Alternative rock (also called alternative music, alt-rock or simply alternative) is a genre of rock music that emerged in the 1980s and became widely popular in the 1990s. Alternative rock consists of various subgenres that have emerged from the independent music scene since the 1980s, such as grunge, Britpop, gothic rock, and indie pop. These genres are unified by their collective debt to the style and/or ethos of punk rock, which laid the groundwork for alternative music in the 1970s. At times alternative rock has been used as a catch-all phrase for rock music from underground artists in the 1980s, and all music descended from punk rock (including punk itself, New Wave, and post-punk).
POPULARIZATION IN THE 1990's
By the start of the 1990s, the music industry was enticed by alternative rock's commercial possibilities and major labels actively courted bands including Dinosaur Jr, Firehose, and Nirvana. In particular, R.E.M.'s success had become a blueprint for many alternative bands in the late 1980s and 1990s to follow; the group had outlasted many of its contemporaries and by the 1990s had become one of the most popular bands in the world.
The breakthrough success of grunge band Nirvana led to the widespread popularization of alternative rock in the 1990s. The release of the band's single "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from its second album Nevermind (1991) "marked the instigation of the grunge music phenomenon". Due to constant airplay of the song's music video on MTV, Nevermind was selling 400,000 copies a week by Christmas 1991. The success of Nevermind surprised the music industry. Nevermind not only popularized grunge, but also established "the cultural and commercial viability of alternative rock in general." Michael Azerrad asserted that Nevermind symbolized "a sea-change in rock music" in which the glam metal that had dominated rock music at that time fell out of favor in the face of music that was authentic and culturally relevant.
Nirvana's surprise success with Nevermind heralded a "new openness to alternative rock" among commercial radio stations, opening doors for heavier alternative bands in particular. In the wake of Nevermind, alternative rock "found itself dragged-kicking and screaming into the mainstream" and record companies, confused by the genre's success yet eager to capitalize on it, scrambled to sign bands. The New York Times declared in 1993, "Alternative rock doesn't seem so alternative anymore. Every major label has a handful of guitar-driven bands in shapeless shirts and threadbare jeans, bands with bad posture and good riffs who cultivate the oblique and the evasive, who conceal catchy tunes with noise and hide craftsmanship behind nonchalance." However, many alternative rock artists rejected success, for it conflicted with the rebellious, DIY ethic the genre had espoused before mainstream exposure and their ideas of artistic authenticity.
With the decline of the Madchester scene and the unglamorousness of shoegazing, the tide of grunge from America dominated the British alternative scene and music press in the early 1990s. As a reaction, a flurry of defiantly British bands emerged that wished to "get rid of grunge" and "declare war on America", taking the public and native music press by storm. Dubbed "Britpop" by the media, this movement represented by Blur, Oasis, Suede, and Pulp was the British equivalent of the grunge explosion, in that the artists propelled alternative rock to the top of the charts in their home country. Britpop bands were influenced by and displayed reverence for British guitar music of the past, particularly movements and genres such as the British Invasion, glam rock, and punk rock. In 1995 the Britpop phenomenon culminated in a rivalry between its two chief groups, Oasis and Blur, symbolized by their release of competing singles on the same day. Blur won "The Battle of Britpop", but Oasis soon eclipsed the other band in popularity with its second album, (What's the Story) Morning Glory? (1995), which went on to become the third best-selling album in Britain's history.
Alternative rock in the 21st century
Two thirds body shot of singer with short brown hair, wearing a black shirt and jeans, performing on stage. A band is partially visible in the background. Alex Kapranos of post-punk revival group Franz Ferdinand
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, several alternative rock bands bands emerged, including The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, and The Rapture that drew primary inspiration from post-punk and New Wave, establishing the post-punk revival movement. Preceded by the success of The Strokes and The White Stripes earlier in the decade, an influx of new alternative rock bands, including several post-punk revival artists and others such as Modest Mouse, The Killers, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, found commercial success in the early 2000s. Due to the success of these bands, Entertainment Weekly declared in 2004, "After almost a decade of domination by rap-rock and nu-metal bands, mainstream alt-rock is finally good again."
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