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Whenever an established actor decides to moonlight as a musician, the typical response from audiences is a collective shudder of cringe-worthy déjà vu. After all, who could forget the mind-numbingly awful musical stylings of Bruce Willis, Eddie Murphy, Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and David Hasselhoff? Sometimes their banal offerings are gobbled up by the hungry teen masses (for example, the chart-topping dreck produced by Disney pop princesses like Miley Cyrus and eyeliner-dependent emo rockers like Jared Leto) but in most cases, the albums of egotistical film and television stars are universally panned (here’s looking at you, William Shatner).
So when an actor miraculously possesses musical talent that transcends warbling inane lyrics into Auto-Tune, he or she deserves very special recognition. In honor of music that doesn’t tragically assault the eardrums, here are the top six actors-turned-musicians of the iPod generation:
Although Lewis is best known for charming the skinny jeans off indie fanboys as the lead singer of Rilo Kiley, her weird past as a forgotten child star of the ’80s is even more hipster-ific. As an adorable redheaded moppet, she did “The Freddie” with Shelley Long (Troop Beverly Hills) and stole a teddy bear from Betty White (Golden Girls). However, her best role was in 1989’s The Wizard. Not only did she get to kiss Fred Savage in his heyday, but she also managed to thwart the film’s evil villain by screaming the now-iconic line: “He touched my breast!” While Lewis’ transition from child actress to adult musician has been sublimely impressive (her albums post-Rilo Kiley include collaborations with Conor Oberst, Ben Gibbard, Johnathon Rice, and The Watson Twins), her early work still merits nostalgic preservation on YouTube.
Before he started rapping under the tutelage of Lil Wayne and churning out one hit song after another, Aubrey Drake Graham was just another no-name Canadian actor on Degrassi: The Next Generation. For eight seasons of the never-ending high school soap opera, he played the role of Jimmy Brooks— a humble heartthrob who got shot by a freaky classmate in Season 4 and became a paraplegic. Although this acting tour-de-force did not garner a single Emmy nomination, Drake managed to bounce back with an explosive career in rap music that made Wheelchair Jimmy just a distant pop culture memory.
With her Kewpie doll stare and oddball personality, Deschanel is the most “adorkable” actress on the planet—for better or for worse. She first gained popularity in movies like Almost Famous and Elf, before quickly graduating to the polarizing status of “indie darling” in the sleeper hit 500 Days of Summer and the star-vehicle TV show The New Girl. Fans tend to divide themselves into two camps on the subject of this doe-eyed ingénue: those who find her trademark quirkiness endearing, and those who think that she belongs in an institution for manic-pixie-dream-girls. This contention also extends to her music—although her retro-folksy sound is not nearly as steeped in cliché as her acting style. Deschanel’s singing voice is undeniably lovely (a cross between Judy Garland and June Carter) and her inspired collaboration with indie rocker M. Ward as twee-pop duo She & Him proves that she has more musical talent than most naysayers would care to admit.
McLovin: The Rock Star? This concept is difficult to imagine in the context of Superbad—the hit movie that catapulted Christopher Mintz-Plasse (and his hilariously naïve character McLovin) to instant fame as a nerd icon. However, Mintz-Plasse’s rhythmic timing extends well beyond the realm of the comedic. As the tight yet boisterous drummer for The Young Rapscallions, he pushes the up-and-coming band to funky rock excellence by attacking every beat with style and aplomb. A far cry from the hopelessly inept McLovin, but also a positive step in the right direction for a young rocker who no longer needs a fake I.D. to be a badass.
Schwartzman has a knack for playing eccentric yet inherently likeable characters (Rushmore, I Heart Huckabees, Shopgirl, Bored to Death) and this inclination towards irresistible oddity is also reflected in his music. Formerly the drummer of the now-defunct band Phantom Planet, Schwartzman eventually found solo success as the lead vocalist of Coconut Records: a passion project of multi-instrumental indie pop. 2007’s Nighttiming and 2009’s Davy were both released under Schwartzman’s own Young Baby Records label—a bold move that perfectly encapsulates his unique musical blend of hipster neuroses and California cool.
Gifted actor, intelligent feminist, passionate animal rights activist, and accomplished musician—is there anything Ry-Gos can’t do? In 2008, he started a ghostly folk-rock band called Dead Man’s Bones with longtime friend Zach Shields. Their self-titled debut was released the following year: a weird mixture of children’s choir vocals and spooky lo-fi sound. The record’s supernatural ambience is both insanely creepy and bizarrely alluring, with Gosling’s sexy croon (also used to great effect in Blue Valentine when paired with an Elvis song and tiny ukelele) sending electric shivers down the spine.