Do you remember 1999? That was the year we lived in fear of Y2K, became obsessed with The Matrix, and first heard Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time.” It was also the year best-selling country singer Garth Brooks created a crazy alter-ego named Chris Gaines—and confused the heck out of all his fans. But was Brooks’ wacky scheme actually an act of musical genius? Here’s a look into one of the wildest promotional stunts of all time.
Why Did Garth Brooks Have An Alter Ego?
Garth Brooks was a megastar at the turn of the 20th century. Since kicking off his music career in the late 1980s, the artist had released eight chart-topping studio albums, a record-breaking live album, and had completed two enormously successful world tours. He was a bonafide country music legend who had managed to become mainstream, as well.
In September of 1999, the singer decided to branch out even further and get creative in a whole new (and confusing!) way. That was when he released an album called Garth Brooks…In the Life of Chris Gaines, and left fans (and critics!) around the world scratching their heads.
The album cover featured a close-up of Brooks’ face, however, he did not look like his normal, country-hat-wearing self. Instead, the singer sported dark and messy bangs, heavily-lined eyes, a brooding glare, and a soul patch. The music was also not what fans expected. Instead of featuring his trademark country twang, the songs on the album had more of a pop-rock-alternative kind of sound.
Clearly, Brooks wanted to experiment with a new music genre and explore a new style, but the question was, why did he have to become Chris Gaines to do it? Turns out, there was a sound reason behind his transformation, but it was anything but simple.
Chris Gaines’ Backstory
The real reason Garth Brooks took on the Chris Gaines persona was to create buzz for a movie that had not even been made yet. Called The Lamb, the film was to follow the wild life of a rock-and-roll star named Chris Gaines. Brooks had devised a dramatic, soap opera-esque backstory for the character that included car wrecks, contract disputes, sex addiction, and even reconstructive face surgery.
Garth Brooks…In the Life of Chris Gaines was released a year ahead of the planned movie release to pique curiosity about the fictional musician. In addition to the album, a faux documentary in the style of VH1’s Behind the Music was unleashed on unsuspecting TV audiences. Featuring Garth as Gaines, the show had professional actors playing the significant people in Gaines’ life. To say viewers were confused would be an understatement.
Brooks topped off the promotional hoax on November 13, 1999 by hosting Saturday Night Live with—you guessed it—Chris Gaines as the musical guest. One skit even featured funnyman Tracy Morgan trash-talking Gaines right to Brooks’ face, not realizing they were the same person.
Why Chris Gaines Was Unsuccessful
Despite all the effort that was put into creating a big buzz about Chris Gaines, the promotional strategy was a major fail. The album was a big disappointment, selling just 700,000 copes by April 1, 2000, and two million in total. To put that in context, Brooks’ previous album, Sevens, sold over 10 million copies.
To add insult to injury, The Lamb never ended up being made because the response to the Gaines person was so poor. Most people just didn’t get what Brooks was doing, much to the singer’s chagrin. “A lot of people misunderstood it, and my ribs are still sore from getting the [expletive] kicked out of me for it,” he joked in an interview last year with Yahoo.
But Brooks also said there were a few sly fans who were on board with Chris Gaines and actually liked the music. “You realize that the people who got it, got it,” he said. “And the people who never got it, never picked it up. So that makes me feel good, because I got to tell you, I’m surprised you brought this up, but everybody that ever does mention it to me says it’s their favorite Garth Brooks album.”
Will Chris Gaines Make A Comeback?
Fortunately, Garth Brook quickly recovered from the Chris Gaines fallout. His next album, Scarecrow, was certified five-times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America and sold more than five million copies in the U.S. alone. The country star also found love and married fellow country crooner Trisha Yearwood in 2005—and the couple is still going strong, despite rumors that suggest otherwise.
Now that 20 years have passed, would Garth Brooks consider letting Chris Gaines make comeback? During an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Yearwood said she was all for it—“I love that record!” she yelled. Brooks didn’t reveal much but did say, “Oh, I don’t know. I do think that would make 2020 complete.”
In the meantime, Brooks is set to release his next album, Fun, on November 20, 2020.
What’s your opinion of Chris Gaines—would you like to see him resurrected or should Brooks’ alter ego stay in 1999?