Recognized simply by his silhouette, Garth Brooks appears to have had the music industry and the media scratching their heads in recent weeks with his decision to morph into a fictional rock singer named Chris Gaines. The media’s confusion is compounded by the recent CD release of Gaines’s ’Greatest Hits’ collection that never happened and a biographical movie due out late next year about a person who never existed.
Recognized simply by his silhouette, Garth Brooks appears to have
had the music industry and the media scratching their heads in recent
weeks with his decision to morph into a fictional rock singer named
Chris Gaines. The media’s confusion is compounded by the recent CD
release of Gaines’s ’Greatest Hits’ collection that never happened and a
biographical movie due out late next year about a person who never
It seems through the eyes of the media that part of Brooks’s appeal has
always been his ’aw shucks’ sincerity, which has made this idea appear
to be the wackiest marketing ploy since Prince changed his name. CARMA’s
examination of the coverage surrounding Brooks’s strategy revealed that
while one could view the move as a marketing ploy, there might also be a
real desire to re-energize his career.
Criticism is nothing new for Brooks. Much of the media coverage jumped
to the conclusion that he was milking the publicity for pure profit and
to gain pop status. Brooks, however, showed in a number of interviews
that he was serious about the challenge and proud of the results, noting
that ’when people ask what’s the difference between this and a Garth
record, Garth records are simple to make. This whole thing is not’
(Boston Globe, September 27).
Despite the many months of meticulously planned pre-release hype
surrounding the ambitious but unique project, the ’public still don’t
get it.’ Maybe so, but for some in the music industry, too much has been
read into Brooks’s puzzling move. Stan Atkinson of Milwaukee’s WLTQ-FM
explained, ’If he wants to take on a new challenge, he deserves it’ (The
Seattle Times, September 29).
But the question remains: are people just enjoying the song, or are they
really intrigued by the whole Garth-is-Chris persona? Some elements of
the media focused on his alter ego. Writer Bruce Feiler, who profiled
Brooks in Esquire last year, felt that his argument that Brooks was
controlling his schizophrenia had gained credence, adding, ’Here’s Chris
Gaines, a guy who gets killed off and is resurrected by Garth. This is
the inner recesses of Garth’s imagination, and a lot of fans are scared
about it’ (Atlanta Constitution, September 26).
Though much can be read into the move, Brooks deserves a pat on the hat
for his undertaking. As the Chicago Tribune (September 29) pointed out,
what may be most interesting about Garth’s move is what a pseudonym
tells us about modern culture. As the article highlighted the long
history of famous people using pseudonyms, cultural expert Richard Stark
surmised, ’the distinction between serious and trivial realms of public
life has all but disappeared. The thing that is serious and meaningful
is the fame itself and that is counted on to help sell (the
Ultimately, it’s too bad that the reviews found his music catchy, but
not as fascinating as the decision to create a Chris Gaines
Brooks has become the most successful country music singer because he is
a remarkable communicator. And though one should not be condemned for
working outside the country box, the transition could have come more
One could argue that Brooks might do better to let the music do the
talking rather than the publicity machine.
- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be
found at www.carma.com.