Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber

Kevin Winter/Getty Images; Kevin Mazur/

Let's be honest, here: when regular folks try and jumpstart a nickname for themselves, it comes off a bit, how should we say…desperate and pathetic. And when they assign to that nickname a whole new persona, they tend to get sent to the loony bin. Or booked on a sweeps episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show.

But when a celebrity does it? That, friends, is a thing of beauty. And publicity genius. And that's what we're here to celebrate.

Sure, the practice is hardly a new phenomenon. Back in the early '70s, David Bowie introduced the world to Ziggy Stardust. And don't even make us recap the many faces of reinvention queen Madonna, celebrity alter egoist extraordinaire (just ask Esther).

But there's a new crop of split musical personalities in town—many fictional (Hannah Montana), many fleeting (Cherry Kookoo), all pretty damn entertaining. Here's a look at our top five:

1. Shawty Mane: Justin Bieber's all-rapping side project may have only just hit the scene, but credit where it's due. While Eminem probably isn't quaking in his Timberlands just yet, the Biebs scores points for humor—naming his alter ego after the two things he's arguably best known for, his stature and his mop—for his unabashed use of Urkel glasses, for mocking Tom Brady's coif ("Call up Mr. Brady. Tell him to leave his hair to the guy who sings 'Baby.' ") and for helpfully pointing out to listeners,"I'm white." Maybe that tidbit was for the can't-see-color Stephen Colbert? "I just wanted to do this to prove I've got skills on the rap game," Mane said. Mission accomplished.

2. Sasha Fierce: As if she wouldn't be making the cut. The Dr. Jekyll to her off-stage Ms. Hyde, Beyoncé revealed to a captivated nation back in 2008 that the hip-shaking, booty-popping, robot-handed force of nature that performed on stage every night was not, in fact, Ms. Knowles, but rather a sassy singing minx by the name of Sasha Fierce. "I have someone else that takes over when it's time for me to work and when I'm on stage, this alter ego that I've created that kind of protects me and who I really am," she explained. Not to mention, who scores massive points not only for her staying power, but for managing to coopt the title of B's most recent album. Sure, it wasn't the first time an alter ego got the cover treatment, but it was the best (sorry, Mimi).

Lady Gaga

Nick Knight and Styling by Nicola Formichetti

3. Jo Calderone:  Not every musical alter ego has to take over on stage. Come to think of it, not every musical alter ego has to share the same gender as their creator, either. Leave it to Lady Gaga to turn the practice on its head, as she, err, he posed for some pompadourific shots in Vogue Homme Japan this summer. Credit for the shoot formally went to male model Jo Calderone (ahem), but it's pretty clear who the real star is here. Keeping your alter ego under wraps can be such a drag.

4. Chris Gaines: Time to go old school. Garth Brooks is a little bit country, but someone buried deep inside him was a little bit rock 'n' roll. Okay, a lot rock 'n' roll, not to mention some sort of bizarre love child of Trent Reznor and Pete Wentz. The goateed one made his debut in 1999, and even released his own album, Greatest Hits (alternatively titled Garth Brooks in…The Life of Chris Gaines), appeared as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live and cracked the Billboard Top 40, incidentally reaching higher on the list than Brooks ever did. Party on, Garth.

5. Xtina: Cast your mind back to 2002, when a pre-married (and divorced) Christina Aguilera was looking to distance herself from the emerging pop mouse pack. Clearly more vocally talented than her Disney alum brethren, Aguilera needed to set herself apart from the rest, and since naughty schoolgirl was already taken, she opted for full-on dirrrtyness. And thus, the raven-haired, pierced-nose, neck-tatted Xtina was born. Something tells us she might be prepping for a comeback.

Who did we miss? Tell us your favorite musical celeb alter ego in the comments!

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