Alternative rock (also called alternative music, alt rock or simply alternative) is a genre of rock music that emerged from the independent music underground of the 1980s and became widely popular by the 1990s. The 'alternative' definition refers to the genre's distinction from mainstream rock music, expressed primarily in a distorted guitar sound, transgressive lyrics and generally a nonchalant, defiant attitude. 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, D.I.Y. ethos of punk rock, which in the late 1970s laid the groundwork for alternative music. At times, "alternative" has been used as a catch-all description for music from underground rock artists that receives mainstream recognition, or for any music, whether rock or not, that is seen to be descended from punk rock (including some examples of punk itself, as well as new wave, and post-punk).
Alternative rock is a broad umbrella term consisting of music that differs greatly in terms of its sound, its social context, and its regional roots. By the end of 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 such as gothic rock, jangle pop, noise pop, C86, Madchester, industrial rock, and shoegazing. Most of these subgenres had achieved minor mainstream notice and a few bands representing them, such as Hüsker Dü and R.E.M., had even 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 commercially successful.