For the culture: Why do artists adopt alter egos?

By Kayla Drazan

I just read an article in GQ in which Lil Uzi Vert talked about his newest alter ego, “AstroCat.” I know Uzi has adopted several egos in the past, and I thought it would be interesting to do a quick enumeration of some of my favorite celebrity alternate personalities.

Last week I wrote about Kanye West albums, but I didn’t mention his first alternate ego — the Dropout Bear — who West adopted in The College Dropout” (2004), “Late Registration” (2005) and “Graduation” (2007). He has also released albums under the egos Yeezus, Ye and Pablo.

Tyler, the Creator took inspiration from Kanye in the release of countless albums donning different egos from Goblin to Flower Boy to Igor. Eminem has his wild alter ego Slim Shady, and I still cannot tell you who the real one is. One of my favorite artist alter egos is Sun Ra, an American composer and musician whose artistic practice was based around a fictional character from another planet. Although perhaps not entirely a self-adopted character, I would argue that Will Smith’s rise as The Fresh Prince could be considered an alter ego.

One artist whose alter egos continuously fluctuate is Playboi Carti. Curiously, he usually does not personally name his alternate personalities; in fact, it is his fanbase who primarily categorizes him according to his work. His pending “Narcissist” project and tour may suggest a new identity, but we have also seen “vampire Carti” from “Whole Lotta Red” (2020)and the “Cash Carti” from “Die Lit” (2018).

Back to Lil Uzi Vert, who actually incorporated three different personalities in his most recent solo album “Eternal Atake” (2020). And his collaboration album with Future, “Pluto x Baby Pluto” (2020), featured another alternate personality for both rappers with Future becoming “Pluto” and Lil Uzi Vert becoming “Baby Pluto.”

And the use of pseudonyms is not limited to music – if you didn’t know, Mark Twain’s name was not Mark Twain (it was Samuel Langhorne Clemens).

So, why do these artists adopt alter egos? Although I don’t necessarily have a different name, I certainly have a different personality for my artistic practice, and I suspect these artists perform similar behaviors. With Lil Uzi Vert, he self-described his alter egos as different individuals, which on “Eternal Atake” (2020) had drastically different vocal performances and vibes. In fact, there were sharp differences between each personality on the album. Not only were these personalities indicative of the music being created but also Uzi’s mood while creating them.

These artists transform themselves to engage more thoroughly with their art and with the public. Unlike method acting, which is performed within the confines of a set (for the most part), these individuals fully transformed themselves. I know many who discredit musicians and rappers as not artists but performers; however, I believe that taking such immeasurable steps to perform their identity as part of their creative vision means they can only be considered artists.