Today’s discussion is about people pretending to be other people. The only thing separating me from them is that they invented new identities to become, while I just stole an existing one. Ergo, I am more than qualified to try to give insight into the dementia and rapid ego inflation that results in this public wankery.
On to the list, which I will note is ordered by combined artistic and commercial merit, from 1 (an iconic and influential presence in music) to 10 (a laughingstock):
1. Ziggy Stardust. Let there be no doubt that anyone who takes on an alter ego in a musical context owes a debt to Sir David Bowie. (He was knighted, right? If not, let’s get on that.) Bowie made it OK to be a chameleonic faker of the first order. In the parlance of the previous decade of hip hop, David Bowie did NOT “keep it real”; he persistently kept it very UN-real, hopping between personas and styles in a constant attempt to either confuse and alienate fans, or keep himself relevant while holding his real personality out of the media spotlight. Who is David Bowie? Who knows. Anyway, Ziggy Stardust was the best Bowie mask, and the greatest musical alter ego ever.
Art: 10 $: 7 Total score: 17
2. Dr. Octagon. The idea of a guy who calls himself Kool Keith having an alter ego is kind of funny, but Dr. Octagon was the shining star in the galaxy between Keith’s weird ears. First of all, the album is Keith’s best, with excellent and spacy production by Dan the Automator, a Metallica-t-shirt-reminiscent cover by Pushead, and classic Keith lyrics like these: “Your homey’s tape deck gets wet/ You my pet, my poodle chicken noodle’s on the rise/ Open your eyes and see my life/ Rap moves on to the year three thousand!” Wha..? Anyway, the good doctor’s album was so great that it became an underground hip hop classic, and Keith later made a completely inferior sequel (without the Automator) to attempt to recapture the glory.
Art: 9 $: 4 Total score: 13
3. Hannah Montana. Hannah Montana is a TV show, a character in that show, a singer, and a commercial money-making fever dream. And this description of her from Wikipedia broke my brain: “Hannah Montana is an Emmy Award-nominated American television series, which debuted on March 24, 2006 on Disney Channel. The series focuses on a girl who lives a double life as an average teenage school girl named Miley Stewart (played by Miley Cyrus) by day and a famous pop singer named Hannah Montana by night, concealing her real identity from the public, other than her close friends and family.” Miley plays another Miley who is a famous pop singer (like Miley) under the name Hannah Montaaaaaaauuuugggghhhrrrrrr. Stupid brain, be more smart! The apex of the Montana extravaganza was a tour where Miley and Hannah did shows together. Now that, Diane, is post-modernism eating itself.
Art: 3 $: 10 Total score: 13
4. The Thin White Duke. Our second Bowie on this list is the plastic soul-era Bowie. As personas go, the Duke is a wispy one – he seems more like a nickname than a fully realized alter ego. But he moves up this list by virtue of starring in “Station to Station,” the last great Bowie album. (The Brian Eno-collaboration albums that followed are all good, however; he didn’t totally lose it until around the time of “Labyrinth” and its soundtrack. I imagine that the young Jennifer Connelly probably siphoned off much of his power to become the radiant sex goddess she was about five years later, in such glorious cinematic milestones as “Career Opportunities.”)
Art: 6 $: 6 Total score: 12
5. Aladdin Sane. Even though he is the title character from a classic Bowie album, there’s no disguising that Aladdin Sane (the character) is basically Ziggy Stardust with a much sillier name. Points for the music, not so much for the concept. Which is why we find him at the midway point on this list. It’s all downhill from here.
Art: 5 $: 6 Total score: 11
6. Dr. Dooom. Kool Keith’s next persona after Dr. Octagon borrows the professional title from his predecessor and the overall concept from a certain Marvel Comics supervillain – was Keith running out of good ideas? Well possibly so, when you notice that the album art seems to involve fast food… and a gorilla… and, uh… what the fuck, I can’t make heads or tails out of this thing at all. Add in the fact that this dropped the same year as MF Doom’s superior “Operation: Doomsday” album, and you end up with a decidedly second-rate Keith character.
Art: 4 $: 3 Total score: 7
7. Black Elvis. And if Dooom was second-rate, what is Black Elvis? You’re a smart one, Diane – I’m sure you can supply the answer. Stop it, Keith, stop it right now.
Art: 3 $: 3 Total score: 6
8. Tori Amos’s American Doll Posse. It’s time for many of us who were really enamored with Tori circa “Little Earthquakes” (what can I say – I was a sensitive little girly-boy in high school) to admit that most of her ideas, apart from that album, were bad ones. Referencing Nine Inch Nails album titles in your lyrics? Check. Exhausting the good will from an interesting Nirvana cover by putting out a random, no-relationship-to-the-original version of “Raining Blood”? Check. Y Kan’t Tori Read? Triple check. This album, in which Tori takes on multiple different personalities (one of which is a fake-O version of herself, even) and lists them all separately in the credits? Big fat check.
Art: 1 $: 5 Total score: 6
9. Sasha Fierce. Beyonce reveals what’s beneath her gorgeous exterior: a robust pair of lungs floating in the void of emptiness and despair. Sasha FIERCE? Where were her marketing people when she came up with that one? Good god. Sure to sell a few million copies, though, unlike the next item on our list, which is currently ruining the planet in a landfill near you.
Art: -3 $: 8 Total score: 5
10. Chris Gaines. “Hi, I’m inoffensive country singer Garth Brooks, pretending to be a giant douchebag! Buy my douchey album – if you don’t, I may not make that Chris Gaines movie. And wouldn’t THAT be a giant tragedy?”
Art: -50 $: 2* Total score: -48
* I’m quite sure this album sold a lot of copies eventually (relative to your standard indie release, if not Garth’s other albums); however, the number of copies printed and the giant hype machine that ran for seemingly endless months add up to my best guess that the label broke even or lost money on this ego trip.