I GOT FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES
Garth Brooks Makes His World Taste Better
Let’s be honest. Internationally known musicians with platinum grilles don’t need the money. And yet, well-heeled dopes like Sting, Aerosmith, and now Garth Brooks still find a way to schill for corporations large enough to afford the mad duckets required to retain their services.
In anticipation of Scarecrow, his latest “Ehh, maybe I’m not retiring” LP (due from Capital November 13), Brooks has entered into endorsement deals with both America Online and Dr Pepper. In the spot anchoring the latter’s new ad campaign, four pretty young things find the erstwhile Chris Gaines pickin’ and a-grinnin’ on a midwestern porch with a ragtag band of dobro-packing freaks and a bucket of ice cold Dr Peppers. No doubt drawn by the feelgood rhythms of Brooks’ product-inspired jingle, the girls grab a pepper and proceed to get up on the downstroke with Garth and his merry men. Based around the tagline “Be You,” the ad is a politely dull faux-music video with plenty of (puffy)-faced camera time for Brooks, and no clear message beyond the odd notion that attractive college coeds stuck at Wall Drug would like chilling with the same soda-proffering older dudes they wouldn’t sit by on the subway. It even resembles CMT programming in it’s letterboxed video-style, with a floating Dr Pepper hologram in the corner emulating a video network’s icon. To further prostrate themselves before King Garth, Schweppes (Pepper’s parent company) even agreed to an outro hawking Brooks’ new record, complete with a shot of the cover art and a mention of the release date.
It’s no longer possible to be angry with musicians for compromising their music through corporate tie-ins or sponsorships. It’s a simple fact of marketing for the major labels. Why spend millions on price-point discounts, instore standups, promotional tours, and free shwag when when an artist can get paid by a company hoping he’ll front their breat and butter? It’s the blurring of the line between artist and product that’s irritating. At least Aerosmith isn’t seen cruising the streets of “Truckville” in the spots they soundtrack for Dodge. But the jingle is so unmemorable, the product so offhandedly visible, that Garth Brooks’ Dr Pepper ads become a sort of guerilla music video for his new material. Which is exactly the way he wants it. Brooks’ AOL and Dr Pepper deals are particularly egregious because he seems to be positioning them as an excuse for touring – after all, that would entail being a professional, working artist. At the press conference to announce his new record and single (held at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame, natch), Brooks was happy to discuss his new music, but held off from questions about his ongoing retirement or lack of touring. Indeed, the man in the 4-corner colored shirt hasn’t toured since 1998, and now seems quite content to let his mega-dollar endorsements sell his record for him while he’s out ropin’ the wind in Oklahoma. Yeah yeah yeah, he wants to spend more time with his daughters. Well, during his various hiatuses he’s found plenty of time to try out for the Sand Diego Padres, hasn’t he?
Garth Brooks’ music is never going to save anyone, or give anything other than the cheap thrill of seeing a guy in a cowboy hat fly “Panama”-like across the stage. But his entrance into the endorsement game is only another bullet in the gut for music in general. Musicians aren’t like athletes. It’s okay for dudes like Kobe or Deion to sell Sprite or shoes or even shampoo. Joe Namath hawked panty hose, and everyone had a good laugh. It didn’t make him any less of a quarterback. But musicians need to be cognizant of their place within their art. Brooks’ endorsement deals and others like it can only dilute an industry already cheapened by homogeneity and lack of substance. And no matter how much he wants to be a Pepper too, Garth needs to see that this ain’t the way to go.
Besides, everyone knows that Bruce Willis singing about Seagram’s Golden Wine coolers will always be the coolest porch-based drink advertisement.