Sure, thousands of albums are released every year crossing dozens of genres. And yeah, there are 104 Grammy categories, honoring everything from rap/sung collaboration to polka, but a year is often defined by just a handful of sounds.
In 2002, it was the gritty beats of the Neptunes, a Britney backlash (Avril Lavigne, Pink), the garage-rock revival (a.k.a. the "The" bands), Eminem and "American Idol."
The year before was about polished pop, as 'NSYNC staged a huge tour, Britney grew up, J. Lo scored big and the ladies of "Moulin Rouge" ruled the charts. It also saw the resurrection of P. Diddy's career and the continued mainstreaming of hip-hop, thanks to Eminem, Jay-Z and Ja Rule.
Though some sounds are here to stay, oftentimes one year's hot trend is the next year's punch line. Remember the '90s, which saw the rise and fall of grunge, industrial, ska, swing and, who could forget, electronica?
As we program our TiVos, strap on our Air Force Ones and march into 2003, the question of which sounds will define the year is as clear as which man Trista Rehn will propose to on "The Bachelorette" season finale.
One thing that's certain is that new trends are really just reactions to old trends. But how music will respond this year to, say, Kelly Clarkson, depends on who you ask.
Randy Jackson, a producer and "American Idol" judge, predicts a resurgence in gifted singers, the sound of pop music in the late '80s and early '90s. "I don't think we'll ever reach the kind of peak Mariah, Whitney and Celine reached, but I think we've helped in going more towards talent, as opposed to just an image-driven business," Jackson said.
On the other hand, British singer Dido, who co-wrote Britney Spears' "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman," thinks the sudden popularity of "American Idol" and similar shows in the U.K. will have a reverse effect.
"I think there's going to be a massive backlash to that this year," said Dido, who expects David Gray and Tom McRae to have big years. "Hopefully what will come out of it will be a lot more attention to singer/songwriters, the whole singer connecting to what they are singing thing. I think people are desperate to hear something with some validity and integrity and something that's going to stick around."
The jury is also still out on what will follow 2002's invasion of the Strokes, the Hives, the White Stripes and the Vines.
"It'll be interesting to see who from this new breed of garage rock, or whatever you want to call it, ends up having staying power," said Disturbed singer David Draiman, who compared the "The" bands to one-hit-wonders the Knack. "It's always nice to be fashionable, but there's a big difference between being fashionable and having what it takes to make your permanent mark in music history."
One thing garage has going for it is that many of its leaders, especially the White Stripes, are planning releases for 2003, leaving little room for the momentum to die down. There are also hundreds of bands lined up to be the next Strokes, including the highly anticipated Raveonettes and Datsuns.
"Major labels will embark on a signing frenzy on any band that lists the Stooges or the MC5 as an influence," predicted Sugarcult guitarist Marko 72. "Which will hopefully help pay some bills for scores of underrated but amazing garage-punk bands like the BellRays, the Dirtbombs and the Subsonics."
While all genres are unpredictable, rock looks to be particularly open-ended heading into 2003. Many are predicting rap-rock to be breathing its last sigh (check out our Nü Metal Meltdown feature), but new releases from Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit could prove that wrong. Garage rock was hot last year, but so were more mellow acts, like Jack Johnson and Dashboard Confessional.
"There's a band called the Honorary Title, a singer/songwriter kind of thing," predicted the latter's Chris Carrabba. "And a band from L.A. called the Wizards, who are one of the best things I've ever seen in my life. So watch for them."
Of course, pop punk continued to thrive in 2002 behind groups like Good Charlotte and Unwritten Law, and with veterans Blink-182 and Green Day in the studio, it appears to have a bright future.
Sum 41 drummer Steve Jocz believes there's room for all of the rock styles to continue thriving. "With today's kids and the no attention span and all that stuff, it's hard to just concentrate on one style of music, let alone just rock music," he explained. "It's good to have at least 10 or 15, you know, because kids are only going to be able to spend about two and a half minutes on each song or band."
"These days, indie rock, mainstream and all that stuff, the lines are so blurry, it doesn't matter anymore," added Good Charlotte guitarist Benji Madden, who predicted more vibrant frontmen to emerge in the new year, such as the Used's Bert McCracken. "That band, I think they are amazing, and I think that if they keep up with what they're doing with their next record, they are going to be huge. And AFI are coming out next year with their first major-label album, and I think they are going to do really well."
In hip-hop, the Neptunes look to have a huge influence again (see "Neptunes' Pharrell Williams Goes Over 2003 To-Do List"), as Pharrell Williams is promising to expand their signature sound, including making a star out of dancehall veteran Supercat. "Dancehall is definitely, definitely on the rise," Williams said.
DJ Quik, who co-produced Truth Hurts' 2002 hit "Addictive," expects hip-hop to make some drastic changes in 2003. "The public will be more receptive to an opera-sounding thing," he explained. "Dre is using a lot of strings and brass, and I think it will be more film score-sounding, where the music tells the story as well as the lyrics. I can also see it going back to Led Zeppelin, like Eminem's 'Lose Yourself.' He kinda nailed that."
Mathew Knowles, the father and manager of Beyoncé and her rising-star sister, Solange, foresees a style known as screw emerging from his hometown of Houston. Named after DJ Screw and influenced by the Southern phenomenon of drinking cough syrup with codeine (which is what killed the DJ in 2000), screw is when a track is slowed down to a crawl and chopped up.
"Screw is hot," the Neptunes' Williams said. "It would be nice to see it expand."
Pop music itself appears to be at a crossroads. Even Britney seems to be acknowledging a backlash toward polished teen pop, aligning herself with more mature producers like William Orbit for her next recording, due in the fall.
LeAnn Rimes, a country crossover whose 2002 album is her most rock and roll effort yet, believes that women in pop music will grow more into established rockers, like Sheryl Crow. "A lot of the girls, like Avril, are going in that direction," she said. "Hopefully it's going to come back to the voice in music."
Elsewhere in pop, some are predicting two-step, the British fad of a few years ago, to finally make a splash in America, with the help of Craig David and Daniel Bedingfield. "Particularly when the summer rolls around, it sounds so great on the radio," said Mike Doughty, former singer of Soul Coughing and frequent music critic. "It's glitzy, soulful and huge."
Doughty also predicts Fischerspooner to lead a lo-fi electro revolution. "In my hometown of New York, it's de rigueur to sneer at electroclash, but I think it's great stuff, and to me, making your own dance music on a GrooveBox seems like it's bound to be the indie rock of tomorrow."
Possibly. But then again, so was electronica.