October 1, 2019

The Chris Gaines Stunt: 20 Years Later

Tuesdays With Coleman

If something (or someone) is popular, why should brand fit matter?

If a song is a huge hit, shouldn’t it be safe to play on any radio station?

If a morning show is popular on one music format, wouldn’t the show work on every format?

If a TV show is popular, does the network really matter?

Just because something (or someone) is popular does not mean it will be popular on every platform or in every circumstance.

Need proof?

Just ask Garth Brooks.

By 1999, Brooks had released seven studio albums, not including holiday recordings. Each sold at least seven million copies. His 1996 world tour lasted two years, 220 shows and drew record-breaking crowds around the globe. You could easily make the case that Garth Brooks was at the height of his popularity when he released his eighth studio album 20 years ago this week. It wasn’t a Country album. It was billed as a “rock & roll” album, but it was really a Pop album.

It was called “Garth Brooks In…The Life of Chris Gaines”.

Sort of. The album cover said something different.

“Chris Gaines Greatest Hits,” with no reference to Garth.

Chris Gaines Greatest Hits

The album cover featured a picture of Garth, but it didn’t look like him, because duh! It’s Chris Gaines!

The “greatest hits” album contained songs from previous Chris Gaines albums that didn’t exist. You know, like “Straight Jacket” and “Fornucopia”.

Chris Gaines albums

Did you know Chris Gaines was the subject of a movie called “The Lamb,” a suspense thriller about a Gaines superfan who sets out to prove that Gaines was murdered?

Don’t bother adding it to your Netflix queue, because it never got made.

The “Greatest Hits” album was intended to be the pre-soundtrack to the movie, so you could understand the backstory.

Oh hey, there was a VH1 Behind The Music episode about Chris Gaines.

Friend: “I remember going over to Chris’s house, and he was packing a chainsaw in his bag.”

Gaines: “There was a chainsaw on tour. Yes there was.”

You have to admire the effort. You learn all about Gaines’ (not real) life, his sex addiction and the details surrounding his father’s death.

Oh, and there was the time Garth Brooks hosted Saturday Night Live and the musical guest was Chris Gaines.

And there was yet another NBC one-hour special featuring performances by Gaines.

Strangely enough (in case you needed some more strange in this blog), I was there for the filming.

Good luck finding that special anywhere, though I’m pleased to inform you that you can watch YouTuber “icepets queen” tell you about the link in the comments that leads to the video except that it doesn’t.

So the album got released, the movie never got made, and the Chris Gaines experiment went down as a bizarre misstep in Brooks’ career.

With the benefit of retrospect 20 years later, a few things are worth noting:

  • “Chris Gaines Greatest Hits” or…”Garth Brooks In…The Life of Chris Gaines” is certified double platinum.

 

  • It spawned a single, “Lost In You,” that broke the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went to #1 on the Canadian Adult Contemporary chart.

 

  • By today’s standards (and for many other artists back then), it would have been considered a substantial hit.

 

Thinking about the popular artists of 1999, how would the same songs have been received if it were a Matchbox 20 or Goo Goo Dolls album?

We’ll never know.

We do know Popularity isn’t enough on its own and Fit matters.

Pop fans accepted Taylor Swift’s shift from Country because her songs and style had already incorporated Pop. Country fans accepted Darius Rucker’s shift from Pop to Country, because, as Rolling Stone explained five years ago, “Hootie and the Blowfish was Country all along”.

But when MC Hammer, the guy who wore parachute pants and claimed “we got to pray just to make it today” changed his name to Hammer and released “Pumps And A Bump,” neither his existing fan base nor the new fan base he was trying to target was ever going to accept it. Why?

Fit.

MC Hammer becomes Hammer for Pumps And A Bump

In the case of Chris Gaines, Brooks was unable to truly connect with any coalition. His fans at the time found it too weird and esoteric for their tastes. Pop/AC fans were confused because, while Garth Brooks was a huge star, he was a huge Country star with a specific brand. Even though there was crossover, the Pop base wasn’t big enough to sustain the stunt.

Alas, don’t feel too sorry for Garth, who’s enjoyed massive success of late, in post-“retirement” back to embracing his core brand. That probably means, of course, the Chris Gaines “Where Are They Now” episode isn’t coming anytime soon.

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