If like me you were watching the Grammys over the weekend, you may have noticed an oddly golden Cee Lo Green making his way down the red carpet. And while the singer made no attempts to explain his bizarre outfit on the night, it was later revealed to be part of a new persona named Gnarly Davidson. Which has got me thinking about alter-egos in music in general and mainly, the purposes in which they are created. Alter-egos have been in the music industry as long as there has been an industry. From Ziggy Stardust and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, to Beyonce's Sasha Fierce and more recently, The Weeknd's Starboy, they have all been used as an excuse for an artist to take a dramatic step out of their safe zone and give license to some truly great or awful musical choices. So I thought I'd break down some of my personal favourite alter-egos in music, and even some you may not have realised.
Snoop Dogg becomes Snoop Lion
That's right, you forgot these even happened didn't you? But there was in fact a time that Snoop Dogg wished he had been Jamaican, so he made himself one. Snoop Lion was an extremely short-lived guise adopted by the famous rapper, although at the time he was trying to convince us that this was the new him for the foreseeable future. With a pseudo-quasi accent and dreadlocks, Snoop wormed his way in the reggae scene with a single studio album in 2013 dubbed 'Reincarnated'. He also released a documentary under the same name which tried its best to give context to this new and drastic direction. Two years later, he was back as Snoop Dogg and no-one even asked what had happened to Lion. Although to be honest, it seemed more like an excuse to smoke more sticky icky than anything else.
Eminem as Slim Shady
Even some of the most hardcore Eminem fans are aware that Slim Shady was even an alter-ego, but once you realise and listen to his music again, it all makes sense. When Eminem first started out, his music was considered aggressive, antagonistic, homophobic and downright offensive in places. But he admits that this was all through his Slim Shady persona, his own idea of what a rapper was supposed to be. In various interviews, he has discussed his own character as a shy and unconfident individual that would normally get stage fright when in front of large crowds. But Slim Shady is a nasty piece of work that aims to imitate the bravado of his peers to gain respect. Which meant that Eminem had essentially created a character aimed at sending all the cliches of the hip-hop scene, the ended up making him millions and a world-wide name in the process.
The Bronx aka Mariachi El Bronx
The Bronx are arguably one of the best US punk bands around today. Their powerful sound and sheer anger resonates vigorously with their extremely strong and devoted fanbase, which seems strange when you find out that they are also a mariachi band. And not like some Mexican punk crossover outfit, but a genuinely authentic Mariachi band. The band have never really cleaned up their reasons for creating this incredibly detached side-project, mainly because they refuse to discuss the other band depending on which character they are in at the time. But Mariachi El Bronx have managed to gather an equally strong fanbase in the process and brought the mariachi sound to a global audience. They even sometimes support themselves on tour, which feels like value for money if you ask me.
Green Day were The Network
Once you have become a worldwide success, especially if you have come from humble beginnings, most artists would agree that sometimes they want to get back to the old days of basement gigs and intimate crowds. This was something Green Day managed to pull off almost without anyone knowing who they were. The band adopted the name The Network, wore masks throughout all their shows and played a mix of classic punk tunes and new wave material in very small venues. No one in the crowd or the venues who booked them had any idea who they were, making it a more authentic experience for both the band and the punters. Green Day even released press releases denying that they were actually the band, but once that excuse began to slip, the band gave it up after two years.
Billy Bob Thornton was never an actor
I just had to mention this bizarre incident from a few years ago because as far as alter-egos go, this one truly took the biscuit. Actor Billy Bob Thornton has had a relatively good career as a country and western singer throughout the last couple of decades. And after releasing a number of solo records, he joined up with a number of other musicians to create a band called The Boxmasters. But the idea behind this group was that they weren't new but had in fact been together for years and Billy Bob was also only ever a musician and nothing else. This character and backstory that he had created for the group obviously couldn't make sense to a number of interviewers who would try and discuss reality with the band, only to be met with an absurd level of misunderstandings for Mr. Thornton. Fair play to the guy for not breaking character throughout this very long interview with Canadian radio station Q, but it does make some very confusing and awkward viewing.