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Country music is forever wrestling with its identity: Is it authentic enough? What are the boundaries? When is catchy too “pop”? Forty years ago, after a hit 1980 movie called Urban Cowboy, country-pop was the flavor of the moment, turning acts from Kenny Rogers to Eddie Rabbitt to Juice Newton into pop stars. And then the fad ended, and Nashville’s sales slumped—it seemed like country authenticity and chart success were mutually exclusive.
Garth Brooks said to hell with all that. In the ’90s, he was country-authentic, ignored pop radio, and still utterly dominated the charts—the decade’s biggest multiplatinum megastar, of any genre. Brooks took on chart competitors from Guns n’ Roses to Madonna to Mariah Carey and bested them all … until he tried taking on the Beatles. (And we’re still scratching our heads over that Chris Gaines thing.) This month, Chris Molanphy dissects how Garth did it: How he rebooted country for the 21st century.
Chris Molanphy, a pop-chart analyst and author of Slate’s “Why Is This Song No. 1?” series, tells tales from a half-century of chart history. Through storytelling, trivia, and song snippets, Chris dissects how that song you love—or hate—dominated the airwaves, made its way to the top of the charts, and shaped your memories forever.