Of course he did. Of course Jay Leno asked Garth Brooks to sing “The Dance” on his final episode of The Tonight Show. It’s all too obvious: Leno has been the foil of self-consciously urbane viewers since taking Tonight back from Conan O’Brien, if way earlier. Brooks is his favorite singer. This weepy ballad from the country megastar’s self-titled 1989 debut album has been played at emotional moments before, including after the death of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. And even Brooks’ introduction was corporate and awkward: “You never chose any special format over another, you never chose a network over another” is a weird prelude to “I love you with all my heart.”
But the reality is, though a rebel like Eric Church is the guy on SPIN’s latest cover, Brooks is still huge. His Walmart-only box set topped the charts last December, and his 2014 world tour, as Leno points out, just sold out five nights at a stadium in Dublin, Ireland. Five nights. Both Leno and Brooks made their way with big, unabashedly corny approaches that kept in mind there are more people in the world than our friends who air glib criticisms on Twitter (see Ad Age). We could’ve missed potentially looking uncool, but we would’ve missed — wait, shouldn’t Leno and Billy Crystal have been dancing or something? Well, just remember that while the famously big-chinned late-night host is headed off toward retirement, Brooks is poised to fill arenas around the globe this year. You knew it was coming.
Check out Eric Weisbard’s review of Garth Brooks’ Fresh Horses in SPIN’s February 1996 issue.