What are the Top Music Genres?

Music genres are loosely defined as sets of songs that share similarities. When you hear a song by one artist (like Reba McEntire), it might make you think of an artist from a similar genre (like Trisha Yearwood).

Years ago, music genres defined where albums were placed in record stores and the songs played on specific radio stations. However, those lines are blurring.

Spotify now has 6,000 music genres available with new ones coming all the time. Some experts say major artists (like Taylor Swift) can make up their own genres.

While we might live in a time when genres are less applicable to the way we buy or consume music, it’s still helpful to understand what types of tunes tend to resonate with listeners.

Using research from Statista and other sources, we’re defining and explaining America’s favorite music genres. We’ll also dig into the debate about the greatest artists of all time.

mosh pit of a concert

The Top 10 Music Genres

1. Rock, Alternative and Indie Music

Statistia says 45% of Americans prefer music loosely classified as rock, alternative, or indie.

The first rock and roll records come from the 1950s, and they were somewhat based on African American rhythms and white country music. Think of ‘Hound Dog’ by Elvis Presley or ‘Maybellene’ by Chuck Berry, and you’ve hit on this early formula.

In the 1960s, rock changed as British bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones came to America.

By the 1970s and 1980s, rock began to splinter into alternate rock (like R.E.M and Nirvana) and indie (like The Smiths).

2. Country

Statistia says 42% of Americans prefer country music. Like rock music, country has a long history with many diverging paths. As Ken Burns said in his documentary on the topic, country music has always been a mix of styles that is loosely joined by several influences.

Early country music originated with fiddles and banjos, and it became electrified in the 1950s due to the rockabilly movement. Some country music involves bluegrass, others are more like disco, and still others involve ballads.

Artists such as Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Kenny Rogers are some of the most famous country music artists of all time. Other musicians that could fit into the country model include Elvis Presley. And modern country artists include big names like Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, and Luke Combs.

3. Pop

Statistia says 40% of Americans prefer music considered pop or adult contemporary.

The term pop is derived from the word popular. The genre has its roots in the early 19th century, when families played songs they loved around the piano. By the 1930s and 1940s, crooners like Frank Sinatra started dominating the airwaves and creating more pop fans. By the 1970s and 1980s, pop was broadened to include anything considered commercially popular at the time

Artists such as Madonna, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber can all be considered pop music icons. However, artists like Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Bruce Springsteen have all been lumped into pop at one time or another.

4. Urban

Statistia says 38% of Americans prefer music that’s loosely defined as “urban.” This relatively new genre combines older versions like hip hop and R&B. Researchers say the term originated in 2018, and industry officials have been pushing for it ever since.

Songs in this category are often written and performed by Black artists. Before the 1940s, these tunes were typically considered “race records” that couldn’t sell widely. By the 1950s and 1960s, artists performing in these categories (such as The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles) were dominating the charts. In the 1970s and 1980s, the sounds began to splinter into disco, R&B, rap, and more.

Usher, Beyonce, Rihanna, and Mariah Carey are some of the most prominent artists in the urban genre.

5. Classical

Statistia says 28% of Americans prefer music defined as classical. Music like this is often performed via an orchestra, and sometimes, antique instruments give the sounds a warm glow. The classical music genre hasn’t changed as much as the others we’ve mentioned so far. Composers like Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms tend to dominate the charts, and many modern performers stick to arrangements their listeners know and trust.

6. Dance/Electronic Music

Statistia says 27% of Americans prefer dance/electronic music. This large genre comprises several smaller types of sounds that are all related by electric instruments and thumping beats.

Sub-genres of dance/electronic include the following:

  • Electronic dance music: Typically referred to as EDM, this type of music is created by DJs who mix a range of beats and tones to create unique music. Electronic Dance Music is popular in dance clubs, especially in the form of live DJs, who will mix hundreds of different tracks in one session. Artists such as The Chemical Brothers, Fat Boy Slim, and Underworld made dance music a chart sensation during the 1990s.
  • Dubstep: Dubstep is an electronic dance music subgenre that originated in the late 1990s’ in South London. Dubstep can be characterized by syncopated rhythmic patterns combined with prominent sub-bass frequencies. Music lovers consider dubstep to be a darker form of dance music. That said, since the late 1990s, dubstep has quickly found a place as one of the top music genres. Two of the most popular contemporary dubstep artists are Flux Pavillion and Skrillex.
  • Techno: Techno is yet another sub-genre of electronic dance music. This genre became popular in Germany towards the end of the 1980s and was heavily influenced by house music, funk, synthpop, and futuristic fiction. Detroit techno is said to be the foundation of the techno genre, and it’s a genre you may have listened to when out clubbing. In recent years, technology has significantly enhanced the quality of techno music, giving the genre a surge in popularity. Carl Cox and Paul Oakenfold are two of techno music’s highest earners.

7. Jazz and Blues

Statistia says 21% of Americans prefer music considered jazz and blues. The U.S. Library of Congress says the first song in this genre was released in 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. However, the music is much older and has its roots in traditional African culture.

Jazz has moved through several iterations, including swing, ragtime, bebop, and more. Classical songs by artists like John Coltrane and Louis Armstrong are still widely available, but modern artists like Cecile McLorin Salvant, Snarky Puppy, and Surprise Chef keep the sounds changing and growing with the times.

records in a record shop

Who are the Best Music Artists of All Time?

The distinction of the greatest artist of all time is subjective, depending on personal taste and preferences.

However, if we go by record sales and global infamy, these are the top three greatest music artists of all time.

1. The Beatles

Between 1962 and 1970, the Beatles released 12 studio albums and toured the world extensively. Each album can be considered a masterpiece in its own right. The Beatles are classed as the world’s best-selling artist of all time, with approximately 600 million albums sold and 269 certified units.

It can be said that the Beatles changed the music industry like none of their predecessors and that they will continue to influence new artists for many years to come. They are one of the most influential groups in modern history.

2. Michael Jackson

Often referred to as the ‘King of Pop,’ Michael Jackson was a global sensation. His iconic dance moves remain unmatched, as does the reach of his music. Jackson was easily one of the world’s most outstanding live performers. The late superstar stands as one of the most accomplished artists of all time, with 100 billboard awards, 13 Grammys, four presidential awards, and 26 American Music Awards.

His 1982 album Thriller is the best-selling album of all time, selling over 65 million copies.

3. Queen

Freddie Mercury can be considered one of the best vocalists of all time. He reached notes that many people would find impossible. Queen released a string of superb albums and singles before Mercury’s untimely passing in 1991. Bohemian Rhapsody as a track has been unmatched in complexity and creativity since its 1975 release. The band sold over 300 million records, confirming their place as some of the greatest artists of all time.

Elvis Presley dancing

The Greatest Music Legend of All Time

What makes a music legend? Several factors combine to create a legendary star.  These include:

  • Charisma
  • Performing ability
  • Vocals
  • Style

Below, we share some statistics on one of the greatest music legends of all time:

Elvis Presley

Affectionately known as the ‘King of Rock and Roll,’ Elvis Presley was one of the most charismatic performers ever to grace the stage. Elvis had 149 songs reach the Billboard’s Hot 100 Pop Chart in America. Out of these hits, 114 reached the top forty, 40 reached the top 10, and 18 reached the number one spot. Elvis’s number one singles spent over 80 weeks at number one.

When Elvis wasn’t writing, recording, or performing songs, he managed to film and star in 31 movies. All in all, the king released 18 albums and performed almost 1700 live concerts throughout his 20-year career.

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Spotify Wrapped 2023: Music Genres Are Now Irrelevant to Fans. (November 2023). BBC.

America’s Favorite Music Genres. (August 2023). Statista.

The Evolution of Rock and Roll” A Comprehensive Timeline. (June 2022). Our Culture Magazine. 

Roots and Branches of Country Music. PBS. 

Evolution of Pop Music. (August 2020). London Singing Institute.

Is This the End for Urban Music? (June 2020). NPR.

The Painful Birth of Blues and Jazz. (February 2017). Library of Congress


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