|Cultural origins||The United Kingdom and United States in the late 1970s and the early 1980s|
Alternative rock (also called alternative music, alt-rock, or simply alternative) is a category of rock music that emerged from the independent music underground of the 1970s and became widely popular in the 1980s. "Alternative" refers to the genre's distinction from mainstream or commercial rock or pop music. The term's original meaning was broader, referring to a generation of musicians unified by their collective debt to either the musical style or simply the independent, DIY ethos of punk rock, which in the late 1970s laid the groundwork for alternative music.
In September 1988, Billboard introduced "Alternative Songs" into their charting system rather than continue incorporating alternative artists into the existing rock and pop charts. By then, "alternative" had become a catch-all description for both successful artists such as U2 and R.E.M. and music from underground, independent, or non-commercial rock artists that received some level of mainstream recognition. Although the genre evolved in the late 1970s and 1980s, music anticipating the genre can be found as early as the 1960s, with bands such as the Velvet Underground and artists such as Syd Barrett. Since the early 1990s the term has often been misused to market an artist's image or music toward consumers seeking to distinguish their tastes from mainstream pop or rock music.
Traditionally, alternative rock broadly consisted of music that differed greatly in terms of its sound, social context and regional roots. Throughout the 1980s, magazines and zines, college radio airplay, and word of mouth had increased the prominence and highlighted the diversity of alternative rock, helping to define a number of distinct styles (and music scenes) such as noise pop, indie rock, grunge, and shoegaze. Most of these subgenres had achieved minor mainstream notice and a few bands, such as Hüsker Dü and R.E.M., were signed to major labels. But most alternative bands' commercial success was limited in comparison to other genres of rock and pop music at the time, and most acts remained signed to independent labels and received relatively little attention from mainstream radio, television, or newspapers. With the breakthrough of Nirvana and the popularity of the grunge and Britpop movements in the 1990s, alternative rock entered the musical mainstream and many alternative bands became successful.