pop music at the time.)

1999: Britney Spears

Britney Spears
Allstar Picture Library Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

Speaking of pop princesses, the biggest sensation in 1999 was undoubtedly Britney Spears. This was the year she released her …Baby One More Time album, which includes the singles "…Baby One More Time," "Sometimes," and "(You Drive Me) Crazy."

2000: Destiny's Child

Destiny's Child in 2000
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And finally, we reach 2000. Despite going through a major lineup change during the year, Destiny's Child was on top with their hits "Say My Name," "Jumpin' Jumpin'," and "Independent Women."

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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