Music can belong to several different genres, ranging from world pop to traditional rock music, bluegrass, and easy listening. Several genres have a geographical significance or a rich history, a cult following, or music roots that go way beyond the 20th century.
While billions of people all over the world listen to different music genres, a few popular ones stand out. Rankings on the most popular ones are determined by how much a genre is streamed and how often their CDs and vinyl are purchased globally.
Here is a list of the top music genres in the music industry.
Top 10 most popular music genres
1. Rap and Hip-Hop
When hip-hop music first came to light in the late 1970s, not many people knew about it. It was created in the poorest districts of New York City by Latino and African American teenagers as part of a hip-hop scene that also produced graffiti art and breakdancing.
The combination of electronic sounds with spoken word made it possible to create music without using conventional tools, such as a good singing voice or the ability to play musical instruments. Through rough sounds and sharp rhymes, the first rappers spoke about the harshness of life.
Today, hip-hop has become a major genre of popular music in the 21st century, with hip-hop albums and singles topping the charts globally. Artists take pride in being part of the hip-hop music genre as this style of music entails good rhythm, rapping, and witty lyrics.
Hip-hop is quite a versatile music genre. For instance, you can play it while working out, during dance presentations, or just listen to it casually.
We can probably author an entire book on rock music and its sub-genres. But we will just stick to the basics in this article.
Rock & roll started more than 70 years ago with Bill Haley. As decades passed, subgroups of the genre started to emerge. Soft rock included groups such as the Eagles and America.
Psychedelic or acid rock was influenced by the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, where experimenting with “acid” became common.
Progressive rock incorporated classical musical elements with rock to create epic compositions.
Arena rock was popular in the 80s with bands such as Def Leppard, AC/DC, and U2.
Presently, the rock music genre isn’t as popular as it was earlier. With other genres innovating and using digital and electronic tools available, rock has lost its rebellious input, losing spots on the charts. Nevertheless, artists such as Muse, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and The Foo Fighters continue to make rock classics.
Pop music lives up to its name as the most popular music genre in the music industry.
We can say that any genre that becomes massively popular falls in the pop music genre. Nevertheless, this is a pretty vague explanation of pop music as it has significantly evolved over time.
For instance, if we go back to the 1900s, you would see that ragtime artists such as Scott Joplin were regarded as pop artists. Today, Joplin would fall into the jazz category, but we hope you get the point.
Throughout the 1980s, pop music moved more towards electronic sounds, with artists and songs filling the gap between the classic rock genre and contemporary approaches to music that brought us straight to the digital era.
Today, the pop music genre takes a lot of its musical language and sounds from the world of hip-hop, with its sub-genres of rap and trap being incredibly popular. Dance and electronic elements are still quite present in the mainstream, with other influences like Latin sounds often coming in to develop an eclectic and diverse approach.
Country music has its roots in Texas swing, bluegrass, gospel, and fold, and originated in Texas and the Southern states.
Presently, many associate country music with classic artists such as Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash; however, the above-mentioned categories still apply today.
Bluegrass entails legendary pioneers such as Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, and Bill Monroe.
Even though bluegrass artists still perform on The Grand Ole Opry, modern bluegrass has an underground following. This is because of the lack of radio airplay by even country radio stations.
Contemporary bluegrass artists such as Alison Krauss and Nickel Creek have successfully crossed over into pop and country markets.
Another subgroup of country music is western swing. Groups such as Texas Playboys, Lyle Lovett, Asleep at the Wheel come into this category. However, when most people think of country music, they think of present-day stars.
The 90s brought forth megastars such as Alan Jackson, Faith Hill, Brooks & Dunn, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, and Shania Twain.
Currently, artists such as Brad Paisley, Chris Stapleton, and Carrie Underwood continue to make country music one of the most popular music genres.
Latin music was regarded to be a niche music genre up until the 1970s. However, it has increased in popularity over the past four decades. Latin music has had a significant impact on several genres, such as jazz and classical. Thus, we will focus on its influence on the pop music industry.
Latin pop music incorporates rhythms from dances such as the samba into popular hits. For instance, early pioneer, Sergio Mendez, played a major role in helping Latin pop gain worldwide popularity in the 1960s.
In the 1980s, bands such as the Miami Sound Machine featuring Gloria Estefan became global superstars.
Presently, Latin pop music continues to be one of the top music genres in the world. It’s played all over the world by professional DJs from some of the best Latin record pools.
Even though artist recognition and chart success aren’t as prevalent in Europe and the US, Mexican singer Thalia is regarded as the “Queen of Latin Pop.”
6. Electronic Dance Music
Even though EDM is believed to be a fairly new music genre, it finds its roots in the disco era of the 1970s.
Pop hits such as “I Feel Love” by Donna Summers brought crowds to the discos. Owing to the invention of the drum machine, clubs could mix disco hits with these beat machines.
In the 1980s, Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) was created and revolutionized the entire music industry. Thanks to MIDI, computers and instruments could “talk” and play musical rhythms and phrases.
In the 1990s, sub-genres that are popular today started to emerge on the electronic dance music scene. Dance hits such as “Chime” by Orbital also witnessed chart success.
These days, producers depend heavily on synthesizers, samplers, and computers to create hypnotic high-energy music played in clubs and appeals to dancers.
Sub-genres of EDM are techno, house, hardstyle, trap, to name a few.
Recently EDM has also popularized remixes of pop hits such as those of Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, further evolving this genre.
Classical music has a spot in the popular genres for its musical elements not found in other genres. It contains raw emotions, and its collection of songs are timeless pieces of art put together.
Classical music started in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. Early compositions from this period were religious works usually commissioned by the Church.
In addition, the royalty also financed a lot of the music played today in symphonies. This financial support reassured musicians they would not starve. However, it usually came at the cost of restricting creativity.
Some of the most renowned names of classical music include Mozart & Beethoven-Classical, Bach & Vivaldi-Baroque, Copland & Holst-Modernist, and Wagner & Tchaikovsky-Romantic.
While some might say that classical music is at its decline, because of these names, it will always be one of the most popular music genres.
One of the most unlikely yet entertaining music genres comes from South Korea. The “K” represents Korea, and this musical art form is rapidly becoming popular all over the world.
According to certain critics, the existing trend in western pop music has a role to play here.
A lot of today’s artists are low-energy performers who sing softly on introspective subjects. On the other hand, K-Pop is fun, stimulating, upbeat, and colorful.
Even though Korean artists don’t translate for European or American audiences, K-Pop has still made its place in the most popular music genres.
The genre is filled with girl bands, boy bands, rappers, and solo artists.
Keep in mind that K-Pop didn’t become successful overnight. Seo Taiji and Boys hit “I Know” is believed to have started the K-pop sensation. In the upcoming years, artists such as Girls’ Generation and SHINee continued K-pop’s momentum.
Presently, the boy band BTS are international stars, moving like Jagger, making millions, and showing why K-Pop is the most popular music genre.
We hope you liked reading our list of the 8 most popular music genres.
While we cannot crown a single genre as the best or the most popular one of all time, we can all agree that there are several great genres to explore and binge.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.