Pop music tends to evolve slowly, gradually swaying from one trend to the next without sharp turns or dramatic spikes. Some years, though, you can listen to the radio and really feel the ground shifting, if not outright quaking, beneath your feet. 1997 was one of those years.
The first half of the '90s was largely defined by the fallout from the grunge explosion of Nirvana and Pearl Jam and the rise of West Coast hip-hop, as shepherded by Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg. As late as '96, alt-rock and G-funk still held serve as the dominant sounds of the moment. But by '97, most of the leading lights for both genres had either faded, gone on hiatus or left the game altogether, creating a void at the mainstream's center that badly needed filling.
What came along to fill it was the return of mega-pop: Massive, barnstorming, top 40-geared breakouts from groups like Spice Girls, Hanson and Backstreet Boys -- artists that bore some of the sonic signifiers of decade's beginning, but lacked any connection to the angst of grunge or the edge of G-funk. In hip-hop, the Bad Boy empire was springboarded to the top of the food chain, as label head Sean "Puffy" Combs was reborn as Puff Daddy, and quickly became the best-selling rapper in the universe thanks to a series of gigantic, top 40-recycling pop-rap smashes for himself and his labelmates.