There are almost countless numbers of genres of music around the world, and they have a fascinating and complex history. The twentieth century saw a dramatic development of musical styles, many of which influenced one another and continue to influence the most popular styles of music we listen to today. But what are the most popular styles of music around the world, and where did they come from? In this article, we’ll detail everything you need to know (or at least an introductory version!) about the top 75 genres of music that we know and love.
As of the most recent decades, the most popular musical styles streamed online include hip hop, rap, rock and roll, pop, electronic, rhythm and blues, country, and classical.
Classic rock is a term used by radio stations to refer to rock and roll music composed between the 1960s and the 1990s. The songs are highly popular among the baby boomer generation and feature pioneering bands such as The Beatles, Elvis, The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and AC/DC. Rock was influenced by many other styles including jazz and rhythm and blues. It would go on to influence countless future styles, such as pop, punk, funk, electronica, and much more.
Hard rock is a subgenre of rock and roll that first started in the 1960s before exploding in the 70s and 80s. It combines rock elements with harsh, sometimes angry vocals, musical distortions, and heavy drums. Famous hard rock groups include the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Who, and the Rolling Stones. Hard rock emphasized pushing back at mainstream music expectations, with overly loud sounds, heavy rhythm, and screamed lyrics.
Soft rock is a subgenre of rock and roll that combines elements of rock and pop music. It first gained traction in the late 1950s and grew throughout the next decades. Soft rock tends to favor simple tunes and emotional synthetic music. Soft rock artists include James Taylor, Phil Collins, Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel, and Neil Diamond. The genre may include both electronic and acoustic instruments and emphasize either sound in a widely appealing fusion.
Alternative or alternative rock is a subgenre of rock that developed between the 1970s and the 1990s. This style seeks to be different from mainstream rock and roll, with more homemade elements or unique instruments and musical techniques. Nirvana is widely considered one of the greatest and most prominent alternative rock bands. Others include the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, White Stripes, and Radiohead. Alternative music often tackles more unique topics with introspective lyrics and unusual instrumentals.
Indie rock developed from alternative rock, becoming an independent genre altogether. However, it has a loose definition; indie rock uses a wider variety of instruments and rejects the commercialism and messages of mainstream rock and pop music and the hypermasculinity associated with classic rock. Well-known indie rock bands include Pixies, the Arctic Monkeys, and Arcade Fire. Because of its wide definition, indie rock has developed significantly over the decades and there is still debate in the music industry over what exactly constitutes the genre.
Progressive rock is a contemporary form of rock and roll that first began to develop in the late 60s. It draws inspiration from psychedelic rock as well as jazz and folk music. Progressive rock generally includes electronic components and has a stronger focus on meaningful lyrics and new music techniques. Famous progressive rock bands include Pink Floyd, Genesis, and Jethro Tull. It became popular in the latter half of the 20th century as a pushback against more classic, mainstream forms of rock and roll.
Grunge is a genre that arose in Seattle in the 1980s, earning its other name Seattle Sound. Grunge music fuses elements of hard rock, punk rock, and metal, often using electronic elements and musical distortion. The lyrics tend to be deep, poignant, or angsty. Famous grunge bands include Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. Grunge was one musical genre of the wider counterculture movement that rejected traditional labels and expectations.
Punk has its roots in the 1970s and began as a rejection of popular music. Punk songs are usually short and intense, often about political topics or with anti-establishment messages. While punk is not as popular today as in the 70s, there are still many well-known punk groups that have made music somewhat recently, such as Green Day, The Offspring, and Bad Religion The music genre was one part of a wider punk culture, which included dramatic fashion and lifestyle choices aimed around rejecting traditional values and expectations.
Pop earned its name from the word popular, which was the main element that first differentiated it from rock and roll in the 1960s. Pop music tends to be upbeat, light in content, and have elements of universal relatability. Famous pop groups over the decades have included ABBA, Destiny’s Child, the Supremes, the Jonas Brothers, and many more. Pop is an extremely broad category, but most if not all pop music relies on these elements.
Indie pop differs from mainstream pop in that it combines pop and punk elements. The result is more emphasis on instrumentals and melody while maintaining generally light and relatable content. Well-known indie pop artists include the Shins, Florence and the Machine, Vampire Weekend, Foster the People, Lana Del Ray, and the Lumineers. The genre has enjoyed steady popularity but had a strong resurgence in the early 2010s.
Pop Latino refers to a subgenre of pop music, which combines elements of commercial pop music and Latin music styles. These songs are usually upbeat and intended for dancing. They may be in Spanish, Portuguese, or other dialects. Well-known pop Latino artists include Shakira, Selena, Enrique Iglesias, Gloria Estefan, and Ricky Martin. Many of them are famous not only throughout the Latin-speaking world but in North America and Europe as well.
Electropop, as the name implies, is a subgenre of electronic music and pop music. It is sometimes called synth-pop because of its reliance on electronic components such as synthesizers, keyboards, and more. Famous electropop artists include La Roux, Kesha, Lady Gaga, and Robyn. Electropop may be used for dance music or it may simply be listening music, depending on the artist.
Classical music is the umbrella term for most of the formal instrumental music in the West. In particular, classical music is generally considered to come from one of several highly influential composers whose work shaped Western art and musical culture. The most influential classical composers include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, and Johann Sebastian Bach. Classical music may be orchestral, or it may be for a single instrument, often a piano, cello, or violin.
A symphony is most commonly a form of Western classical orchestral music, though some versions are for smaller groups of instruments or even a single instrument. Symphonies are made of several movements, usually including a sonata. One of the most well-known symphonies is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which includes vocal components.
Chant generally refers to the form of music found in Western Christian liturgies. These pieces are usually unaccompanied vocal chants in Latin, often monotone songs used in Masses or other religious services. Until the 900s, chant (also called plainsong) was the only recognized liturgical music in the Western Church.
Choral music refers to music performed by a chorus. Most choral music is in the classical genre, though it may be in any genre. The chorus is usually divided into four parts: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass (sometimes also mezzo-soprano and baritone). Choral performances are led by a conductor.
Opera is a form of musical theater wherein a story is told through music and song. It differs from musical theater because it generally involves singing exclusively rather than both song and spoken dialogue. Opera often retells a story from folklore or classic mythology. Well-known operas include The Magic Flute, Carmen, and La Traviata. While operas may be in any language, many of them are in Italian, French, or German.
A Cappella music refers to vocal music performed without instrumental backup. Modern a cappella may be particularly complex, with singers performing many parts in harmony as well as singing “instrumental” parts, including percussion. Some of the best a cappella groups of the modern era include Pentatonix, Straight No Chaser, and Peter Hollens. The style has become extremely popular in the 2010s and 2020s, with many a cappella groups releasing covers of popular songs.
Musical theater, the music from which is often called showtunes, is a form of stage performance that tells a story through a combination of spoken dialogue, music, and dancing. Unlike opera, musicals include spoken lines as well as singing. Some of the most famous musicals are West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton, and Rent. Stephen Sondheim was a well-known composer of music for theater.
Hymns are devotional songs used for the purpose of worship. While most of us are familiar with the hymns of Christianity, they are an important devotion in many religions, including ancient Greek and Egyptian faiths. Well-known hymns include Amazing Grace, Be Thou My Vision, and the Rigveda of Hinduism. Christian hymns would eventually influence the development of Gospel music.
Barbershop music, usually performed by a barbershop quartet, is a type of a cappella music performed in four-part harmony. Most traditionally, barbershop quartets include two tenors, a bass, and a baritone; however more modern groups have included female vocalists in higher singing registers (and there are also all-female barbershop quartets).
Electronic dance music is a genre that uses mostly electronic components to create tracks made for dancing, usually at nightclubs or festivals. This music is usually created on a digital audio workstation and is characterized by strong bass beats and high energy. Electronic dance music usually features a “drop” in which the song increases in intensity and tempo.
Electronic music refers to music, usually pop or rock music, that is performed using electronic components. This can refer to both electronic instruments such as keyboards, electric guitars, and synthesizers, as well as digital soundmakers. Well-known electronic groups include Depeche Mode, Swedish House Mafia, LMFAO, and Radiohead.
Despite the near-identical name, electronica differs from electronic music. While both are performed using electric instruments and digital sound makers, electronica is considered to be music for listening rather than dancing. These lines can be blurry and have some overlap. Electronica groups include Daft Punk and the Chemical Brothers.
Electronic rock is a genre fusing rock and electronic music. It may involve a wide combination of instruments both digital and acoustic and draw influences from many musical styles and genres. Punk rock, hip hop, techno, and other styles have helped define electronic rock. Linkin Park and AWOLNATION are two famous electronic rock groups.
Dubstep is a form of electronic dance music that began in the early 2000s. It is widely associated with the club scene and focuses on electronic instrumentals characterized by heavy beats and loud bass. Skrillex is one of the most well-known dubstep artists.
Techno is a type of electronic dance music, characterized by its unique, fast tempo and electronic instrumentals. It is often infused with retro instruments and musical techniques from the 1980s, with heavy use of synthesizers, sequencers, and digital audio workstations. It is often used for dance music in clubs thanks to its strong beat and energetic tempo.
Eurodance is a type of electronic dance music that includes vocals, both singing and rap. It draws on influences from hip hop, house music, and techno, and often uses retro instrumentals and techniques such as synthesizers and bass. Well-down Eurodance artists include Ace of Bass, Basshunter, and O-Zone.
Swing music is a subgenre of jazz that was widely popular as dance music in the 1930s. Swing incorporates many elements of jazz, including playing on the off-beat and musical improvisation. It was so popular that the 1930s and 40s were called the Swing Era in the United States, leading to the rise of musicians like Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Glenn Miller.
Honky tonk is a type of piano-based country music that was popular in the South and Southwestern United States during the 20th century. The genre’s true elements are disputed but in general combines techniques and styles from jazz, ragtime, and country. Well-known honky tonk artists include Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Horton.
Salsa is a form of dance music originating in Latin American music. The style draws on elements from many other genres including mambo, jazz, guaracha, and more. Salsa is also a type of ballroom dance characterized by its high energy and intricate footwork.
Disco music is a form of dance music that had its heyday in the 1970s, during which it was the music of choice in bars and clubs. Disco is generally defined by its distinctive beats and electric instrumentals, including synthesizers, electric guitars, bass, and keyboards. Well-known disco groups include the Bee Gees, Kool and the Gang, and the Village People.
Boogie is a fusion of rhythm and blues with electronic dance music. It was also heavily influenced by disco music and the music of the early 1980s. Boogie includes singing and unusual effects and combines both electronic and acoustic elements. Boogie is not to be confused with boogie-woogie, which was popular in the 1940s and 50s.
Boogie-woogie is a form of blues music that became widely known in the 1920s and remained popular throughout the subsequent decades. While it incorporated vocals, boogie-woogie is usually intended for dancing, which means it tends to be upbeat and energetic. Famous boogie-woogie artists include Pete Johnson, the Andrews Sisters, and Champion Jack Dupree.
Ragtime music was popular between the 1890s and the 1910s. It earned its name from its use of syncopation, or off-beats in music. Ragtime developed quickly into jazz music and eventually influenced the development of rock and roll. Famous ragtime artists include Scott Joplin, who was called the King of Ragtime. Joplin famously noted that ragtime had been around in African American communities for decades, developing out of other styles of music.
Flamenco is a musical form from the many cultures of southern Spain, where it is considered an important art form and cultural dance. Flamenco draws on influences from Andalusian and Romani cultures and incorporates elements from Spanish folk music.
Blues is a genre of music that began in the 19th century in the movement of African-American spiritual music. It incorporated many musical styles from the African-American communities and is characterized by its call-and-response technique and unique rhythm and chord progressions. Famous blues musicians include Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, Ma Rainey, and BB King.
Jazz is a genre that developed over the 19th and 20th centuries, becoming so popular by the 1920s that the decade is referred to as the jazz age. Jazz developed from influences in ragtime and blues music and would later lead to the formation of rock and roll, swing, and pop music. Famous jazz artists include Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, and Billie Holiday.
Easy listening is a genre of music designed to be used as background music, such as in restaurants and lounges. It includes relaxing instrumental covers of popular songs in other genres, including rock and roll. Easy listening generally features music from the 1940s and 50s and is similar to “elevator” music.
Lounge music is a kind of easy listening music designed to be played as background noise. Lounge may incorporate themes or settings designed to make listeners feel like they are in a different place, such as a jungle, forest, or island. The genre may fuse acoustic and electronic elements and instrumentals.
Folk music generally refers to American folk music. This genre arose from traditional songs in American culture, most of which have been passed down for many centuries from unknown composers. Modern folk music fuses both classic and contemporary instrumentals and musical styles. Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Cat Stevens are counted as some of the best folk singers of all time.
American Folk Revival music refers to music from the folk scene of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. It brought folk music, including African-American influences, to the national stage, influencing other popular genres of the time including rock and roll. Major figures of the American Folk Revival included Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, Peter Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez.
Classic country is generally defined as country music that was released between the 1950s and 1980s. The genre was influenced by other musical styles such as honky tonk and would endure until the rise of modern country. Prominent classic country singers include Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Merle Haggard.
Country blues is an early style of blues music that was popular during the 1920s. It was a contemporary of urban blues and was largely popular in the Southern United States. The genre relies on vocal performances usually accompanied by acoustic guitar. Major influencers of the country blues movement include Blind Willie McTell, Reverend Gary Davis, and Sleepy John Estes.
Modern country music usually refers to country music released in the 1980s or later. These tracks were influenced by urbanization and the development of modern rock, creating a new audience for country music. Modern country singers include Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, and Tim McGraw.
Bluegrass is a style of country music that arose in Appalachia in the 1940s. It draws on influences from many other types of music, including blues, jazz, country, Gospel music, and traditional music of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Bluegrass emphasizes acoustic stringed instruments like banjo and guitar. Influential bluegrass musicians include Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys.
Bluegrass began a revival in the 1990s. Contemporary bluegrass often emphasizes more elaborate musical pieces that draw inspiration from classical music, as well as musical improvisation and a wider variety of instruments. Well-known musicians in the genre include Allison Krauss, Mumford and Sons, the Avett Brothers, and Old Crow Medicine Show.
Hip hop is one of the most popular styles of music in the modern era. This style developed from older African-American styles in the 1970s, and is characterized by strong drum beats and bass lines, sometimes rap, beatboxing, turntables, or synthesizers. Hip hop music is considered an integral part of hip hop culture, which encompasses many art forms including dance.
Rap and hip hop are sometimes used synonymously. More technically, rap is only one part of hip hop music, and hip hop does not always include it. Rap refers to the musical style where lyrics are chanted rather than sung against a background track. Some rap songs alternate singing and rapping.
New wave music was a distinct style of pop-adjacent music that arose during the 1970s and 80s. During this time, the genre took on a style that was lighthearted or funny, with superfast rhythms and a reliance on electronic components. New wave culture and fashion was flamboyant and over-the-top, featuring exaggerated Caucasian dance styles and clothing.
Rhythm and blues music, commonly shortened to R&B, is a style that fuses elements of blues music with pop, hip hop, funk, soul, and even electronic music. The emphasis is on rhythm and vocals, which tend to be rich and dramatic. Influential R&B singers include Beyoncé, Usher, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, and Stevie Wonder.
Garage music is a niche genre that relies on a combination of house music, Gospel music, and R&B. The result is a unique sound that is characterized by piano riffs and soulful vocals. Garage music also tends to heavily feature electronic instrumentals such as sequencers and synthesizers. Garage music was highly popular in the United Kingdom during the 80s and 90s.
Funk is a slow, rhythmic form of dance music that relies on unique rhythms and slow sensuality. It usually has an emphasis on vocals, especially multilayered vocals with elaborate harmonies. Funk draws on elements of jazz and electronic music and may include improvisation from singers and accompanists. Singer James Brown is considered the “King of Funk”.
Reggae developed in the 1960s from a fusion of Jamaican music and American jazz. It also drew influence from ska and other genres and tends to use offbeat rhythms and bass percussion. Reggae lyrics are often social or political commentary of the time. Bob Marley was by far the most famous reggae musician of all time.
Despite the similar names, reggaeton is not the same as reggae. Instead, it developed in Panama and Puerto Rico and borrowed elements from dancehall music as well as the styles of Latin America, the Caribbean, and American hip hop. Reggaeton songs often include rap and many are in Spanish or a Spanish-English hybrid.
Crunk developed out of hip hop in the 1990s. While hip hop originated in New York, crunk is from the American South, particularly Miami. While it often has a slower beat, crunk is an aggressive form of music, often requiring the lead singer to rap, scream, or swear. Lil Jon and Soulja Boy are notable crunk artists.
Soul is a style of music from the African-American community that developed out of Gospel as well as rhythm and blues. It played an important role during the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Famous soul musicians include Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Al Green, and Otis Redding.
New age music is a type of gentle instrumental music designed to help people relax. It is frequently used as a background track during massages, yoga sessions, or meditation to encourage peacefulness, stress release, happiness, and inspiration. Despite the name, it is not associated with the New Age religion.
Folk punk, as the name implies, is a genre that combines elements of both folk and punk music. Musicians usually use acoustic stringed instruments such as banjos and violins to play in classic punk style. Folk punk also draws on classic punk in its focus on political lyrics and social commentary.
Alternative hip hop is a subgenre of true hip hop. Like alternative rock, it earns its name because it deviates from mainstream styles of hip hop. Alternative hip hop is less associated with subgenres of gangsta and bass rap and more focused on combining other styles like reggae, jazz, and soul. Kanye West and Outkast are two well-known alternative hip hop artists.
Ska music was a style of music that developed in the 1950s in Jamaica. It combined American jazz and rhythm and blues styles with Caribbean and calypso music. Like jazz, ska uses off-beats and a walking bass line. It would develop significantly over the decades and eventually influence the development of reggae and other genres.
Hardcore hip hop is a subgenre of hip hop that combines elements of rap and gangsta rap. It became popular on the East Coast during the 1980s and may involve aggressive vocals or rapping. Lyrics often involve anger or confrontation, making them similar to gangsta rap but with a few noted distinctions.
K-pop is short for Korean pop, meaning popular music from South Korea. K-pop may refer to many genres of music, it has come to more narrowly define South Korean boy band culture. With the rise of boy bands such as Seo Taiji and Boys in the 90s and BTS in the 2010s, K-pop became wildly popular with fans all over the world.
Trap is a variation of hip hop that is characterized by few instruments but aggressive drum beats, particularly from hi-hats, kick drums, and snare drums. The genre evolved in the American South at the turn of the 21st century. The lyrics are exclusively about drug culture, urban street life, making money, and similar cultural experiences. “Trap” is a slang term referring to a house where drugs are sold.
Psychedelic rock developed in the 1960s during a time in which drug experimentation, particularly of psychedelics, was growing in popularity. The widespread use of drugs like LSD helped develop a genre of rock music that emphasized new elements like electronic instruments, wandering tracks, improvised instrumentals, and long songs. Many psychedelic rock songs have lyrics about the altered reality experienced on LSD and other substances.
Celtic music refers widely to the traditional music from Ireland and Scotland. Modern celtic music may be variations on traditional songs or original songs written in a traditional style. Contemporary forms combine old and new instrumentals, such as bagpipes, flutes, whistles, banjos, and electronic elements. Sometimes referred to as Celtic fusion, the genre is very broad and includes groups such as the Corrs, the Cranberries, Celtic Woman, Gaelic Storm, and Sinead O’Connor.
World music is a broad genre classification of music from non-Western areas of the world. This can include anything from traditional folk songs to cultural fusion and contemporary music. As a category, world music is extraordinarily broad and has been criticized for overgeneralization. In general, it means any music that comes from countries other than North America and Europe.
Metal music originated in the 1960s and 70s as a part of anti-establishment culture. The genre draws on elements of blues rock and psychedelic rock and emphasizes over-the-top volumes and other elements that seemingly fly in the face of mainstream music expectations. Metal often uses strong beats, long instrumental solos (particularly electric guitars), and distortion. Some of the most famous and influential artists of the metal genre include Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, KISS, and Alice Cooper.
Emo is a style of rock music that developed during the 1980s as a subgenre of both rock and punk. The style became popular in the early 2000s. Emo is short for “emotional”, the defining characteristic of the genre. Emo lyrics tend to be about social isolation, rejecting mainstream culture, self-harm, depression, and loneliness. The music genre also gave rise to emo culture, which included marked fashion choices and styles. Well-known emo bands are My Chemical Romance, Panic! At the Disco, Jimmy Eat World, and Blink-182.
Trance music is dance music that became popular in the United Kingdom in the 1990s. Unlike other forms of electronic dance music, trance tends to be slow and ethereal. It relies on instrumental tracks rather than singing, though it may incorporate vocals. As the name implies, trance focuses on dreamy, extended tracks with wandering rhythms, rejecting mainstream expectations of song progression. One well-known element of trance music is a song climax followed by a gradual decrease in music and percussion.
Gospel music can broadly be defined as Christian music of the 20th century. But it is most particularly associated with the African-American community and grew out of other styles such as hymns, African-American spirituals, jazz, and blues. Gospel music often uses clapping, stomping, and call and response, and may be performed a cappella. It was also influenced by the American folk genre and was instrumental in shaping modern worship in black communities and churches.
Big band music was extremely popular during the 1940s, but the style goes back as far as the 1910s. The genre is a style of jazz or swing music performed by a large musical ensemble, usually including more than 10 musicians. These heavily emphasized brass instruments and percussion. Big band music is usually intended to be an accompaniment for dancers, which explains why it developed in popularity alongside the swing movement.
Drum and bass is a niche style of electronic music that was popular on the club scene in the United Kingdom during the first half of the 1990s. As the name implies, the genre is characterized by strong, fast percussion and extremely fast rhythms, as well as heavy bass beats. It is often heavily reliant on synthesizers, syncopation, and other electronic components. Some forms of the drum and bass genre incorporated elements of jungle music and even Caribbean styles.
House music is one of many genres that developed as a form of dance music in the 1970s. It is intrinsically a form of club music, developing from disco songs that were given a mechanical sound and unique rhythm suited to many kinds of dance. In more modern forms it became similar to other types of contemporary electronic music and still plays a role in club music in the 21st century. Influential house musicians include Calvin Harris, Zedd, Avicii, deadmau5, and many more.
Grime is a form of electronic music. It first became popular in the United Kingdom in the early 2000s and developed from elements of garage music, jungle music, and hip hop. Grime music tends to feature lyrics that are about urban living and they typically have a strong, aggressive beat with an emphasis on electronic sound. Grime relies heavily on emcee involvement. While the genre did not spread widely throughout other parts of the world, it was extremely popular in the United Kingdom and Canada.
The history of music is fascinating, complex, and interconnected. Many of the musical styles we listed here changed not just our culture but the entire world, and they continue to do so today. No matter what your personal music preference, you probably know many of these musical groups and grew up experiencing how they affected our culture at large.