Garth Brooks is a beloved country icon and performer with dozens of hits and millions of albums sold.
But he’s had his share of controversy throughout his multi-decade career.
Most recently, Brooks drew backlash after he entered the fray about Bud Light and its partnership with transgender activist and TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney.
Brooks is opening a bar in Nashville later this summer, The Friends In Low Places Bar & Honky Tonk, and spoke about his plans for the bar in an interview with Billboard, which include selling “every brand of beer.”
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“I want it to be a place you feel safe in. I want it to be a place where you feel like there are manners and people like one another. And, yes, we’re going to serve every brand of beer. We just are. It’s not our decision to make,” Brooks said during a panel for Billboard Country Live. “Our thing is this: If you [are let] into this house, love one another. If you’re an a–hole, there are plenty of other places on lower Broadway.”
While some fans were supportive of Brooks, others were vocal in their disapproval of his comments and decision to sell Bud Light.
“If you live in Tennessee, I recommend you never go to @garthbrooks new bar. They’re going to sell Bud Light and apparently he thinks we’re ‘a—holes’ if we don’t like it. Make sure all your friends know that,” one person wrote on Twitter.
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Another spoke of getting rid of a collection of Brooks’ music, noting, “My trash bin is full…I threw out everything that had Garth Brooks name on it.”
“I was a huge fan of yours back in the early nineties, before you fell into the trap of being a star…,” a third wrote. ‘It was always about your fans. Now, we’re, ‘a–holes’ for boycotting Budweiser? Welcome to the boycott.”
Brooks has courted controversy at other points in his career for bold stances and choices.
Banned music video
Brooks released his song “The Thunder Rolls” in 1991, with lyrics alluding to cheating and abuse. An additional verse, omitted from Brooks’ version but later added by country star Tanya Tucker in her version, also alludes to the wife in the story seeking revenge through murder.
For the music video, Brooks played the part of the cheating and abusive husband, with scenes that hint at the fourth verse’s contents. According to the 2009 book “The Garth Factor: The Career Behind Country Music’s Big Boom” by Patsi Bale Cox, Brooks’ label screened the music video for a group of women who approved of the content and considered it a powerful statement against domestic violence.
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The violent nature of the music video got it banned by The Nashville Network (TNN) and CMT. A representative for CMT at the time said the network was “in business to entertain, not to promote or condone gratuitous violence or social issues,” according to the book.
At the time of the video’s controversy, Brooks told Entertainment Weekly, “This is real life. Where I’m from, people aren’t afraid to talk about it.”
Despite the controversy, Brooks won the CMA video of the year award later that year.
“We Shall Be Free” and Super Bowl walkout
In 1992, in the wake of the Los Angeles riots, Brooks released “We Shall Be Free.” The song imagines a world where people are free from hunger, homelessness, homophobia and racism and have both freedom of religion and speech.
The following year, Brooks was set to perform the national anthem at that year’s Super Bowl. He also had an agreement with NBC to air the music video for “We Shall Be Free” before the game.
The network initially refused to air the video, which included intense imagery, such as the KKK burning a cross, flag burning, violent incidents, starving children and positive imagery of people coming together.
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Brooks reportedly left the stadium 45 minutes before he was to perform. According to his 2019 A&E documentary, “Garth Brooks: The Road I’m On,” Brooks felt the network was making excuses for not airing the video.
NBC reportedly looked for a last-minute replacement but ultimately agreed to air the video, and Brooks performed “The Star Spangled Banner” as planned, accompanied by Oscar winner Marlee Matlin performing the song in American Sign Language.
According to former NFL Executive Director Don Weiss’ book, “The Making of the Super Bowl: The Inside Story of the World’s Greatest Sporting Event,” Brooks walking out resulted in the requirement that all Super Bowl renditions of the national anthem be prerecorded.
Brooks celebrated the 25th anniversary of the song in 2017 with an updated music video released on his Facebook page.
“I didn’t think it would be controversial, but when this song first came out, it was not welcomed with opened arms,” Brooks told People in 2017. “I guess I’m always surprised because, I guess, I’m just one of those ignorant guys who thinks that everybody kinda feels the same and, man, we don’t.”
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Chris Gaines Alter Ego
After 10 years of dominating the charts, Brooks unexpectedly presented his alter ego, Chris Gaines.
Gaines was a fictional rock musician from Australiawith dark hair and a soul patch. The character appeared in a mock episode of VH1’s “Behind the Music,” and there was even a potential Chris Gaines biopic. When Brooks hosted “SNL” that year, he appeared as himself but performed as Gaines as the episode’s musical guest.
An album was released, “Garth Brooks in…The Life of Chris Gaines,” put together as a greatest hits of Gaines’ previous (and non-existent) five albums. Despite the confusion created by the character, Brooks scored a Billboard Top 40 pop single with the song “Lost In You.”
In a recent interview during Billboard Country Live, Brooks said he still loved the character and was interested in doing more with Gaines.
“The Gaines project was a lot of time put in because it’s not natural. You’re acting on a record, but I want to do it simply for people who love the Gaines project,” the 61-year-old said.
“And, selfishly, I love the Chris Gaines record. So, I want to do it for me. It challenged me as a vocalist,” added Brooks. “So I don’t know when we’re going to get to it, but it’s on the list.”
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Brooks has been happily married to fellow country icon Trisha Yearwood for nearly two decades but has admitted he wasn’t always the ideal partner.
“I sucked at being a husband. I was horrible at it. I was horrible at being a dad. I had to get my s— together,” Brooks told Billboard recently.
Before his marriage to Yearwood, Brooks was with his first wife, Sandy Mahl, from 1986 to 2001. They have three daughters together — Taylor, August and Allie.
“I was on the front page of the USA Today for being a bad husband and man,” Brooks recalled. “I’d have never survived that if there had been social media, ever.”
In his “Garth Brooks: The Road I’m On” documentary, Mahl spoke about the toll the singer’s career took on their marriage.
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“He’d be gone eight to 10 weeks at a time. He’d come home, [and] there would be No. 1 parties, or shows, or CMAs, or ACMs, American Music Awards. So, it was constantly going. But we both grew apart really, really quickly,” Mahl said.
“I don’t think either of us had stopped to think about how this would change our lives,” she later added.
In a 2020 interview with Fox News Digital, Brooks said Mahl’s perspective surprised him but gave him a greater understanding of their past.
“I heard things from her that she told me our whole life, but I didn’t hear them until now,” he said. “And so my respect and love for her is through the roof for what she went through and how she’s handled it as well.”
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Brooks and Mahl finalized their divorce in 2001, and the “If Tomorrow Never Comes” singer married Yearwood in 2005.
The couple initially met in the late 1980s but were married to other people and did not pursue a relationship until they were both single.
“I was lucky enough to get to marry my best friend” Brooks told Fox News Digital. “So, here you go. We’ve known each other since 1988 or ’87, and so we’ve kind of been through it all together. And we’ve talked about this a long time. If we would have gotten married back in the late ’80s I don’t think our marriage would have survived the ‘90s or our careers would not be what they were.
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“So, I think everything happens right at the right time,” Brooks added. “And if she was the mother of the children, our three children wouldn’t be who they are either. They got the right amount of their mom in them, the right amount of me in them and the right amount of Trisha’s influence in them as well. So I think everything happens for a reason at a time. And I think she would probably tell you the same thing.”