By Whitney Pastorek
Updated August 05, 2009 at 06:04 PM EDT

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.

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