What are the Top Music Genres?

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There are well over 1,000 genres of music out there in the world today. So, which of those are the top, most popular genres of this decade? 

After some research, I’ve found the top genres of music today are: 

  • Hip-Hop / Rap
  • Techno
  • R&B
  • Rock
  • EDM
  • Country
  • Latin
  • Pop
  • Metal
  • Jazz
  • Classical
  • World
  • Folk

A music genre is a conventional category that identifies some pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions. But music is ever-adapting. At this point, there are so many sub-genres and crossovers that genre categorizing beyond the basics is becoming ridiculously difficult. So I plan on breaking things down in several articles about the differences in the many popular genres, highlighting the ones I hear a lot and enjoy. I’ll take requests, too! 

In this first article of many, I want to introduce you to the most popular genres of our time.

HIP-HOP / RAP

Hip Hop music is the most popular music style in 2020. It is a genre of popular music developed in the United States by inner-city African Americans and Latino Americans in the Bronx borough of New York City in the 1970s. 

It consists of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping, a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted. Hence the two forms of music are almost always found together. It developed as part of a subculture of music defined by four key stylistic elements: MCing/rapping, DJing/scratching with turntables, break dancing, and graffiti writing.

Other elements include sampling beats or bass lines from records (or synthesized beats and sounds), and rhythmic beatboxing. Rapping is not a required component of hip hop music; the genre may also incorporate other elements of hip hop culture, including DJing, turntablism, scratching, beatboxing, and instrumental tracks.

Trap – is a subgenre of hip hop music that originated in the Southern United States during the early 1990s. The genre gets its name from the Atlanta slang word “trap,” which refers to a place in which drugs are sold illegally. Trap music uses synthesized drums and is characterized by complicated hi-hat patterns, tuned kick drums with a long decay (originally from the Roland TR-808 drum machine), sometimes synths, and lyrical content.

Since crossing over into the mainstream in the 2010s, trap has become one of the most popular forms of American music, consistently dominating the Billboard Hot 100 throughout the decade. Trap has inspired several crossovers and has influenced the music of many mainstream pop artists. It is also found in many EDM productions. 

R&B

Rhythm and Blues, normally shortened as R&B, is a music genre that combines rhythm and blues with elements of pop, soul, funk, hip hop and electronic music. The genre features a distinctive record production style, drum machine-backed rhythms, pitch corrected vocals, and a smooth, lush style of vocal arrangement. Contemporary R&B vocalists are often known for their use of melisma – or the technique of singing one syllable to a lot of notes.

They are often called vocal runs or simply runs. Contemporary R&B originated at the end of the disco era in the late-1970s, when Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones added more electronic elements to the sound of the time to create a smoother dancefloor-friendly sound. As of late, contemporary R&B rhythms are being combined with elements of hip hop and pop music, although the roughness and grit inherent in hip hop may be reduced and smoothed out.

ROCK

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as “rock and roll” in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s, developing into a range of different styles in the mid-1960s and later, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom. Rock music drew strongly from a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical, and other musical styles.

For instrumentation, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music with a 4 over 4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Rock music has also embodied and served as the vehicle for cultural and social movements, leading to major subcultures.

Inheriting the folk tradition of the protest song, rock music has been associated with political activism as well as changes in social attitudes to race, sex, and drug use, and is often seen as an expression of youth revolt against adult consumerism and conformity. At the same time, it has been commercially highly successful. 

Alternative Rock – also called alternative music, alt-rock or simply alternative is a style of rock music that emerged from the independent music underground of the 1970s and turned out to be broadly famous during the 1980s. In this case, “alternative” alludes to the class’ qualification from standard exciting music. The term’s unique significance was more extensive, alluding to an age of performers bound together by their aggregate obligation to either the melodic style or just the free, DIY ethos of underground rock. This sub-genre has further sub-genres in and of itself! 

Indie Rock –  is a genre of rock music that came from the UK and America in the 1970s. Originally used to describe independent record labels, the term became associated with the music they produced. During the 1990s, grunge and punk revival bands in the US and Britpop bands in the UK broke into the mainstream, and the term “alternative” lost its original counter-cultural meaning.

The term “indie rock” became associated with the bands and genres that remained dedicated to their independent status. In the 2000s, changes in the music industry and a growing importance of the Internet enabled a new wave of indie rock bands to achieve mainstream success.

The term indie rock, which comes from “independent”, describes the small and relatively low-budget labels on which it is released and the do-it-yourself attitude of the bands and artists involved. Although distribution deals are often struck with major corporate companies, these labels and the bands they host have attempted to retain their autonomy with their musical style. They often introduce sounds, emotions and subjects of limited appeal to large, mainstream audiences.

Metal – or Heavy Metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom and the United States. With roots in blues-rock, psychedelic rock, and acid rock, heavy metal bands developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and loudness. The lyrics and performances are sometimes associated with aggression.

 The typical band lineup includes a drummer, a bassist, a rhythm guitarist, a lead guitarist, and a singer, who may or may not be an instrumentalist. Keyboard instruments are sometimes used to enhance the fullness of the sound. The lead role of the guitar in heavy metal often collides with the traditional “frontman” or bandleader role of the vocalist, creating a musical tension. The lead singer must have strong vocals to contend with the power and speed of the rest of the instruments.

EDM – ELECTRONIC DANCE MUSIC

First you need to know what Electronic music is. Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments, digital instruments or circuitry-based music technology. A distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means and that produced using electronics only. Pure electronic instruments do not have vibrating strings, hammers or other sound-producing mechanisms. Devices such as the theremin, synthesizer and computer can produce electronic sounds.

Electronically produced music became popular by the 1990s, because of the advent of affordable music technology. Contemporary electronic music includes many varieties and ranges from experimental art music to popular forms such as electronic dance music. Pop electronic music is most recognizable in its 4/4 form and more connected with the mainstream than preceding forms which were popular in niche markets.

EDM or simply dance, is a broad range of percussive electronic music genres made largely for nightclubs, raves, and festivals. It is generally produced for playback by DJs who create seamless selections of tracks, called a mix, by segueing from one recording to another. EDM producers are known to perform their music live in a concert or festival setting.

Dub – is a genre of electronic music that grew out of reggae in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but has definitely developed to extend beyond the scope of reggae into electronic music. The style consists predominantly of partly or completely reshaping instrumental remixes of existing recordings, usually through the removal of some or all of the vocals, emphasis of the rhythm section, the application of studio effects such as echo and reverb, and the occasional dubbing of vocal or instrumental snippets from the original version or other works. It was an early form of popular electronic music and can still be found. 

House – is a kind of electronic dance music with a constant beat, for the most part with 120-130 beats for every minute. It was made by disc jockeys and music makers from Chicago’s underground club culture in the early and mid-1980s. DJs from the subculture started modifying disco dance tracks to give them an increasingly mechanical beat and more profound baselines. Also, these DJs started to blend synth-pop, rap, Latin music, and even jazz into their tracks.

Techno – refers to a type of electronic music originated in Germany in the early 1980s but the true genre was formed in Detroit, Michigan, in the United States in the mid-to-late 1980s. It is commonly characterized by a repetitive four on the floor beat, for use in a continuous DJ set. The central rhythm is regularly in like manner, while the tempo ordinarily changes somewhere in the range of 120 and 150 bpm. Techno musicians utilize electronic instruments, for example, drum machines, sequencers, and synthesizers, and digital audio workstations. 

Detroit techno resulted from the melding of synthpop with African American styles such as house, electro, and funk. Sometimes the influence of futuristic and science-fiction themes were added. After the success of house music in a number of European countries, techno grew in popularity in the UK, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. In Europe regional variants quickly evolved and by the early 1990s techno subgenres were developed. In the 2000s even more were added as the sound was adapted.

COUNTRY

Country is a genre of popular music that has a rich history inherited by immigrants to America from all over. The origins of country music are found in the folk music of working class Americans and blue-collar American life. It has been inspired by American popular music, and American folk music which had its roots in Celtic music, early music of the British Isles, singing cowboys, corrido, ranchera, norteño, French folk music, African-American music, and other traditional folk music traditions.

It originated with blues, old-time music, and various types of American folk music including Appalachian, Cajun, and the cowboy Western music styles of New Mexico, Red Dirt, Tejano, and Texas country. Its popularized roots originate in the Southern United States of the early 1920s.

Country music often consists of ballads and dance tunes with generally simple forms, folk lyrics, and harmonies mostly accompanied by string instruments such as banjos, electric and acoustic guitars, steel guitars (such as pedal steels and dobros), and fiddles as well as harmonicas. 

The term country music is used today to describe many styles and subgenres.

LATIN

Latin music is a genre that the music industry often uses as a catch-all term for music that comes from Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking areas of the world, namely Spain, Portugal, all of Latin America, the Spanish Caribbean, and any music that is sung in either language. The term “Latin music” originated from the US due to the growing influence of Hispanic and Latino Americans in the American music market.

POP

Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms and styles can be enjoyed and performed by people with little or no musical training.

Identifying factors usually include repeated choruses and hooks, short to medium-length songs written in a basic format (often the verse-chorus structure), and rhythms or tempos that can be easily danced to. Much pop music also borrows elements from other styles such as rock, urban, dance, Latin, and country.

The terms popular music and pop music are often used interchangeably, although the former describes all music that is popular and includes many disparate styles. Pop music is usually mainstream and heard on major American radio stations. Pop has become associated with music that was more commercial, ephemeral, and accessible.

Adult contemporary – is the standard “pop music” and is generally a continuation of the easy listening and soft rock style that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s with some adjustments that reflect the evolution of pop/rock music. The target demographic is often the 25–44 age group. A common practice in recent years of adult contemporary stations is to play less newer music and more hits of the past. The difference in Pop and Adult contemporary is shown in the  de-emphasis on new songs slowing the progression of the AC chart.

Regional Pop (example K-Pop) –   Regional pop happens when performers and musicians take styles from other musical genres from around the world, especially pop music, and layer it with their own cultural styles of music. 

K-pop is the perfect example, here. It is a genre of popular music originating in South Korea. It is influenced by styles and genres from around the world on top of its traditional Korean music roots. K-pop grew into a subculture that amassed enormous fandoms of teenagers and young adults. With the advent of online social networking services and Korean TV shows, the current spread of K-pop and Korean entertainment, known as the Korean Wave, is seen not only in East Asia and Southeast Asia, but also throughout the world. It now has a global audience.

Synthpop – Short for “synthesizer pop” and also called techno-pop, is a subgenre of new wave music that first became prominent in the late 1970s and features the synthesizer as the dominant musical instrument.

Synth-pop music has established a place for the synthesizer as a major element of pop and rock music, directly influencing subsequent genres (including house music and Detroit techno) and has indirectly influenced many other genres, as well as individual recordings.

Lo-fi – Also considered avant-garde music, Lo-fi is short for low-fidelity. Lo-fi began to be recognized as a style of popular music in the 1990s but has since found a major audience on streaming services, particularly on YouTube, where artists come up with a mixture of music, background sounds, and sometimes even pieces of spoken word. The videos can contain mixes that last hours and some channels have live programming with visually appealing repetitive video. 

Its aesthetic is actually defined by the inclusion of elements normally viewed as undesirable in professional contexts, such as misplayed notes, environmental interference, or phonographic imperfections. Lo-fi has been connected with cassette culture, the DIY ethos of punk, primitivism, outsider music, authenticity, slacker/Generation X stereotypes, and cultural nostalgia.

JAZZ

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, Louisiana, United States, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with its roots in blues and ragtime. Since the 1920s Jazz Age, it has been recognized as a major form of musical expression in traditional and popular music. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, complex chords, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation.

Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions. As jazz spread around the world, it drew on national, regional, and local musical cultures, which gave rise to different styles.

CLASSICAL, FOLK, & WORLD GENRES

An almost universal characteristic of classical music is the appliance of a standardized system of precise mensural notation (which evolved into modern bar notation after 1600) for all compositions and their accurate performance. Another is the creation and development of complex pieces of solo instrumental works (e.g., the fugue). 

Classical music, however, has become a genre that describes composed instrumental music usually performed by orchestras. Sometimes people refer to “classical music” when they actually mean instrumental music. Instrumental music is a recording without any vocals, although it might include some inarticulate vocals, such as shouted backup vocals in a Big Band setting. 

Folk music is the music that is sung by the people, not music recorded in a studio or performed on a stage – although over the years it has been adapted to such. The roots of this genre are in traditional music and often the performer uses acoustic instruments. This music originates with the people of a culture and has been passed down through generations within a culture. It is the use of music to describe one’s way of life. Because the purpose of folk song is to describe human experiences, it is not surprising that there is such a large variety of it and that it continues to influence music.

The term World music was popularized in the 1980s as a marketing category for non-Western traditional music. It is a musical category encompassing many different styles of music from around the world, including traditional music, quasi-traditional music, and music where more than one cultural tradition intermingles. World music’s inclusive nature and elasticity as a musical category pose obstacles to a universal definition, but it can include anything from folk music, ethnic fusion, indigenous sounds, new-age and worldbeat. 

Combined, these genres make up a large portion of music popularity in the world today.  

In Summary

There are so many genres that I want to look into, but felt they didn’t actually belong on this listing. For one thing, these genres were found on multiple listings across the world as the most sought after. They are also the genres that help us describe music day-to-day. I want to explore these genres a bit more, go deeper into them and perhaps list relevant examples in each. 

I also want to explore genres within specific world regions. I want to look into genres that have become popular but are not necessarily mainstream – after all, that’s what this website is all about. There’s some amazing sounds out there that we may not have even heard of. I’m a firm believer in exploring, experimenting, and at least trying everything. Especially when it comes to listening to music.

So, my audiophile readers – please keep exploring the site as I add more and more every month!    


A big THANK YOU to Wikipedia for full definitions of these genres. I have gathered information from all over, but primarily from Wikipedia. This is an independent company and as such, they hold funding drives yearly. But they do have a donations page. If you can find the money to donate to keep this amazing resource available, please do so, here

Rachel Adams

I would have previously thought of myself as an audiophile. But by gaming and listening to my children and their friends, I've been introduced to an entire realm of artists that are not on the radio.