Indie pop and alternative pop are closely related genres that both incorporate elements of rock, folk, and pop music. While they share many similarities, there are some key distinctions between the two styles.
Indie pop emerged in the 1980s as an outgrowth of indie rock and new wave music. Bands producing indie pop tended to have a lighter, more melodic sound that was still rooted in guitar-based rock. Prominent examples include The Smiths, Aztec Camera, and Belle and Sebastian. Their songs featured catchy melodies and hooks but retained an outsider sensibility and DIY aesthetic.
In contrast, alternative pop developed in the 1990s as college radio stations and modern rock formats embraced a broader range of styles. While still retaining pop song structures and accessibility, alternative pop allowed for more experimental influences from genres like shoegaze, dream pop, and post-rock. Early pioneers like R.E.M. and The Cranberries blended pop melodies with lyrical depth and textured instrumentation.
Some key distinguishing characteristics:
Indie pop - Lighter sound, stronger emphasis on melody and songwriting craft. Roots in indie rock and new wave. Bands often release on independent labels.
Alternative pop - More experimental and eclectic influences. Broader range of moods and textures. Often found mainstream success on rock radio formats.
Both genres appeal to listeners seeking a thoughtful alternative to mainstream pop fare. While the lines sometimes blur, indie pop tends to focus more on melody, while alternative pop allows for a wider range of stylistic experimentation within the framework of pop song structures. Together they helped expand pop music's boundaries in the late 20th century.