When I was fourteen, I'd have done anything for Garth Brooks. Anything. Last year, when I first heard My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, my simmering love for Kanye West reached its boiling point and I put him on a pedestal I never plan to take him down from... yes, even considering Kim Kardashian.
I started contemplating what these two men might have in common (and not). I thought I'd give the old "contrast and compare" exercise in critical thinking a try, and maybe figure out something about why these two seemingly opposite musicians have each appealed so much to my heart-parts.
Kanye West: "Through The Wire"
Garth Brooks: "Standing Outside The Fire"
Let us be perfectly clear: Kanye West is not standing outside the fire. He has scars to show, including the one straight across his face from the auto accident that left his mouth wired shut for a number of weeks which included the day he recorded “Through The Wire”. He lets go, He dances within the flame, and chances the sorrow and the shame that always comes with getting burned. This theme is a constant of both Kanye’s and Garth’s: to succeed one has to be brave and vulnerable, rather than safe and scared. The moments when we are weak, overpowered, or hurt are essential to our success. As Kanye put it:
“Through The Wire’ is the worst thing that could have possibly happen to me, and now it's obviously the best thing.”
Kanye West feat. Rihanna and Kid Cudi: "All Of The Lights"
Garth Brooks: "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)"
Kanye’s recent efforts tightly focus on the intersection of ego and self-doubt, but this Garth Brooks song seems to live on that line as well. I think the current in both of these songs is men who have lived the dream and then turned around and seen actual happiness in the eyes of other men who chose love over adventure. They yearn to unlonely themselves, but can not bring themselves to turn away from the bright lights.
Jay-Z & Kanye West: "N***as In Paris"
Garth Brooks: "Friends In Low Places"
“I believe in the Wal-Mart school of business. The less people pay, the more they enjoy it.” -Garth Brooks
Because we know from whence JZ and KW came, it’s positively exhilarating to listen to them sing about them just having a good time. Garth Brooks seems to be trying to authenticate himself in this song by claiming that his friends come from “low” places and that he’s looking up at the “ivory tower” from far below, but there’s nothing interesting in what he’s saying ‘cause there’s nothing true about it. Admitting that 50 grand ain’t nothing to “a mother***er like me” is, surprisingly, a much more touching revelation than anything in Garth’s ode to pseudo-poverty.
“Having money isn't everything, not having it is.” - Kanye West
Kanye West: "Hey Mama"
Garth Brooks: "Papa Loved Mama"
The contrast between Kanye’s narrator effusively shining a beam of love on his single mom and Garth’s narrator gleefully retelling of his mother’s murder is stark. Make of that whatever you will.
Kanye West: "Heartless"
Garth Brooks: "The Thunder Rolls"
From an autobiographical perspective, it’s fascinating to see both of these songs address unfaithfulness from the victim’s perspective. After the dissolution of his first marriage, Garth admitted to cheating on multiple occasions with country groupies. Many also assume that his longtime friend and second wife, Trisha Yearwood, may have been his mistress before his divorce went through. Meanwhile, Amber Rose claims that the breakup that inspired this very song was caused by Kanye’s cheating (with Kim Kardashian!).
That history makes the fact that the protaganist of each of these songs is a scorned victim of adultery, and the evil villain an adulterer seem a little odd. Is it self-hatred, denial, or empathy? All of the above?
Kanye West: "Stronger"
Garth Brooks: "Ain't Goin' Down (Till The Sun Comes Up)"
These are two dudes that know how to party and don't really seem to care what you think about it. Listening to "Ain't Goin' Down," I can't believe that my parents let me listen to Garth Brooks at all. This is a song about teenagers going out to party and then going back to their care to, uh, make out, and coming home as the sun rises. Then they do it all over again. "Stronger" is about Kanye flexing his ego muscle with the ladies -- "play secretary, I'm the boss tonight" -- and then I guess it's also about overcoming bad things, or whatever. But mostly sexy stuff.
In summary: these songs are both just good fun. Garth Brooks doesn't really want your teenagers making babies and Kanye West doesn't really think that women are disposable toys. They're stories! Party time!
Kanye West feat. Bon Iver: "Lost In The World"
Garth Brooks: "The River"
“A dream is like a river
ever changing as it flows
I’m up in the woods
I’m down on my mind
And the dreamer’s just a vessel
that must follow where it goes
I’m building a still
to slow down the time
Trying to learn from what’s behind you
and never knowing what’s in store
I’m lost in the world
I’m down on my mind
Makes each day a constant battle
Just to stay between the shore.
I’m building a city
And I’m down for the night."