Musicians aren’t that much different from actors, in that they sometimes generate persona, either onstage or for an entire album. Alter egos help musicians express emotions that they probably would be hesitant to portray as their real selves. Some musicians only create a split personality for a single concept album, while others keep the myth going for much longer, even performing onstage or posing as another person in interviews. It’s an experiment that sometimes works well, but other times backfires. But in all these instances, the musician eventually retired their other selves, and went back to being as real as artists can be.
10. Humpty Hump – aka Gregory Jacobs
The 1990 song, “The Humpty Dance” is such a classic, people probably don’t realize rapper Humpty Hump is actually many different people. Rapper, Gregory Jacobs first introduced ‘Humpty’ on Digital Underground’s song, “Doowutchyalike” in 1989. Humpty raps in a nasal tone, and wears a Groucho Marx like nose and glasses. Jacobs made up a back-story for his persona, saying Humpty’s real name was Edward Ellington Humphrey III, and he had burnt his nose on a deep-fryer. Besides Humpty, Jacobs created many other alter egos, including Piano Man, MC Blowfish and Shock G, where he used his normal voice. These characters appeared on the band’s songs, and also in movies. Jacobs was so convincing at times, fans didn’t know what to expect.
9. Buster Poindexter – aka David Johansen
David Johansen is best-known as a member of seminal NY punk-rock group, The New York Dolls and as the Ghost Of Christmas Past, from the movie Scrooged. Although, he also adopted the alias, Buster Poindexter in the ‘80s. His cover song “Hot Hot Hot” was a big hit, as it combined jazz and calypso–much different from the Dolls’ rock music. He released four albums as lounge singer Poindexter throughout the ’80s and ’90s, but after releasing 1997’s Spanish Rocketship, he retired the name and went back to releasing records under his real name.
8. MacPhisto – aka Bono
U2 frontman, Bono briefly was the devil in the early ‘90s. During their ’92-‘93 Zoo TV Tour–which was in support of the album Achtung Baby–U2 dropped their earnest demeanor and put on a fun and pervasive show. Bono created a few onstage characters for the tour, including a devil-like one named MacPhisto, who popped up throughout the shows. “We came up with a sort of old English Devil, a pop star long past his prime returning regularly from sessions on The Strip in Vegas and regaling anyone who would listen to him at cocktail hour with stories from the good old, bad old days,” Bono said about the origin of his character. MacPhisto was briefly resurrected in 1995 in animated form, for their Batman Forever song and video, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me.”
7. Damita Jo – aka Janet Jackson
Janet Jackson’s middle name is Damita Jo, hence, where her 2004 album title comes from. On the album, she used Damita and other characters, like a woman named Strawberry, to inject feelings of sexual liberation into her songs. Speaking about her nom de plume, Jackson told a reporter, “Damita Jo is a lot harsher, and quick to put you in your place. She doesn’t sit and ponder about stuff, where I’ll go, ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’ She’s tougher than I am.” The album came out soon after her Super Bowl nip slip debacle, which inevitably hurt album sales. Damita still managed to sell over three million copies, but the backlash from the incident caused the record to not hit number one on the charts. Despite that, the album supposedly influenced Beyonce’s, I Am…Sasha Fierce record.
6. Art Nouveau – aka Joni Mitchell
Folk troubadour, Joni Mitchell experimented with gender roles in the late ‘70s, when she put on blackface and became a black man named Art Nouveau. Looking for a Halloween costume one day, Mitchell strolled down Hollywood Boulevard and came across a black man “with a beautiful spirit,” she told a reporter. The man complimented her, which made her feel good. “It was as if this spirit went into me. So I started walking like him. I bought a black wig, I bought sideburns, a mustache. I bought some pancake makeup. It was like ‘I’m goin’ as him.’” Mitchell continued the “costume” on her album cover of 1977’s Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, a folk-jazz fusion record. Mitchell also sometimes dressed up as the black pimp for shows and public appearances. Although, the persona caused a riff: some academics found it empowering, while others were offended.
5. Chris Gaines – aka Garth Brooks
Country megastar, Garth Brooks tinkered with an alt-rock personality named Chris Gaines in 1999, but Gaines wasn’t as well-received as hoped. Brooks planned on making a movie called The Lamb, based on made-up ego Gaines, so in order to generate hype for the film, Brooks released an album called Garth Brooks in…The Life of Chris Gaines, or sometimes called Greatest Hits. Brooks adopted an edgier look for Gaines, replete with a soul patch and darker hair. Even though the album went platinum, it still was considered a flop, mainly because fans just didn’t get it.
4. Santa, Isabel, Clyde, Pip, Tori – aka Tori Amos
On Tori Amos’ 2007 record, American Doll Posse, the singer-songwriter went incognito to undertake five different personalities, including one named Tori. Based on Greek mythology, each ego was inspired by goddesses like Aphrodite and Artemis, Greek goddess of the hunt. “I think these women are showing me that I have not explored honest extensions of the self who are now as real as the redhead,” Amos told a publication in 2007. Santa, Pip, Clyde and Isabel took turns singing on the album’s long track-list, with some of them dueting with Amos. During her tour that year, she performed as each of the characters throughout her show.
3. Ziggy Stardust – aka David Bowie
On the 1972 glam rock concept album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, David Bowie transformed himself into an alien rock star named Ziggy, and performed as that character on tour. The back-story takes place with five years remaining before the world ends.“Infinites” come to earth and eventually kill Ziggy on the song, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.”After the album and tour, Bowie abandoned Ziggy and moved onto his many other permutations.
2. Slim Shady – aka Eminem
Marshall Mathers debuted the iconic Slim Shady figure on his 1997, Slim Shady EP. As Slim, Eminem (Mathers’ stage name) raps about dark subject matter like sex, rape, violence and drugs. The character also appeared on his multi-platinum 1999 breakthrough record, The Slim Shady LP, featuring songs where he introduces himself as Shady. Besides that alter ego, Eminem also developed Ken Kaniff, a character lifted from another rapper. Eminem’s version of Ken appears on the Marshall Mathers LP, as a gay man joking about Eminem’s controversial anti-gay lyrics.
1. Jo Calderone – aka Lady Gaga
Ever the mercurial performance artist, Lady Gaga, aka Stefani Germanotta, shocked viewers of 2011’s MTV Video Music Awards, when she appeared onstage as a man named Jo Calderone. She, er, he, wore a white T-shirt, blazer and pants, and looked nothing like Gaga. Smoking a cigarette, Calderone stated he was Gaga’s lover and talked about how crazy she was. He then sat down at a piano and performed Gaga’s song “You and I.” This wasn’t the first time Gaga portrayed the drag character, though. In a 2010 photoshoot for Vogue Hommes Japan, photographer, Nick Knight took photos of the diva dressed in various men’s clothes.