Remembering Chris Gaines, Garth Brooks' Alter Ego
Alter-ego Chris Gaines on the left, original persona Garth Brooks on the right.
By Jaime Lees
Inspired by Garth Brooks' recent announcement of his world tour, we thought we'd take a minute to look back on our favorite era of Garth-ness: the invention of Brooks' alter-ego, Chris Gaines.
Alter-egos help an artist feel free to express sides of their persona that might make their fans uncomfortable otherwise. When we see an artist as just a ballad singer or just a rapper or just a pretty pop star, the artist often feels the need to rebel in the form of an alter-ego.
David Bowie had multiple alter-egos. Most notably, he posed as Ziggy Stardust, space-age rock superstar. (Not really a stretch.) Bono from U2, ever the overachiever, had three alter-egos: the Fly, Mephisto and the Mirrorball Man. Prince had Camille. Beyonce was briefly evil Illuminati super goddess Sasha Fierce. Gaga did Jo Calderone. Mariah Carey released Mimi.
Janet Jackson was Damita Jo and Strawberry. Eminem was Slim Shady. Mary J. Blige's rap persona is called Brook Lynn, a move revived by Justin Bieber when he rapped under Shawty Mane. The Beatles, heroes of reinvention, found freedom from expectations while posing (and recording) as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. And the most current (and extreme) example of the artist/alter-ego divide is Miley Cyrus / Hannah Montana.
Taking on a full alter-ego isn't the only way to put on a new face. Many artists have flirted with this method to a lesser degree, insisting on being called other names for (usually) brief amounts of time. For example, Snoop Dogg became Snoop Lion, Sean Combs has been everything from Puff Daddy to Puffy to P. Diddy to Diddy. Paul McCartney was briefly going as Gladys Jenkins. David Johansen of the New York Dolls released music under the name Buster Poindexter. Jack White tried to go by Three Quid while touring Europe. Even Hank Williams recorded other song styles under the name Luke the Drifter.
This was a wig... right?
While some stars have varied levels of intensity and commitment when it comes to their alter-egos, Garth Brooks embraced the character of Chris Gaines with an intensity that was weird, off-putting and kind of thrilling. It was one of the greatest train-wreck moments in pop-culture history, right up there with Bald Britney and Michael Jackson dangling "Blanket" over a balcony railing.