Predicting musical stardom has become a task not unlike that of predicting earthquakes-a science of fissures, fault lines, and occasionally, false alarms. With a pop landscape ruptured by demographics and niche formatting, the idea of being able to accurately forecast commercial breakthroughs borders on the foolish.
Still, as we set our pop seismographs to 1994's release schedule, we hear rumblings of greatness: Country legend Johnny Cash follows the ''rejuvenated by youth'' furrow plowed by Tony Bennett and Tom Jones, teaming with a satanic- looking rap/metal producer half his age. Perpetual understudies Soundgarden, their path to arena stardom cleared by Seattle compatriots Nirvana and Pearl Jam, should finally live up to the slogan on one of their first T-shirts-''Total F -- -ing Godhead.'' And grassroots music-video network The Box emerges as the true inheritor of MTV's original trailblazing mission. Other warning signs flash from more traditional quarters. Videogenic chanteuses Tori Amos and Faith Hill grab the pop and country spotlights, respectively, while media darling du jour Henry Rollins wants you to hate him for being beautiful. In the pages ahead, we take a closer look at each of these breakout acts, as well as other albums and concerts lined up for this year. Given the degree to which the music world has already fragmented, none of these six may have the clout to be the Big One. But in 1994, they'll each cause some serious tremors.