Who's the greatest guilty pleasure act of all time? We intend to find out!

It’s a well-known fact that the appreciation of music is subjective: One man’s Beatles, for example, is another man’s dog playing the nose harp. Yet somehow over the course of human history, we’ve managed to agree on the general excellence of a number of artists — and the general wretchedness of others — thus establishing something of a musical pecking order. One wants to be closer to the Beatles on this order than, say, Eddie Murphy. Musically speaking, at least. This is just a fact.

But what about the folks in the middle? I don’t mean the workmanlike, well-regarded bands and singers who sustain long, profitable careers while never quite rising to the top of their genre or anyone’s Best Whatever list, because those lists are inevitably being bogarted by the same four acts, over and over — I mean the bands and singers that by all accounts are kinda cheesy/derivative/bombastic/limited/weird, but we love them anyway. The ones we find ourselves defending when someone makes fun of them at dinner parties, but wouldn’t exactly pump with our windows rolled down in the parking lot of Coachella. The ones whose concerts we attend semi-ironically, but still enjoy the hell out of. The ones we secretly want to be listening to when we are listening to Animal Collective. The karaoke staples. The workout-mix centerpieces. The ones who don’t get no respect.

I’m talking about the guilty pleasures. And with your help, I intend to find the greatest one of all time.

Of course, “guilty pleasure” carries with it a healthy amount of to-each-his-ownness, too: While I might blush with shame every time it’s revealed that I love Phil Collins, someone else out there no doubt runs a message board dedicated to the man’s genius. Still, I should hope we can find common ground. “Guilty pleasure” also does not necessarily imply suckiness — in fact, I’d argue that Journey, Britney Spears, and Garth Brooks (see above) have all made excellent genre- and even era-defining music. And yet, there is guilt. Why? Not sure. It’s just there. Happily, it is accompanied by equal amounts of pleasure. And that’s why we use both words.

For the next several weeks, we’re going to put our favorite guilty pleasures through scrutiny like never before. The contestants will be placed into an NCAA-style bracket, seeded according to their strengths (please enjoy that No. 1 seed, Nickelback), and then pitted head to head. Each face-off will feature a defense of the act — hopefully in part provided by you, Mixers — as well as a streamable example of their oeuvre. You will then have the chance to vote. Winner advances. Lobbying is encouraged. Commenters without a sense of humor, however, will not be tolerated. (Looking at you now, Celine Dion fans.)

I pooled my colleagues and they came up with suggestions ranging from Linkin Park to Lady GaGa, Hall & Oates to Hanson, Jordin Sparks to Stone Temple Pilots. But now I turn to you, Mixers: Who is your greatest guilty pleasure act of all time? Give us your nominees in the comments below, complete with a defense of your choice and the one (1) song that best exemplifies their guilt…and their pleasure. Nominate early, nominate often; we’ll meet back here next week to begin the tournament itself.

NOTE: Nominees must have a body of work significant enough for examination. This is not about one-hit wonders — they have plenty of lists of their own. Yes, yes, “Come On Eileen,” I know.

More from EW’s Music Mix:
Fabolous, outsold by Michael Jackson, tops the charts
Radiohead surprise with new song
Watch Modest Mouse’s new Heath Ledger-directed video

MTV’s Video Music Awards: Will it be Beyonce or Lady Gaga?

Photo Credit: Steve Perry: Robin Kaplan/Retna Ltd.; Garth Brooks: Molly Riley/Reuters/Landov

Comments (505 total) Add your comment
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  • Via

    Rihanna – I would say what she lacks in vocal ability she makes up for in dancing strength, but that wouldn’t be entirely honest now would it? Maybe it’s her uncanny yoddle? Nah. It’s probably her gift for singing the catchiest hooks of the last few summers. Whatever it is, I’m still slightly ashamed to admit I’m waiting w/bated breath for her newest album release.

    • fancypants

      I like Rihanna’s music and do admit she’s not a great singer and not much of an artist (she doesn’t write or produce her own music). But when does she “dance”? I’ve never seen her dance.

      • Via

        Yeah, that’s kinda my point…

      • fancypants

        u should hear her new track “hatin’ on the club” on youtube. dammit rihanna, you and your catchy songs!

      • Bravo

        wow. amazing work, do u work with fx? love ur style and edtiing. some of the best pictures I have seen, and I have seen many. keep in touch. monica

  • orville

    Without a doubt, ABBA. I’d put The Monkees up there too, but I’m not a bit ashamed of loving them. And, I’ll shamefully admit, Britney Spears has more than one spot on my iPod. The Spice Girls have even made the playlist.

    • suenue

      Ah – I love Abba! Esp. Fernando and Winner Takes It All. Super cheesy but catchy and really great.

    • Krasimir

      Hi Justine, you are so not alone, I have spent the last three years trying to jlugge this lifestyle and with the addition of a second child it hasn’t gotten easier. It’s also hard when you sit and compare yourself to other mom photogs who are busier, charge more and seem to do it all, you just have to remember God has a journey for each of us to go on and who wants the same journey as the next gal? So I encourage you to continue this path and eventually you will hit your stride and the guilt will lessen, and too soon Luca will be in school and you’ll have more time on your hands than you know what to do with! Whew that was long winded, sorry :)

  • cranky

    ABBA. They are completely cheesy and preternaturally perky, but show me a more delectable vintage pop band. Bonus: Ever since Andy from The Office wooed Angela via a three-way telephonic acapella rendition of “Take a Chance on Me” that song has even more new layers of cheesy awesomeness.

    • paige

      for me Abba has grown from “guilty” please to just all around pleasure… Not all their songs are sunshine and smiles… During the post-disco era of their music, they started to mature out their sound while their lyrics dealt with paranoia (the visitors) to more mature break ups (when all is said and done)… I am proud to say that I own every. single. abba. album. and while not every song is great, they do have many many gems that Mamma Mia (or Pierce Brosnan) couldnt destroy… Abba rocks!

  • Michael

    Barry Manilow — pure cheesiness, magnetism on stage and a history of great music. I Write The Songs, Copacabana, Even Now, Can’t Smile Without You. Hands-down winner. ‘Nuff said.

    • Cindy Sue

      Totally on the Barry Manilow train. I would never admit it to anyone but love the Coca Cabana. Totally cheesy yet pleasurable

      • Susan P.

        Barry Manilow is, of course, the classic guilty pleasure. Though his songs are well-crafted, his voice never less than pleasant, his showmanship a delight, I somehow always find myself apologizing for being a fan. So it’s a crime to prefer hearing “Could It Be Magic” instead of so-called “meaningful” rockers? Then lock me up! (Well,U2 excepted, I adore them at any time.)

    • thepurpleberet

      I used to rollerskate with my friend down in her basement while listening to “CopaCabana”. Good times!

      • Bravo

        We’re different— and yet the same…. The pot of cfofee is a must…. scanning quilt blogs and my daily readings…A perfect morning. I knock out the treadmill before I ever sit down– because I know I won’t do it otherwise. It’s Saturday and the day is mine…

  • Michelle

    ABBA. That’s all I need to say.

  • Bobby’s Robot

    MeatLoaf

    • DC

      Hell yeah!

  • Allison

    While I agree with Barry Manilow, I nominate Boy George/The Culture Club! Karma Chameleon 4ever

  • Astar

    Ace of Base… have their CD’s (yes, the imports) and I even made a website about them back in the late 1990′s (cruel summer should have been bigger!). I still listen but as I’ve grown older, I realized that their lyrics are so cheesy… but the band reminds me of being young again so I continue to like them.

    • Vicky

      Haha, yeah “The Bridge” was one of my favorite CDs growing up. I still listen to it today. Of course, I’d never tell my friends that!

      • Shaun

        Love Ace of Base too. “The Bridge” was the first cd I ever owned. Ah, memories.

    • beb

      I also nominate AoB…I too have all of their CD’s (remember shelling out $40 for an import copy of Da Capo at the Virgin Megastore in SF) and even wrote a short fiction story for a college English class based on “Blooming 18″ off “The Bridge.” Yes, I need therapy. :-)

    • dave

      Yes! Ace of Base is a total guilty pleasure. Those songs are so damn catchy!

    • Cara

      Wasn’t Cruel Summer by Bananarama?

      • thepurpleberet

        Sure was, Cara. Great song. It’s a perfect fit for “The Karate Kid”.

      • beb

        Cara, Ace of Base did a remake of it for their 3rd US CD of the same name. The song made it to #10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

  • the girl

    Destiny’s Child. As evidence, please reference:

    “Can you pay my bills, can you pay my automobills.”

    “Break my lease so I can move cause you’re a bug-a-boo”

    “Nasty put some clothes on, now won’t you” (which is what we call *irony*)

    Not to mention Bootylicious, Independent Women, Survivor, among others.

    I will also give Danity Kane and the Pussycat Dolls an honorable mention.

    • Nat-uh-lee

      Destiny’s child, Danity Kane, and Taylor Swift are definitely my favorite guilty pleasures. My husband rolls his eyes every time I turn up their songs in the car.

  • too old for this

    the disney pop generation – miley cyrus, demi lovato, jonas brothers – i wouldn’t admit it in real life, but these are the songs on my ipod – up-beat, catchy, teeny-bopper, more entertaining than a lot of the popular crap out there

    • Mari

      Yes! I totally don’t admit it to anyone (mostly because I’m apparently too old to like these bands) but I really enjoy listening to the Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato.

    • Michael

      I’d support Jonas Brothers and Miley as guilty pleasures. However, the very untalented, off-key-99%-of-the-time Demi Lovato is just merely painful.

    • Chris

      I agree with this. I love listening to Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato. But I definitely turn it down if I pull up at a stoplight.

  • couchgrouch

    yeah, I feel guilty listening to a little Garth. why? because it’s corny crap.

    • garthfan

      Duh! That’s why they’re asking. If it was earth shattering music, it wouldn’t be an issue! Catch up!

  • jack

    ALice Cooper- I’m a strictly independent anti major music, Minor threat to Wilco to Animal Collective, but I still throw Alice Cooper on my turntable every now and again.

  • Kaylie

    ABBA, Spice Girls

    • Lauren

      I’m not afraid to admit I love ABBA, but sometimes it’s a little harder to say the same about Spice Girls. Most of the time when you hear critics talking about “Wannabe” they comment on how you don’t know what “zigazig ah” means. But with the songs being so catchy and growing up with the pop band, it’s hard not to feel a little excited when they play on the radio. As for the Spice Girls movie, let’s just say I’m glad none of them had acting careers.

  • John

    CELINE DION. This woman never ceases to amaze me. I discovered her French material and it’s quite a different style from her English songs. More guitar and a pure voice! Check it out and you’ll be surprised. Celine is way more than just the ballads Sony decided to release. She’s got some great dance songs but Sony was never smart enough to release them as singles. A few examples (check on YouTube: Naked, Fade Away, Eyes on Me)!!

    • Paul Fleck

      I’d second that! One night I thought I was playing ‘To Love You More’ to an empty house, but when my roommate caught me, he started singing along, and it became a Celine-a-thon all night!

    • Jen

      Absolutely 100% agree! Even Celine has a sense of humor about herself…hundreds of awards and accolades, millions of fans and consistently sold out tours can’t be wrong. She takes up over half the space on my iPod.

      • Hazel

        I completely agree! I’m constantly derided for my love of her voice, but the girl can SANG! Her version of All By Myself is absolute music pleasure, and I still can’t believe that she doesn’t even have to TRY hard to sing that well!

      • Jen

        I find it hilarious that she’s even a guilty pleasure (hello five year sold out show in Vegas and 2 Academy awards!). She is one of the original divas and has maintained a first class career for 30 years, not to mention her ability to actually achieve a healthy balance between work and family. She can take as many 2 year breaks as she wants, her legions of fans will be eagerly waiting her return every single time.

    • bootsycolumbia

      I’m glad you mentioned her French material, because it really is fantastic. Add to that that Celine has always stayed humble and true to her roots, and there’s nothing I don’t love about her.

    • garth

      River Deep, Mountain High! Who hasn’t blasted this song and gone totally bananas with it?!

  • C-Love

    Lady Gaga is my new guilty pleasure. I try to hate her but the songs are too catchy(even if it is the same song it seems over and over) IMHO Pokerface / Lovegame sound the same. She is like the Madonna/Cher of the new millenium in regards to her style

    • orville

      I feel that way about Katy Perry. I want to dislike her, but she’s so outrageously perky and cheesy that I find myself bopping along.

      • thepurpleberet

        I wonder if Katy Perry truly fits the definition of a guilty pleasure because, as you note, Orville, she’s obviously cheesy and is in on the joke. She’s poking fun at herself. Pretty savvy of her, I say: nobody can call her cheesy without her own admission of that fact.

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