Whether it’s on account of creativity bursting at the seams, or just a desire to try something musically or lyrically different from their previous work, sometimes artists feel the need to step outside themselves and create an entirely new persona. The syndrome that’s kept psychologists busy for years has manifested itself in concept albums, live performances or just the occasional one-off single.
Inspired by Nicki Minaj’s sophomore album Roman Reloaded — where Minaj channels her rage into a gay male character named Roman Zolanski — eMusic’s Laura Studarus dove into the back catalogue to find artists who wrote, performed or recorded as someone other than themselves. The contenders — ranging from the silly to the divine — were all given awards for their efforts. But only the chosen few will take home the little gold man.
The Persona: Despite the star-studded roster of guests on Nicki Minaj's sophomore album Roman Reloaded, the most interesting one might be Minaj's alter ego Roman Zolanski. Like Eminem's Slim Shady, Minaj uses Roman to express deep-seated anger — you knowâ€¦whatever it is she's feeling when not conducting a multi-colored symphony of the absurd.
Oscar or Razzie?: One suspects that Roman would get down to Pink Friday, but his existence here just feels like another prop in Minaj's puffy-painted delusions. Razzie.
The Persona: Somewhere between a god and alien was Ziggy Stardust, a starman who came to earth to "blow our minds." After announcing the world would end in five years due to a lack of natural resources, he found time to indulge in a few rock 'n' roll fantasies and give a voice to the "freaks" of his generation in what is perhaps the godfather of all concept albums, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
Oscar or Razzie?: Is there any doubt? Oscar.
The Persona: In 2007, while on the promotional trail for his fourth solo album Armchair Apocrypha, Andrew Bird stopped by the children's TV program Jack's Big Music Show. There, he played a character called Dr. Stringz, who can be summoned with a song to fix any stringed instrument, including guitars, mandolins and violins. Since then, he's worked the "Dr. Stringz" theme song into live shows, usually when introducing the Mysterious Production of Eggs cut "Fake Palindromes."
Oscar or Razzie?: While eager fans around the world have attempted — and failed — to summon him with a song, is there anyone among us who doesn't believe Bird is the master of all stringed instruments? Oscar.
The Persona: No longer content to just be known as the musician who produces the albums we all buy our mothers for Christmas, in 2007 Norah Jones teamed up with rock band El Madmo. Calling herself Maddie, she played guitar on stage and hid behind a blond wig, copious amounts of eyeliner and surprisingly dirty vocabulary.
Oscar or Razzie?: Different 'do and potty mouth aside, are we really supposed to believe that Jones's gentle croon belongs to anyone other than the Come Away With Me songstress? Razzie.
Johan Agebjorn and an unnamed vocalist
The Persona: In 2006, Johan AgebjÃ¶rn and his unnamed muse combined their wonder-twin powers to create Sally Shapiro, a Swedish Italo disco-diva who sings about love in an effervescent soprano over ephemeral, mid-'80s beats. Sally's glam-girl-next-door persona on recordings belies the chanteuse's real personality — a woman so painfully shy she won't perform live, allow non-friends to photograph her, or reveal her real name. Despite her reclusive behavior — leading many to believe she doesn't really exist — "Sally" has had a fairly steady output, including two full-lengths (Disco Romance and My Guilty Pleasure) and a guest turn on Agebjorn's pop solo pop album, Casablanca Nights.
Oscar or Razzie?: For creating music we can fall in love to and with? Oscar.
The Persona: In 1986 Prince recorded eight tracks as "Camille," a female R&B singer obsessed with sex and love, not unlike the man-turned-symbol-turned-man himself. The project was eventually scrapped, but the majority of tunes found their way onto Sign 'O' the Times, which, like most Prince albums, centered around the ever-shifting nature of sex and love, set against some baby-making beats.
Oscar or Razzie?: As much as we hate to admit it, Prince's sped-up vocals on "If I was Your Girlfriend" are as hot as his monologue as the end is creepy. Oscar. (Just don't invite us to your naked ballet.)
The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson
The Persona: On break from brother/sister act The Knife, Swedish electro-weirdo Karin Dreijer Andersson dove into her postnatal daydreams to create Fever Ray. A ghostly, witch-like character, Fever Ray sings meandering, pop-tinged tunes inspired by her childhood memories. On stage, though, she's all specter — an eerie voice emitting somewhere behind a flowing white wig, face-paint, and miles and miles of fog.
Oscar or Razzie?: Just try listening to this album or seeing Fever Ray live with having the crap scared out of you. Oscar.
of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes
The Persona: First mentioned in 2007 album Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer, George Fruit — a cross-dressing African-American who's undergone multiple sex change operations — got his time in the sun on 2008's Skeletal Lamping. A sex-obsessed 1970s rocker who loves the ladies and men in equal portions, Barnes took it on himself to bring the character to stage with extensive makeup, ornate costumes, and skits that tested the limits of propriety.
Oscar or Razzie?: With all the outrageous incarnations of Montreal has taken over the years, George's elaborate brand of fetish feels a bit like white noise. Split decision.
Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley
The Persona: In 2010, conjoined twins Evelyn Evelyn (really Jason Webley and the Dresden Dolls' Amanda Palmer with a back-story created in part by author Neil Gaiman) released their debut full-length, a collection of dark-and-twisted cabaret tunes that recounted their Tim Burton-like upbringing. On stage, the "sisters" performed the material in character, bound together in a single, oversized red and white dress.
Oscar or Razzie?: Great as a single serving, there's not much here to suggest that Evelyn Evelyn are anything other than a one-trick, three-legged pony. Razzie.
Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan
The Persona: Khan pulled double-duty on her sophomore album Two Suns, playing not only the role of herself (earthly, spiritual) but Pearl (a vapid materialist with an eye for the creature comforts of domestic life). The two's battle creates a tension thought the album, wrapped in a heady mix of Knife-like electronics, haunted sea-shanties, and enough vocal acrobatics to give BjÃ¶rk pause.
Oscar or Razzie?: The closing track, where Khan kills off Pearl (with a little help from guest vocalist Scott Walker) is the kind of thing award shows were invented for. Oscar.