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Kayfabe Music

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Today is a good day to ROCK!

Pink isn't well, he's stayed back at the hotel
And they sent us along as a surrogate band
We're gonna find out where you fans really stand!
"In the Flesh", The Wall

The band is real, but the singer is a more or less fictional character. Same may go for the rest of the band.

There are two categories of examples: "Real Life Music" for bands that exist in real life, and "other media" for bands that are a Show Within the Show.

Just like with wrestlers, a Kayfabe singer's real identity may be an open secret. That is, not secret at all but not polite to talk about in context. The fans are likely to be outraged if the singer goes out of character during an interview.

Compare "Kayfabe" from Professional Wrestling. One subtrope is Robot or Spaceman Alter Ego. Contrast Anonymous Band, where the musicians simply hide their identities, and Fake Band, where the band itself is fictional. May not always have a "Concept Album", but you can sometimes expect the band's lore and backstory to be told through concept albums if they do have one.

Examples, Real Life Music

  • Abney Park is a group of Steampunk Sky Pirates.
  • Alice Cooper was originally the name of the band as a whole, but frontman Vincent Damon Furnier eventually turned it into a fictional, psychopathic character. Behind the scenes, Furnier is, at least in modern times, mild, straight-laced and conservative.
  • The Aquabats! are a ska band made up of super heroes. Their mythos is expanded upon in their TV show.
  • In Blutengel the singers are vampires.
  • Deathgrind band Brujeria is ostensibly made up of Mexican drug lords who always perform in masks to hide their identities from the FBI. On top of that, a large chunk of their members over the years actually are either from Mexico or of Hispanic descent. However, most of their members past and present are already well-known from other acts.
  • Buckethead is the persona of Brian Patrick Carroll, who is so socially awkward that he invented the character to hide his face and distance himself from his audience. People who know him, however, say that his behavior "in character" is basically just him being himself.
    • Cornbugs was a Buckethead side project that also featured actor Bill Moseley, who performed in-character as Chop Top, the deranged murderer he played in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Possibly for copyright reasons, Bill is officially credited as Bill "Choptop" Moseley on all their recordings.
  • Members of the German band Coppelius usually play their XIX-century aristocratic personas in public.
  • The County Medical Examiners are two Carcass-loving physicians joined by a much older, avant-garde physician who play Death Metal based on what they see in their field. After years of mystery, it was implied in 2012 that the whole band was simply a side-project of musician Matt Widener (ex-Exhumed/Cretin).
  • Devo has gone through a few permutations of this; it's essentially them, except with sci-fi bases, an idiot manager that doesn't understand them, a giant baby (Booji), and their...uh...leader, General Boy. They always did claim to be a corporation, which got a lot funnier in the mid-90's when they reformed as a soundtrack company. And then there's bass player Jerry Casale's side-album as Jihad Jerry, essentially Stephen Colbert as a Muslim blues musician.
  • Dir en grey's vocalist, Kyo, presents a facade of being the personification of Insane Equals Violent onstage, even self-injuring for real on a level equivalent to Mayhem's Dead. In Real Life, however, he is reported to be shy, intelligent, and most definitely not suffering from extreme mental illness or violent.
  • Singer Emilie Autumn seems to always be in character as Emily-with-a-Y from her book to some extent.
  • Eminem has a triune of personas he uses in his music - Eminem, a cocky rapper and eternal student of hip-hop who tends to act as the narrator for the other personas; Marshall, a loving father and screwup with a Dark and Troubled Past who expresses the real thoughts and emotions of the rapper; and Slim Shady, a Heroic Comedic Sociopath Anti-Role Model Serial Killer who survived a Hilariously Abusive Childhood, will kill you for no reason, and knows he is fictional. As Eminem puts it, his songs come from Marshall's mind, are written and performed by Eminem, and star Slim Shady. Unlike many of these examples, these personas tend to have a very blurry line between them, and he'll often switch between them within a song, have them argue between themselves as separate characters, or allow one persona to falsely represent himself as one of the other ones.
    • While Eminem was still an underground rapper, Slim Shady was treated as a more separate person. Em would play Slim clutching a bottle of vodka on stage, which he would constantly swig from as the show went on, and would maintain Slim's Creepy High-Pitched Voice and exaggerated Detroit projects accent while talking to the crowd between songs. He toned this down once he got famous.
    • In Relapse, the concept is that Eminem has relapsed, taking up drugs again after trying to get clean, transforming him into the murderous Slim Shady. In reality, he had been clean for a year at the time he made the album. Some songs on the album gently play with this discrepancy, particularly "Must Be The Ganja", in which Slim claims the reason he's high and murderous has to be the weed or the drink... only to eventually admit he's clean, so he has no excuse.
  • Faxed Head supposedly met as teenagers in Coalinga, California, had a Bungled Suicide pact that left them deformed in various bizarre ways, then decided to form a death metal band together. Thus they'd typically perform wearing strange masks and costumes, under stage names like Neck Head and Jigsaw Puzzle Head. In reality, their lineup included Mr. Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance and Gregg Turkington. They would also sometimes open for themselves as their supposed "rival" group The Bon Larvis Band, removing the masks, dressing more like a typical bar band, and playing an Overly Long Gag-laden parody of blues-rock.
  • In a 2012 interview with Oprah Winfrey, 50 Cent says that his onstage "thug" persona is this. His real self, Curtis Jackson, is a family man.
  • The Mothers of Invention's album Cruising with Ruben & the Jets has them posing as the titular fake doo-wop band, Ruben and the Jets.
  • Swedish rock band Ghost consists of a rotating masked band and frontman Tobias Forge in costume as one of several characters, currently Papa Emeritus IV, formerly known as Cardinal Copia. The band has a fairly elaborate backstory which they continue to build upon to explain the progression from the various Papa Emeritus characters to Copia.
  • The thrash metal band Ghoul perform as a group of mutant, cannibalistic ghouls from an over-the-top Überwald land called Creepsylvania. They keep their identities a secret and always wear bags on their heads when performing live.
  • Jennifer Murphy sings as her superheroine persona, Go Girl.
  • Gorillaz are a Band Toon in the real world, which means that their members are a group of four cartoon characters.
  • GWAR is known first and foremost for their elaborate sci-fi mythos, outrageous costumes, onstage antics and spraying their audience with buckets of fake blood.
  • Hannah Montana is a Disney Channel show about a girl named Miley Stewart who lives a double life as Teen Idol Hannah Montana, and Miley Cyrus has actually gone on tour as the Hannah Montana character.
  • Har Mar Superstar is Harold Martin Tillmann, the frequently sex-obsessed soul-singer twin brother of indie pop singer-songwriter Sean Tillmann (aka Sean Na Na). Of course, Har Mar is Sean Tillmann, the stage name really stems from a shopping center in Minnesota called the Har Mar Mall, and he really only kept up the twin charade for a short period of his career. Tillmann continues to put out solo albums as both Sean Na Na and Har Mar Superstar, and he still takes on a somewhat more flamboyant persona when performing as the latter.
  • Horrorcore rapper/singer The Jokerr raps from the perspective of a medieval court jester imprisoned in a dungeon for twenty years with a red costume patterned after a joker playing card to match, he has recorded a large amount of songs unrelated to his persona though.
  • Japanese rock band Kishidan, who model themselves after the 80s-era "yankee" punk look complete with pompadours, is fronted by vocalist Show Ayanocozey. Meanwhile, a similar looking man in a blonde afro is the flamboyant J-pop rapper DJ OZMA, who later "retired" to produce the Japanese-American trio Yazima Beauty Salon, one of whom is the "16-year-old" Naomi Yazima. The open secret that all three are the same person was a big joke when all three were technically recording music. During a television program, Naomi asked for another musician's autograph and to have it made out to "Naomi Show Ozma". The Show Ayanocozey and DJ OZMA personas were even made to have a faux-rivalry between them, and they had a shared concert where they even performed on stage together (with DJ OZMA played by a member of the OZMA entourage who was to "inherit" the band in another publicity stunt), and at a later time DJ OZMA performed with the other two members of Yazima Beauty Salon as OZMA rather than Naomi. He kept the ruse up until he appeared on a talk show in 2013 and admitted (as Show) that he and OZMA were "the same character".
    • Yazima Beauty Salon is just Show Ayanocozey/DJ OZMA and Japanese comic duo the Tunnels Noritake Kinashi and Takaaki Ishibashi in drag, with Kinashi as the matriarch Margaret Yazima, Ayanocozey/OZMA as the eldest daughter Naomi, and the six-foot tall Ishibashi portraying the 12-year-old Strawberry.
  • Lady Gaga went to her little sister's graduation in full Gaga regalia. She later said that she considers her entire life to be part of her 'character'.
  • Lordi are monsters... who have sued to bury images of them out of costume.
  • Masked Intruder are four ski-mask-clad criminals who formed a pop-punk band while in jail together, only differentiated from each other by the colors of their masks and shoes note  . Lead vocalist Intruder Blue apparently got in trouble with the law due to his Stalker with a Crush tendencies, so a lot of their material consists of obsession songs being played for humor.
  • ManoWar consists of really manly men, fantasy heroes who are always ready to kill anyone. With STEEL, of course.
  • Markoolio plays this on two levels. His first persona is this cool playboy, gangster, warrior, expert soccer strategist, and so on. However, this facade breaks all the time, especially since his own chorus are disloyal to him and frequently rat him out to the audience - exposing him as the total failure and Small Name, Big Ego that he really is. Of course, this "real person, under the mask" is just as fabricated as the first level.
  • Industrial Metal artist Mortiis, for a long time, was never seen without his troll mask on, with its pointed nose and big ears. In 2005 for his album The Grudge his mask took on a more artificial appearance, looking like it had been stitched and stapled to his face. After that, however, he finally removed the mask. And then brought it back a few years later due to popular demand.
  • M¥SS KETA: The identity of the actual singer behind the sunglasses and the mask is unknown. The only known thing is that she hails from Milan, since this is a collective project meant to represent the city's nightlife and excesses among other things.
  • Country singer Orville Peck is another example of this, as he always appears in public wearing a mask.
  • Invoked and Lampshaded by Pink Floyd in The Wall in "In the Flesh". Ironically, it's a Bookend to the song "In the Flesh?" where backup or guest musicians usually take the place of Pink Floyd wearing Pink Floyd masks.
  • The band Rolandz has developed a quite solid discography and even been on tour. Its singer, Roland, is a character from a comedy movie. The real singer is the same actor who played Roland in that movie.
  • The Death Metal band Portal (no relation to the video game) have never performed in public without their costumes, and three of the band members' real names aren't even known to the public (two of them are known to be Brad Loong and Kevin Kevinson from Impetuous Ritual and Grave Upheaval though).
  • The Project SEKAI Colorful Live - 1st Link - concert has projections of the games original cast of characters and Virtual Singers (formerly called Vocaloids) performing in front of a real band.
  • Japanese Visual Kei band Psycho le Cému is basically a Cosplay band that plays as if they were an anime/video game/tokusatsu Five-Man Band ripped directly from the source into live-action version, as seen in their many music videos and in some of their concerts, where even they make live-action RPG.
  • The Residents are never seen in public without their trademark eyeball masks. There's a general assumption that the four "managers" that appear with them and speak on their behalf are at least partially composed of the actual members of the band.
  • The Japanese metal band SEIKIMA-II performs as a group of Akuma (demons) from the futuristic hyper-evolved dimension Makai that preach a demonic religion and aim to take over the world through their music. They were destined to disband at the end of the century (seikimatsu, another way to say the band's name, means "century's end", as any Fist of the North Star fan knows), but they've reunited several times since, once in response to the Touhoku earthquake and tsunami disaster.
  • The YouTube channel SiIvaGunner has this to a certain extent. It's a wholesale impersonation of another YouTuber that uploaded Game Music, so no credit is given and the channel is dolled up to look like it's just some guy archiving their favorite soundtracks for fun, while in reality it's a large amount of people working behind the scenes to make remixes of those songs. However, it is downplayed: every video's description asks the viewer to "please read the channel description", with said description having a disclaimer in regards to this Anonymous Band aspect (though it comes just shy of mentioning that it's a Bait-and-Switch channel). Completely averted on the Bandcamp however, where all songs are credited to the correct artist. Strangely enough, this applies In-Universe too: the channel initially had a faux-Author Avatar character named SiIvaGunner, but he was supplanted via Hostile Show Takeover by The Voice. The effect of this to the channel's mannerisms? On the "bait" side of things, pretty much nothing—the "read the channel description" part was rephrased to better fit The Voice, but that's it. The Voice was later supplanted himself by Haltmann, who again acted mostly the same with only the one line being switched. Haltmann eventually invoked kayfabe by setting up an AI to act like the original SiIvaGunner. (Also, the proper artist credits on the Bandcamp are said to be unreadable corrupted data to all characters except the one Fourth-Wall Observer.)
  • Steel Panther use fake names and pretend to be a failed Hair Metal band from The '80s.
  • Tom Green's album Not The Green Tom Show was recorded under an alter-ego, the ill-tempered rapper MC Face. Tom Green himself is supposedly just MC Face's producer, and it's a running gag throughout the album that MC Face will include lyrical jabs towards Tom Green and his friends in songs, insult him in between-song skits, or antagonize him in staged Studio Chatter. By the end of the album, Tom Green finally has enough and walks out, leaving MC Face to do the last song completely acapella.
  • Unknown Hinson is just the onstage persona of Stuart D. Baker, but is presented as if he's a real individual.
  • Unknown P the posh drill rapper is a character created by British comedian Munya Chawawa for a series of sketches, who happened to become popular enough for Munya to launch a comedy music career as Unknown P.
  • In Versailles, the band members were vampiric immortal aristocrats from the Romantic era.
  • At the live Vocaloid concerts, the band is real enough, but the lead "singer" is a projected image (and not really a singer at all).
  • The White Stripes' Jack and Meg maintained that they were brother and sister long after it was public knowledge that they were actually Amicable Exes. Jack said it originally started so that people wouldn't constantly focus on their relationship over the music, and presumably they just maintained it as part of the band's identity.
  • The electro-industrial project Zombie Girl has singer Renee Cooper as the eponymous zombie, always appearing in corpse make-up and claiming to be undead in her lyrics.

Examples, other media:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Since 2015 or so, this has become a veritable genre, and one of the most popular in Japan. Between hologram concerts (like Vocaloid), voice actor live events, and 2.5D stage plays, Idol Singer anime have found ways to make 2D groups feel fully real. Series include
    • Uta No Prince Sama, which released a full-length anime concert film in 2022
    • Tsukipro, with over 30 2.5D stage productions featuring a Dance Live in each
    • Hypnosis Mic, which increased interactivity through its single releases.
    • Love Live!, one of the most successful franchises.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Pondus, Pondus believes that a certain rock band truly lives the creed of "Drugs, Sex & Rock'n'Roll". In one strip, the band is shown working out and eating healthy food. Suddenly their manager come in and yell at them that the journalists will be there any minute. And thus, they quickly trash themselves down to look as if they have been partying and boozing up all night. Then the scene switches to Pondus and his wife watching the television. A journalist is (or probably rather is pretending to be) surprised that the band members manage to stay healthy with this lifestyle. The singer explains this with "It's rock'n'roll, baby. It becomes a lifestyle." and Pondus tries to get his wife to accept this message as gospel.
  • Discussed in Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin's mom explains the kayfabe by stating that heavy metal death bands are just creating characters to sell records.
    "Calvin, the fact that these bands haven't killed themselves in ritual self-sacrifice shows that they're just in it for the money like everyone else."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Tropic Thunder, Alpa Chino is a rapper who is overly heterosexual in his music and videos, but is secretly gay. He eventually comes out of the closet, and is seen at the Oscars where Tug Speedman wins one with his boyfriend Lance Bass.
  • KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park: What if Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter's stage personas of the Demon, the Starchild, the Space-Ace and the Cat-Man were real superheroes? Well, that's the premise. (The idea was taken even further in the Marvel comics starring the boys; they aren't a band at all there, just pure superheroes!)

    Live-Action TV 
  • Law & Order: SVU used this twice. Two big scary musicians, suspected of horrible crimes.
    • One is a black "gangster" rapper suspected of the rape/murder of a white woman. However, he is actually quite naive and has no experience in real crime, his gangster persona being nothing more than a kayfabe persona. The woman was one of his friends, and he ends up getting killed by a real gangster (who just happens to be white) as he's trying to help the detectives catch the real villain.
    • The other is a "vampire" who is afraid of getting HIV from real blood.

  • The very first story in Schlock Mercenary had the mercenaries under contract as bodyguards for the Boy Band "New Sync Boys". It turned out the band members were all holograms controlled by a single AI, who was so disgusted by the whole thing that he ran away by stowing away in their ship's computer and later joining officially under the name 'Ennesby'. A young woman who joins the crew years later is very upset when she meets him and learns the truth, having been emotionally devastated when the publisher covered it up by claiming they all died in a shuttle accident.

    Western Animation 
  • Lead-singer Jem from Jem and the Holograms is a holographic projection protecting the identity of Jerrica, the company owner.
  • In Arthur, the band Binky is made of up Hologram musicians and synthesized sounds. Apparently an open secret, as the episode on the band has them materialize from nowhere during a live performance.

Alternative Title(s): Kayfabe Band