What Does Alternative Rock Mean In Music – The Trends

Posted by Mike Schumacher

This article will discuss what does alternative rock mean in music. There are many bands, in various genres, that fit this umbrella.

What I’m interested in is bands that touch on rock, pop, punk, hip-hop, and whatever else is doing well in the modern music landscape.

In doing so, I wanted to use this broad umbrella of genres to help point out trends.

The first thing that must be noted about alternative rock is that it’s not a genre that you’d generally hear in the mainstream.

In terms of the many definitions of alternative rock, I think the most widely known comes from AllMusic, which discusses the musical tastes of 20-year-olds.

AllMusic also recognizes a second definition of alternative rock, but the second definition is what I consider to be the true definition.

The first definition, as I’ve said before, is a broad umbrella for a group of musical styles. There are many bands that fit this description, but I’m specifically trying to identify a specific sub-genre.

The most prominent aspect of the alternative rock genre is the simple fact that it’s not in the mainstream. Although, I’m also interested in bands that are not the mainstream, but are also doing well.

It’s possible to make music that’s alternative, yet not massive in popularity.

Despite what the metal community says, there is no genre of music that’s inherently more popular than another. Music is subjective, as we all know.

Metal heads are the most vocal of the music-consuming community, and to them, they think that metal is inherently popular. They see heavy metal bands on a near daily basis, and they listen to that music nearly every single day.

Sure, it’s metal, but that doesn’t mean it’s mainstream. Metal is a sub-genre of rock, and it’s important to realize that.

In order to examine this issue, I looked at a few bands that were often thought of as being in the alternative rock genre, but which I believe qualify as more specifically alternative rock.

In the cases of bands that I would consider more pop or modern rock, I will list them after the bands I’ve mentioned in this article.


person playing a guitar

Although Nirvana may not fit the definition of alternative rock, it’s certainly rock in the sense that their music is primarily instrumental.

They use keyboards, drums, and guitar. Their music has a sound that is distinctly “rock.”

They’re important in the history of alternative rock, because they are the “first true grunge” band. Nirvana is important to the rise of the genre. They popularized it and helped lead a group of like-minded musicians.

Mainstream vs. Alternative

Two men playing electric guitars

Many of the bands discussed in this article have experienced major success with their own respective bands. When we hear their music, we think of them as alternative.

However, most of these bands have experienced varying degrees of mainstream success. Some are huge, some are not.

That’s because alternative rock is a large genre of music. Any group of artists can participate in it and not be excluded from the mainstream because of it.

Bands such as Pearl Jam and Weezer are in the upper echelon of popularity in mainstream rock, but that doesn’t mean they are in the alternative rock genre.

Pearl Jam was an incredible band and one of the most significant alternative rock bands of the past 20 years. However, they have gained success with their commercially successful work, which is not what I’m referring to when I say alternative rock.

The sound of the 90s

band performing

Many, if not most of the bands I’m highlighting are in the alternative rock genre, but there are certain elements that transcend the boundaries of the sub-genre.

The first is the instrumentation. Alternative bands like Nirvana used more instruments than other bands in the sub-genre did.

Their music is more complex, and even though Nirvana doesn’t play instruments, they still create complex, detailed music.

Other bands in the alternative rock genre, including Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam, tend to use a greater variety of instruments in their music than the average band.

The second important aspect of the music is the subject matter. Nirvana uses lyrical themes that are controversial and often, very personal.

It’s rare that mainstream artists use such personal lyrics.

Next, and the most noticeable, is the “speed.” Nirvana and Pearl Jam produce music that is consistently fast, hard, and edgy.

This is something that doesn’t tend to occur often in the alternative rock genre.

This was the biggest difference that I found. I would hear a Nirvana song and automatically associate it with the early 90s. Because of this, I would hear Pearl Jam and instantly think of the mid-90s.

I think this was because Nirvana was so popular during the early 90s, and their music was widely influential to a younger generation.

This aspect of the music is crucial, because the music of most bands in the alternative rock genre features slower, heavier, more melodic music.

The modern alternative rock bands that I’ve discussed (especially Pearl Jam) seem to lack the intensity of the early 90s, because they haven’t experienced the same level of popularity as Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

As an aside, I have to mention that Nirvana’s music is not the same as Pearl Jam’s.

If I were to define alternative rock, I would consider Pearl Jam to be in the category of alternative rock as well. It’s just that I believe Pearl Jam features slightly different subject matter than Nirvana.

Nirvana has spoken out against Bush’s presidency and other national politics.

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