Home Arts & Culture The Art of Music: 5 Popular Music Genres Explained

The Art of Music: 5 Popular Music Genres Explained


It’s impossible to overstate how powerful music can be. Perhaps that’s why people spend an average of 32.1 hours per week listening to their favorite music be it on vinyl, the radio, or streaming.

The right tunes can lift our spirits, provide catharsis, or just give us something fun to sing along to.

No matter why you love music, we bet you’ve never thought about your favorite genre’s roots.

Ready for a quick history lesson that’ll help you appreciate your music more? Here are five popular music genres explained.

1. Rap

Rap is the youngest genre of music, getting its start in the 1960s and 1970s in New York. Though it’s still relatively new, rap has become the most popular genre among music fans.

Generally, rap features a high rate of beats per minute (BPM) matched with an equally fast manner of speech. Other staples of the genre include rhyming and wordplay.

A stack of old retro vinyl records on an isolated gray background for a party or entertainment concept.

Artists to check out:

  • Outkast.
  • Childish Gambino.
  • Run DMC.
  • Tupac.
  • Run The Jewels.

Over the decades, rap has given birth to numerous offshoots such as gangster rap, mumble rap, dirty rap, and more.

2. Rock

Though rap is currently the most popular genre, that honor belonged to rock for several decades. Though rock is often thought of as a strictly American form of music, it owes much of its sounds and rhythms to African music.

Early genre pioneers like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry used elements of blues, gospel, and soul music to give rock its signature sound in the 1950s and 1960s.

Artists to check out:

  • The Rolling Stones.
  • The Foo Fighters.
  • Aerosmith.
  • Journey.
  • Muse.

Over the decades, rock’s signature sound shifted from a drum-centric genre to a primarily guitar-driven genre. You can see this shift, especially in the 1990s as grunge and Alternative Rock grew in popularity.

3. Pop

Popular music (often called pop music, for short) is an amalgamation of styles and genres designed to be fun, upbeat, and palatable to a widespread audience.

That isn’t to take anything away from pop music, however. Pop artists like Michael Jackson or The Beatles have made some of the most important, longest lasting music of all time.

Artists to check out:

  • The Beatles.
  • Michael Jackson.
  • Lady Gaga.
  • Elton John.
  • Billy Joel.

Typically, pop songs are short, intentionally repetitive, and rely on a ‘hook’ or chorus.

4. Metal

Few genres are as misunderstood as heavy metal. Often tossed aside as little more than loud, angry noise, the truth is that metal’s roots come from blues and jazz.

This soulful influence is best seen in early metal pioneers like Cream and Black Sabbath, who used the tritone known as ‘the devil’s chord‘ to create a darker, heavier sound.

Artists to check out:

  • Black Sabbath.
  • Between The Buried and Me.
  • Gojira.
  • Opeth.
  • Iron Maiden.

Like rap, metal is a splintered genre that offers something for listeners of every type of music. Artists like Ghost, for instance, may have a scary theatrical coating, but their music owes a lot to disco and pop music. Meanwhile, Opeth incorporates jazz fusion, classical, and rock elements into their style of metal.

5. Punk

The underground or anti-mainstream genre, punk music set out to be the polar opposite of pop and rock. It’s fast and passionate guitar-driven music with a fast BPM.

Artists to check out:

  • Misfits.
  • Bad Religion.
  • The Offspring.
  • Dead Kennedys.
  • The Clash.

Whereas pop music is intended to be easily digestible by a large audience, punk music can be intentionally off-putting and deliberately counter culture.

For example, the Dead Kennedys caught a ton of flack for their controversial name as well as songs like “Holiday in Cambodia” and “California Uber Allies” that had strong anti-war, counter-culture stances.

Your Favorite Music Genres Explained

There you have it, five of the most popular music genres explained.

Though we’ve provided a quick overview of these genres, our exploration is by no means comprehensive. Each genre is so much deeper than they seem on the surface, so why not branch out and listen to something new?

Or, if you’d rather create music, check out your options for a career in music production.