Thanks again for the comments guys.
As far as the “ton of work to create and maintain” goes, Adam’s right in that there’s metadata everywhere. He mentions Pandora, which is kind of a top-down approach to classifying music: “experts” meticulously categorizing everything they can by musical “genome.” I prefer Last.fm, however, with its empirical, bottom-up approach to classification, based on tracking actual listening habits. That, and they have a long history of making their metadata free and accessible with public XML services for just about everything. So, in short, you wouldn’t have to do anything; your music player would know which artists should be grouped together automatically.
I suppose when it comes to a mouseless/keyboardless interface like the PS3 (or a portable player, come to think of it), alphabetical lists do make searching easier than having to “type” artists’ names; so in those cases, I’d have to concede that you’re right, Me. And I suppose what I’m describing will be useful only to people with large libraries like myself. But for those of us who have those large libraries, mining our collections is incredibly frustrating, especially when you realize that there are so many opportunities to create browsing environments that are not only more intuitive and functional, but fun as well.
Adam’s also right that these kinds of innovations should be “effortless,” yet it seems as though nobody’s innovating. Nobody has been thinking beyond the alphabetized list until recently, with Apple’s “Genius” feature and Microsoft’s “MixView” — and both of these seem to be efforts to sell music, not primarily to make your library more dynamic.
All it would take is a room of user-interface experts experimenting with different models to “push” your music to you in interesting new ways, based on artist similarity, based on your listening history, based on mood, based on time of day, based on time of year — hell, based on the weather and on news feeds. It wouldn’t merely be flashy; it would, I think, profoundly change the way you interact with your music library.