Popular music has always been a mainstay in 20th century fiction. The practice of licensing music for use in films, TV shows, and other forms of fiction that incorporate sound has been as ubiquitous as anything. Most of the time, this is done to accent the fiction in question. While it is sometimes done simply for commercial reasons, it's very rare to hear music in fiction that has no ties whatsoever to the theme of the piece. Most of the time, the particular song used was chosen specifically based on the content of it and its applicability to the fiction.
However, over time, certain trends of use have come up for genres of music. A Genre Motif is when a particular song is used not so much for its content, but instead for its genre. Unlike the other motifs (which are particular instrumental elements that may or may not be part of a larger piece), this refers to when the genre of the song itself (as opposed to the content) is used to invoke something. The content of the song is irrelevant to the fact that the song just simply IS that genre and we're expected to feel a certain way about a character or setting because of it. Often, this is part of an element in order to show someone as a member of a subculture.
For the purpose of this page, the basic description of the genre (and its influences) will be listed on its entry for this page, while its uses in fiction will be in the examples article itself. As a general rule for examples, it should only be listed if the genre of the song (as opposed to the lyrics or the associated band) is meant to develop a character or setting. Please post new genres and fusion subgenres in the discussion section so it can be best figured out where they belong.
Rock - The biggest modern genre of them all, a large number of genres can trace their root back to it. Drawing heavily from Blues music, this genre first came about in the mid-50s. Rock is a bit hard to define on an objective basis and because of that, it often just gets applied to any music with a guitar lead (or otherwise just sounds like it) that doesn't have a specific genre in mind. Rock is the origin of both Punk and Metal (amongst many genres that haven't been as successful as those two).
See Rock for examples of the use of rock, hard rock, pop rock, classic rock, rockabilly, and other such subgenres.
Punk - Punk music originated as a response to what was considered to be a stagnation of rock music in the early '70s. With a focus on simplicity, it also became known for its fairly irreverent lyrics and themes, often of a rebellious (sometimes anarchist) nature. It's hard to define what, exactly, defines Punk music (and due to the many factions of its subculture, expect plenty of debate).
See Punk for examples of punk, pop punk, hardcore punk, emotional hardcore (emo), and other such subgenres.
Metal - Heavy metal had a fairly gradual evolution before it became its own definable genre in the early '70s. Black Sabbath is usually credited with being the first popular band to fit squarely in the genre, but other bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Blue Öyster Cult have often been cited as originators. The term "heavy metal" itself comes from Steppenwolf (although their music is not quite what people consider to actually be "heavy metal"). Heavy metal's trademarks are a highly distorted sound and focus on themes of "power" and "darkness" (to be really broad).
See Metal for examples of heavy metal, glam metal, speed metal, death metal, doom metal, and other such subgenres.
Folk - Often confused with country (although there are some overlaps), this is basically the genre of simple music from various instruments played by people without pretentious regard to musical structure. Folk has existed since pretty much the beginning of music and defining something as this genre can be really difficult. Generally but not exclusively acoustic; "singer-songwriters" are often considered folk.
See Folk for examples.
Country - A genre dominated throughout most of its history by simple, three or four chord songs played on an acoustic guitar, country grew from rural roots to become one of the top players in the American music industry. The music itself is mostly a blend of Blues and Folk, with heavy emphasis on lyrics and vocal melody. It's often accompanied by several other instruments, including slide guitar, upright bass, and piano, but many modern artists choose to eschew these for the slicker sounds of electric instruments. Country music has experienced multiple backlashes due to a perceived watering down of the music by an expanding industry based mostly in Nashville, TN. The dichotomy continues today, with many country and country rock groups choosing to distance themselves from the radio-centric pop sounds of industry supported artists.
See Country for examples of country, bluegrass, western, and other such subgenres.
Electronic Dance - Stylistically started by Disco, the modern form of this genre is sometimes colloquially referred to as "techno" (which is, itself, a subgenre). Electronic dance is relatively simplistic music, based on presenting an easy-to-dance-to rhythm. Usually the product of composers with synthesizers (it's incredibly rare for there to be a whole band with dedicated instruments), it's almost never played completely live. Most of the time, it will just be prerecorded and "live" performances just involve a DJ with a large selection of samples that they might mix and match.
See Electronic/Dance for examples of techno, industrial, synthpop, house, disco, and other such subgenres.
Rhythm & Blues - a precursor of modern pop, rock, and hip-hop. Generally includes a melody in a minor key that is singable and follows a rhythm scheme; often includes bass & drums. May include horns, harmonicas, pianos, singers that sound African-American, and moderately long instrumental sections. YMMV.
See R&B for examples of R&B, reggae, soul, funk, and other such subgenres.
Hip Hop - Urban music born in the late '70s, heavy on the beat, with the lyrics usually playing the main role. A Hip-Hop motif is a simple shorthand for a ghetto. Expect to see graffiti and people playing basketball.
See Hip-Hop for examples of rap, gangsta rap, southern rap, and other such subgenres.
Classical - Classical music is music for the elite, both in real life and in media. Often funded (these days, anyway) by the government or rich people. Common traits include complex melodies and harmonies, a wide range of timbres and dynamics, and a greater degree of development and elaboration on musical ideas than some listeners have the patience for. This is the genre most likely to use woodwinds and harps. If there is singing, the voices will likely have a tone of purity that is unlikely in any other genre. Most classical music (pre-20th century) is accessible to most audiences, given the chance - many pop artists have borrowed bits Beethoven and Chopin and turned them into easily digestible riffs for their own songs. Contemporary classical music is harder to swallow, often abandoning the tonal system, and will most likely be found in art films.
See Classical for examples of pre-20th century style chamber, symphony orchestral, opera, and other similar subgenres. For the sake of simplicity, please only list uses of pre-existing classical music as opposed to newly created, completely original scores for fiction.
Jazz - If you don't know what it is, we can't tell you. It's like R&B, but with less predictable rhythm, more improvisation, and more saxophones. Ranges from Duke Ellington to Kenny G.
See Jazz for examples of jazz, swing, jazz fusion, and other such subgenres.
Pop - The two objectives of pop music are to be attractive to the Lowest Common Denominator of the most desired listening demographic—which usually means teenagers and young adults—and to be inoffensive enough that even those who hate the song are reluctant to switch off the radio or unplug the jukebox. Real art does sneak in, but it's not usually a deliberate objective. Pop is generally upbeat and lively, with lots of Silly Love Songs; often highly melodic. If there are vocals, the instrumentation will often be discreet. This is the music many boy bands and girl groups sing.
See Pop for examples of non-fusion pop.
Easy Listening - Like Pop or Rock, but for an older demographic, and quieter. It is meant to be enjoyable without being distracting. Easy Listening, done right, can play in the background at a normal volume and still be unnoticed. It is more prone to introspection and minor keys than pop, but it is still a major haven for Silly Love Songs. This is the sort of music some varieties of rocker make when they get over thirty.
See Easy Listening for examples of easy listening, soft pop, smooth jazz, new age, and other similar subgenres.
Showtunes - Show tunes are, simply put, songs from musicals. Generally they are derived from both classical and blues roots (The Threepenny Opera was one of the first operas to use this type of music, as opposed to classical, and created a stir comparable to Hair in The '70s), although rock-influenced musicals are more common nowadays. Showtunes are something of a Cyclic Trope — they go to the more traditional music, and then someone shakes it up with contemporary music. Then, pop scores are in vogue for a while, until nostalgic songwriters long for the denser, more story-oriented music of conventional musical theatre.
See Showtunes for examples of theatrical style show tunes.
Ambient - A genre most commonly used in movies. It is meant to add to the atmosphere but not be dominant or distracting.
Wiki Categorization bit.
- Easy Listening