Remembering Garth Brooks' Alter-Ego Chris Gaines
In the 1990s, Garth Brooks had been riding an unprecedented wave of success. His first album was released in 1989 and he broke nearly every music record out there for the next ten years solid. He set concert attendance records, was a best-selling artist worldwide, every album he released went platinum multiple times and he won nearly every major music award available.
And then, inexplicably, in 1999 at the tail end of a decade that he just flat owned, Brooks decided to mess with the formula. In one of the most perplexing events to ever happen in pop music, Garth Brooks invented Chris Gaines.
Maybe Brooks was rebelling against his success or maybe he just needed a change. But most likely, he was sick of the confines of country music.
Country, like any good subculture, has its own unwritten rules about how a person should speak, what words they should use, where they should go, who they should interact with and -- especially -- what they should wear.
Which obnoxious shirts? These obnoxious shirts.
Every genre has a uniform and conformity is demanded. Rappers wear gold chains and bling just like country stars wear pointed boots and cowboy hats. Brooks wore all of that plus those nut-exploding painted-on jeans and a whole series of bad rodeo wear. Maybe he was just sick of having to wear those damn obnoxious shirts?
Particularly in country music, conformity is demanded and artists are expected to acquiesce or be promptly smacked down by Nashville executives. The idea of a "country crossover artist" -- now presented so perfectly by Taylor Swift -- was looked down upon in 1990s country music. At the time, artists like the Dixie Chicks had been labeled with the "crossover" tag, but that's because the members didn't dress classically country. They sure sounded country, though.
So while artists and potential label signees were being told they weren't "country" enough, Garth Brooks, the absolute King of Modern Country, threw his cowboy hat out the tractor window and went digging in his dress-up trunk. Confined by his own specific success, Brooks couldn't just go make a pop album, he had to invent a character.
Seemingly overnight, Brooks morphed into Chris Gaines, the fabricated pop singer with an invented background and an entirely different musical style and singing voice. Supposedly built as a character for a never-completed movie staring Garth Brooks, the character of Chris Gaines soon took on a life of its own, with Brooks performing, doing interviews as and even staring in a VH1 Behind the Music "documentary" as Gaines.
Gaines had flat-ironed angular black hair (a wig), a severe soul patch and terrible Eurotrash clothes. Gaines also had his own elaborate back-story with a whole big fake history of family troubles and personal problems. He was pensive, deep guy who was also supposed to be from Australia.
The from Australia part was the worst decision of them all (now Brooks had to attempt to pull off an accent, too), but Brooks later said that the hardest part of being Chris Gaines was not trying on a brand-new personality, but trying to look thinner. Brooks designed Gaines to be 40 pounds lighter than him, meaning that Brooks was constantly making Zoolander's "Blue Steel" face in Gaines photos because he was always sucking in his cheeks.
Just like his inventor, eventually Gaines cracked the Billboard charts. His Babyface-esque "Lost in You" made it all the way to the Top 5. Brooks' time as Gaines was largely seen as some symptom of a mid-life crisis or a full-fledged freak-out, but he definitely had enough talent for two artists.
It was odd from top to bottom -- he came off like a total nutter, and it essentially marked the end of his career as a major player in the music industry. But Brooks took the biggest risk of his career with Gaines and cheers to him for that. His rebellion wasn't even Gaines, his rebellion was refusing to not rebel. Basically, this country guy dressing up and posing like a gothic MySpace teenager was somehow totally punk. Go Garth.
Brooks retired from recording and performing for almost a decade after the Gaines Disaster but has since released a few singles, done a residency in Las Vegas and dropped a rare performance here and there. But now Brooks has put his hat back on and has scheduled a world tour.
Will it be the biggest comeback of all time? Probably. Brooks already has the future of entire cities hanging on his stirrups like he's the gosh-darn Olympic games.
Garth, we know you're really busy and all but can we make just one request? Have Chris Gaines as your tour opener. We love him. Please? Thanks.
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