By Whitney Pastorek
Updated August 26, 2009 at 04:14 PM EDT

EW’s Music Mix is searching for the Greatest Guilty Pleasure Musical Act of All Time. With 32 seeded contestants (see all the matchups), this tournament is sure to change hearts, minds, and lives for weeks to come. Read/listen to the following, and then cast your vote in the poll after the jump; reader comments will be used in subsequent rounds, so we encourage you to also post a comment explaining why you chose the way you did. Note: In case of a tie, please select the artist you feel more ashamed to adore. Thank you.

There have been plenty of Mileys before. Annette Funicello was an early version, dolled up in mouse ears and a weapons-grade bra. So was Tanya Tucker, passing out hard-won country wisdom at the ripe old age of 13. There’s been Debbie, Tiffany, Britney, and Hilary, each with an army of tweenlets in her thrall, each better than the last at turning herself into a multi-headed marketing hydra of merchandise and tours and albums. And, make no mistake about it, there are even more Mileys yet to come, whether from within the Disney machine (Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato), from a rival (Nickelodeon’s Miranda Cosgrove), or from a random flare-up in the teen pop ether. They’ll sparkle just like she does (maybe even brighter), all smiles and just-like-me charm, ready to lead a new generation out of nursery rhymes and into the world of big-kid music.

But just because our current Miley probably only has a few more years on top doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take this time to enjoy her particular charms. She’s perky and pretty. She loves her dad and her God and her country. She’s at least partly responsible for one of the greatest power pop songs of the decade: the creepy, kinetic “See You Again.” And best of all, she’s finally on the verge of dumping her pointless Hannah Montana alter-ego, with its used-up shtick and that ghastly Miss Teen Estonia wardrobe. If her swaggering new single, “Party in the USA,” is any indication, the next phase of Miley could be an age of bass-up, windows-down jams that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to throw on at a BBQ. Or at least a BBQ with a lot of gay guys.

So if you’re not already a fan, there’s really no better time to begin the conversion process, which generally goes like this:

STAGE 1.) “I’m just seeing what all the fuss is about.”

STAGE 2.) “Ok, so I have “See You Again” on my running mix. It’s not like I actually LISTEN to this stuff.”

STAGE 3.) “Isn’t it hilarious that I downloaded her whole album? It’s SO bad!”

STAGE 4.) This.

Scoff all you want, but I’ve seen it over and over again. And if you honestly can’t get on board this time around (you poor, joyless soul), don’t worry. There’s always another Miley just around the corner. — Adam Markovitz

Lady Gaga is not just a guilty pleasure. Lady Gaga is our modern guilt personified. She represents everything that we have never wanted to admit we so badly desire: not just money, but grotesque wealth; not just sex, but pansexual Kubrick costume orgies. The title of her first album, The Fame, says it all. Her songs portray a world where everywhere is L.A., and everyone is infamous. “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” plays like a theme song for a period piece about the Oughts, a decade of hourly tabloid scandal, C-list celebreality TV, and the dawn of the sex tape as a career generator.

Gaga’s subject is everything in pop culture besides the artistry — the pop without the culture — which is why she makes us feel guilty. But don’t forget the pleasure: Gaga has a panoramic vision of what pop is, and what it could be. She put it best in a recent interview with Norway’s NRK Lydverket: “Pop music is the only music in the whole world that, no matter who you are and where you live, when that one pop song comes on, it moves anyone, anywhere in the world. It’s got that magical, visceral power.”

Pop music as the global language? Giggle all you want at the pretension, but Gaga is consistently expanding our definition of mainstream: the retro-future Dr. Seuss wardrobe, the open bisexuality treated as matter-of-fact lifestyle, the verses that dip into sing-song rap, the music videos that resemble an episode of The Hills directed by Federico Fellini. (Gaga, dancing in crutches and a metal leotard! Gaga, emerging from a pool flanked by twin Great Danes!)

It makes sense that Gaga and Beyoncé are facing off at the VMAs this year. Beyoncé has devoted her career to classing up pop music. She radiates a perfect mixture of grace and approachability, so she can star in a Baz Luhrmann musical number one week and a Nintendo DS commercial the next. Lady Gaga argues that pop music doesn’t need class; that, in fact, trash is its own form of grandeur.

And just when you think Gaga’s a gimmick act, she’ll surprise you with musical chops that put to shame other, less guilty artists. Look at her acoustic piano performance of “Poker Face,” which proves she earned all those co-writing credits (and also that those pipes don’t need auto-tune). Or listen to “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say),” a break-up track so chirpy you whistle while it breaks your heart.

Or really listen to the lyrics of “Paparazzi,” Gaga’s best, most shallow, and yet most personal song. “Paparazzi” takes the bête noire of modern culture — the vultures who take all those pictures of celebrities you pretend to be tired of seeing — and weaves a love poem around them. Gaga imagines the photographer and the photographed as dark, twisted lovers, in a song that seems to directly express our contemporary society of spectacle. The paparazzi as romantic figures? Ridiculous, trashy, naïve, insane, and unforgettable. In a word, Gaga. — Darren Franich

Photo Credit: Cyrus: Bob D’Amico/Disney