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Aimee Mann still likes to take risks

Clearly, singer-songwriter Aimee Mann isn't afraid to take risks. The problem, though, is that her risks are obscure and quirky, not commercial and megastar-making. But she has a knack for landing a new cult of fans with each one, progressing beyond pop success with 'til tuesday to her solo career in the early '90s to making perfect cameos in "The Big Lebowski" and "Portlandia."

Here are Mann's five most surprising choices:

1. Leaving home in Richmond, Va., at 18 to enroll at Berklee School of Music. That was a surprise to Mann, anyway. "I was a very fearful person," she later told Billboard. "Leaving Richmond to go to the big city of Boston by myself for music school when I knew nothing but four Neil Young chords on an acoustic guitar -- that completely changed my life."

2. "Whatever." After flaunting her big, spiky, platinum-blond 'til tuesday hairdo on MTV, Mann first attempted to graduate from "Voices Carry" to solo in 1988 -- but she and her label, Epic Records, battled over creative differences. Epic tied up her solo material for three years, after which "Whatever" came out on a new label in 1993. To the public, Mann had an abrupt new persona -- normal-haired singer-songwriter with sharp, pointed rock and roll songs containing great, Beatles-style "bop bop bop" harmonies.

3. "The Big Lebowski." Mann is in the motley collection of German nihilists (including the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea) ordering lingonberry pancakes at a diner in the 1998 Dude classic. Mann is the one with the John Lennon specs, leopard-print tank top and severed toe.

4. "Portlandia." Deadpan Mann plays rubber-gloved housemaid to demanding stars Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen on a 2011 episode of the IFC comedy series. She takes their abuse until they start whaling on a piñata depicting singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan. After Mann stalks out, she finds McLachlan herself trimming hedges. "Did they really make a piñata of me?" "Yeah." "Who does that?"

5. She hasn't had a new album since 2008's "@#%&*! Smilers," but she plans to release one soon. "I found myself writing these pop songs," she recently told a reporter. "Not pop songs like Katy Perry pop, but pop songs more like you'd hear on the radio in the mid to late '70s."

WHO Aimee Mann

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