— HONKY-TONK ANGEL: He strums an okay guitar, but autocratic country superstar Garth Brooks continues to demonstrate that his real passion is pushing product. Case in point: Brooks’ recent arrangement with Oprah Winfrey, in which he agreed to donate seven days of earnings from sales of his quintuple-platinum album, Sevens, to the college scholarship division of Oprah’s Angel Network, if she plugged Sevens on her show for one week, beginning Feb. 9. Winfrey complied, in the process helping send the album — which had sold a sluggish 46,000 units the week before — back over the 100,000-unit mark (125,000) and giving skeptics reason to wonder whether Brooks’ generosity was more chicanery than philanthropy.
Some view the timing of the announcement for Valentine’s Day week — when lovestruck consumers generally give album sales a boost — as an especially canny strategy. Of course, the no-brainer marketing move was in securing the all-powerful Oprah imprimatur, which in the past year has sparked stratospheric sales for those lucky authors fortunate enough to have their books recommended by Oprah’s Book Club.
Bruce Feiler, author of the forthcoming book Dreaming Out Loud: Garth Brooks, Wynonna Judd, Wade Hayes, and the Changing Face of Nashville, says many in Nashville view this latest example of Brooks’ magnanimity as desperate salesmanship. ”For years Garth has used acts of generosity to mark his sales accomplishments and to spur more,” says Feiler. ”He gave Jaguars to his managers; he gave prizes to fans who bought his millionth or two millionth concert tickets. The [Winfrey charity gesture] was clearly an attempt to make him seem generous, while moving him closer to his label’s stated goal of selling 10 million copies of Sevens, a goal that seemed unattainable just the week before.”
In response to questions about Brooks’ motives, a Winfrey spokesperson issued this statement: ”The money is going to needy students for college scholarships, and that is what is important to The Oprah Winfrey Show.” The singing cowboy himself declined to comment but announced he will continue to donate his share of Sevens’ profits for each week in which the album sells over 100,000 copies. Is there no end to this man’s largesse?