As their career progressed the sound became more mainstream, which eventually led to their first chart success with "The One I Love" (due mainly, however, to a misunderstanding of the song's lyric). The lyrics were becoming both more intelligible and more direct, with political themes appearing more explicitly, as on the fairly hard-rocking LPs Lifes Rich Pageant and Document, which were their last for the indie record label IRS. In 1988 R.E.M. signed to the major label Warner Brothers and released Green. This was the band's first time in the spotlight, and they toured stadiums extensively in 1989. Some fans from the IRS days complained that R.E.M. had become too commercial and that the quality of the music had decreased, but the band had now been brought to international attention: and R.E.M. would go on to "break the rules" by retaining their artistic integrity even through commercial success.
Their next records, Out of Time (1991) and Automatic for the People (1992), were both critically acclaimed and massive international hits, spawning numerous hit singles including "Losing My Religion" (also misunderstood, the phrase is Southern slang for losing one's temper and has nothing to do with religion), "Shiny Happy People", "Everybody Hurts" and "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite". Automatic has become the band's flagship record and is probably their best; on it band developed a reserved, meditative sound that took them somewhat back to their roots, and the record's 10 million copies were sold in spite of such melancholy themes as death, suicide and sexual jealousy.
The band's 1994 release, the grunge-influenced Monster, proved to be a crossover hit and their best selling album to date, though many critics disliked the band's foray into glam rock. The album was followed by a massive tour during which drummer Bill Berry suffered a brain hemorrhage on stage, which would eventually lead to his leaving the band. While on this tour the band recorded the album New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996), a long, roughly produced and decidedly bleak record which featured, in the seven-minute "Leave", perhaps the band's most intense song.
After Berry's departure, the band returned with Up (1998), another long and reflective record but mellower and more diverse. The band were no longer selling as well as in the peak days of 1991-94, but they had not stopped producing compelling records. Their latest, 2001's Reveal, moved even further away from the volume and bleakness of their mid-90s records.