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Alternative rock (also called alt-rock) is a genre of rock music that refers specifically to the punk/new wave-rooted style that emerged in the 1980s and became widely popular in the early-mid 1990s. The term “alternative” was coined in the 1980s to describe punk rock-inspired bands on independent record labels that did not fit into the mainstream genres of the time. As a musical genre, alternative rock consists of various subgenres that have emerged from the independent music scene since the 1980s, such as grunge, britrock, gothic rock, grebo/crusty and indie rock. These genres are unified by their collective debt to the style and/or ethos of punk, which laid the groundwork for alternative music in the 1970s.
Though the genre is considered to be rock, some of its subgenres are influenced by folk music, reggae, electronic music and jazz among other genres. At times alternative rock has been used as a catch-all phrase for rock music from underground artists in the 1980s, all music descended from punk rock (including punk itself, new wave, and post-punk), and, ironically, for mainstream rock music in general in the 1990s and 2000s.
While a few artists like R.E.M. and The Cure achieved commercial success and mainstream critical recognition, many alternative rock artists during the 1980s were cult acts that recorded on independent labels and received their exposure through college radio airplay and word-of-mouth. With the breakthrough of Nirvana and the popularity of the grunge and Britpop movements in the early 1990s, alternative rock entered the musical mainstream and many alternative bands became commercially successful.