Defending Nickelback

Lukas Clark-Memler

Lukas writes about music for a wide range of international publications and a number of vaguely respected websites. He's music editor here at Chelsey, and hates having an empty inbox, so drop him a line with any questions, comments or music to check out at lukas@getfrank.co.nz

Why do you hate the world’s most-hated band? You know who I’m talking about straightaway. They’re the long-haired, goateed, beer-swilling, Canadians who are universally acceptable to hate without justification. They also happen to be one of the most successful rock bands of all time. 

There has never been another band like Nickelback… Say what you like about them - mock their music, their facial hair, their relationships – but when it comes down to it, there has never been a more popular unpopular band in the history of music. Here’s a frightening statistic: in the past decade Nickelback was the second best-selling foreign act in the US… number one was The Beatles.

Since their first hit single “How You Remind Me” in 2001, Nickelback has released five chart-topping albums that have sold over fifty million copies worldwide. In 2009 the band was named Billboard’s most successful group of the decade.

In a decade of plummeting record sales, economic crisis and general musical unemployment, Nickelback has thrived. As the music industry crumbled, as internet piracy plundered the pockets of struggling musicians, as corporate-sponsored pop princesses destroyed the very paradigm of a ‘rock band’, the gravelly boys of Nickelback amassed a small fortune.

In 2011, Nickelback was scheduled to play during an NFL halftime show. Over 55,000 people signed a petition that called to have them replaced. Why were so many people vehemently opposed to Nickelback’s performance? “It’s because they suck,” the petition read. And this essentially is the extent of most people’s justification for their hatred of the Canadian quartet: We hate Nickelback because they suck.

Nickelback polarize, it’s as simple as that. You either love them, or you hate them; you’re with ‘em, or against ‘em. There’s no grey area. While 55,000 people may have signed the aforesaid petition, a few weeks before the football game Nickelback’s seventh studio-album, Here and Now, sold nearly 300,000 copies within its first week of release.

While the band’s commercial popularity is unquestionable, their critical unpopularity is equally as clear. A dating site recently asked its users to identify their ‘biggest musical turn-off’ – Chad Kroeger and co gained the number one spot by a landslide. A web browser extension was created that somehow manages to block all Nickelback-related content on the internet – it’s called ‘Nickelblock’ and is currently being used by almost 10,000 people. 

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, The Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney called Nickelback “watered-down, post-grunge crap, horrendous shit” – but he’s not the only musician to publicly insult them. Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl regularly mocks Nickelback on Twitter. A particularly funny Tweet reads, “Nickelback walks into a bar… there’s no punch line because ruining music isn’t funny.”

So I’ll ask you again: why do you hate the world’s most-hated band?

What is so bad about Nickelback that drives people to act in such an extreme manner? Some say it’s their repetitive and bland music – but there’s plenty of other similar bands that are just as generic (Limp Bizkit, Creed and Staind come to mind). Others blame it on their boring, bordering on misogynistic lyrics – but I could easily point out many other hit singles that are far more boring, and far more offensive. In fact, most of us don’t know why we dislike Nickelback except that there's no risk in hating them, and hating something feels better than feeling nothing at all. Arbitrary hatred is harmless enough, but it’s not an acceptable justification for the efforts people have gone through to ensure their loathe for Nickelback is not overlooked.

Me? I don’t love Nickelback, but I defend them because I’m not satisfied with unjustified hatred. I don’t spew vitriolic bile every time they’re mentioned, and I think “Rockstar” is a half-decent single. It’s time we face the truth: Nickelback’s no worse than half the shit masquerading as rock out there. Yes their bad songs are very bad (lyrics like “you look so much cuter with something in your mouth” don’t help their case), but their good songs are better-than-average, if formulaic, rock numbers. They can play the hell out of a stadium, which is a rare skill in today’s musical climate, and Chad Kroeger is an honest, fairly likable stage presence. So tell me, please, why do you hate Nickelback so much?

Here’s what I think: through their sheer ubiquity, Nickelback became the very definition of rock music, and we hate the band because we hate what rock music has become. We hate the safe and predictable nature of modern rock, and we hate Nickelback because we know that their success and influence is our own fault. We hate those four damn Canadians because we hate ourselves.

Nickelback receive the most criticism for their lack of musical diversity. They use the same chord progressions, the same guitar distortion, and sing about the same things. But why haven’t they changed? Why did they self-plagiarize and never progress? Because we bought their fucking music. We filled their concerts, night after night. We lined up in droves and affirmed their style. We shouted from the rooftops: "We love you Nickelback! Don't go a-changing!"

We hate ourselves for destroying rock music; for pissing on the graves of the rock greats. Despising Nickelback became an easy way of dealing with our own self-loathing. 

We all resent the hell out of the fact that we missed the Stones in their heyday, The Clash’s guitar destruction and Hendrix’s anthems. We didn't get any of that; we got Nickelback. But it’s not their fault, it's ours.

 
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