Formatosi ad Athens (Georgia) il 5 aprile 1980 (data riconosciuta dalla stessa band come atto di fondazione vera e propria del gruppo, che provava assieme sotto diversi nomi già dal 1979), la sigla R.E.M. sta per rapid eye movement, la fase del sonno in cui si sogna; i componenti del gruppo scelsero tale nome anche perché “suonava bene”. La pronuncia inglese è lettera per lettera (/ɑː iː ɛm/), ma in italiano viene generalmente pronunciata come acronimo (“rèm”).
Nell’arco degli ultimi 25 anni, i R.E.M. sono stati riconosciuti come uno dei gruppi più importanti per la definizione dell’estetica della musica underground e indie degli Stati Uniti. La loro influenza, infatti, si estende ancora oggi su moltissime formazioni, etichette e scene musicali.
Il gruppo ha virtualmente definito l’espressione “rock alternativo” degli anni ottanta (college rock), dimostrando alle stazioni radio, un po’ alla volta, che trasmettere brani con prevalente uso delle chitarre non era una cosa negativa.
Nella loro trentennale carriera hanno venduto all’incirca 85 milioni di dischi.
R.E.M. was an American rock band from Athens, Georgia, formed in 1980 by singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry. One of the first popular alternative rock bands, R.E.M. released its first single, “Radio Free Europe“, in 1981 on the independent record label Hib-Tone. The single was followed by the Chronic Town EP in 1982, the band’s first release on I.R.S. Records. In 1983, the group released its critically acclaimed debut album, Murmur, and built its reputation over the next few years through subsequent releases, constant touring, and the support of college radio. Following years of underground success, R.E.M. achieved a mainstream hit in 1987 with the single “The One I Love“. The group signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1988, and began to espouse political and environmental concerns while playing large arenas worldwide.
By the early 1990s, when alternative rock began to experience broad mainstream success, R.E.M. was viewed by subsequent acts such as Nirvana and Pavement as a pioneer of the genre and released its two most commercially successful albums, catapulting it to international fame, Out of Time (1991) and Automatic for the People(1992), which veered from the band’s established sound. R.E.M.’s 1994 release, Monster, was a return to a more rock-oriented sound, but still continued its run of success. The band began its first tour in six years to support the album; the tour was marred by medical emergencies suffered by three band members. In 1996, R.E.M. re-signed with Warner Bros. for a reported US$80 million, at the time the most expensive recording contract in history. Its 1996 release, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, though critically acclaimed, fared worse commercially than expected. The following year, Bill Berry left the band, while Buck, Mills, and Stipe continued the group as a trio. Through some changes in musical style, the band continued its career into the next decade with mixed critical and commercial success, despite having sold more than 85 million records worldwide and becoming one of the world’s best-selling music artists of all time. In 2007, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. R.E.M. disbanded amicably in September 2011, announcing the split on its website.