Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What April 25th Means To Me: Why People Hate Nickelback

Chuck Klosterman wrote a thoughtful article yesterday where he attempted to dissect why people hate bands like Nickelback, while attending a Nickelback and Creed show in the same evening.  The article is definitely worth a read if you're interested in music from both a technical and sociological standpoint and, for the record, Chuck Klosterman remains one of the top 3 people in the world I'd love to share a meal with (though I suppose that's irrelevant). Anyway, I figured I'd throw in my two cents on the subject because I believe the answer is kind of simple.
People hate Nickelback because they are the Walmart of Rock and Roll.

Before I explain my theory, I first must say I do not hate Nickelback.  In fact, I don't really have much of an opinion on them, period.  I have their song "Photograph" on my iPhone, and don't cringe when it comes on, and I may have another of their tunes downloaded and don't even know. So there, I'm not speaking from a position of bias. Now that we got that out of the way...

People use music preference to express individualism.  It's why many blast their music from car windows, and why band shirts are popular.  These shirts differ from, for example, t-shirts featuring your favorite football team because those are supporting a community that is formed in the name of good-natured competition. It's to signify you belong to a club.  A t-shirt featuring your favorite band is an expression of what kind of person you are, or more specifically, how you like to be seen.   If you see someone wearing an old Metallica shirt, your mind automatically forms an outline of what kind of person that guy is.  Same with an old Nirvana, Sonic Youth, or Pavement t-shirt. Those people directly involve themselves in the rock and roll subculture.  But someone who wears a Nickelback t-shirt?  Doesn't really say anything. But to rock and roll fans, it's almost like a slap in the face, and,  if this were the 90's, the word "poser" would come to mind. 

As Klosterman mentioned in the article, Nickelback's head man, Chad Kroeger, seems to have studied the elements to a hit song, and then created many Frankenbabies to sell the perfect, sellable record.  Whether that's true or not, there's nothing that feels grass roots about the rise of Nickelback, but instead they appear more like a band that rode the coattails of their predecessors, or more aptly, a barnacle. 

But even if the above is true, the question of, "why do people hate them" remains.  Rock and roll is territorial.  Whether you like indie rock, classic rock, "alternative rock," or if this were the 1990's "grunge rock," a fan would double down on their explanation to why a certain band was good because, as mentioned, they've mixed their self identity with the quality of the music.  They might wax poetically about original lyrics, sounds, or they may mention the chances the band took in their pursuit of good music.  Nickelback doesn't try to be original, therefore, they never gained that coveted audience that views themselves through a rock and roll prism.  The only audience they earned is the top 40 audience, which is vast and great for cash, but bad for "legacy" (for lack of a better term).  You won't find many Nickelback fans that will strongly come to their defense because people who listen to top-40 are generally passive music listeners.  If you ask a Nickelback fan why they like their music, you probably won't get an answer that's anymore revealing than a shrug.

So, the only way to express individualism through a band like Nickelback is to claim to hate them, because a vote against Nickelback is a vote against conformity.  And since rock and roll was built on the back of rebellion, bands like Nickelback become to whipping boy for people who want to show their individuality by suggesting they are "above" a band that chooses perceived conventions over "originality."

But hey, bands like Nickelback are generally harmless, always on the radio, and we'll continue to passively listen to them and complain when one of their songs gets stuck in our head.  Sort of like when you need toiletries and the easiest place to get them is Walmart.  We'll bitch and shop there anyway because it's convenient and there.


  1. Here's the thing about Nickelback that triggers a lot of it. Many bands have been accused of selling out over the years when they changed their sound (think the alt-'Tallica years of the Loads when grunge was popular and they *gasp* cuth their hair) over the course of their careers. But seldom has a band done it as shamelessly as Nickelback, in a blatant cash grab. The thing of it is that few are aware of, is once upon a time Nickelback was a damn good band. When I went to school near Canada, I got to hear many unknown (in the US) Canadian bands, and Nickelback's early stuff off their first album "The State" caught my ear enough to purchase it, and damned if it wasn't a solid rock album. Granted these were the in-between years in my music life, when grunge had imploded and left me with nothing, and I hadn't yet fully embraced classic thrash metal by the early '00s. But the CD grabbed a regular spot in my changer (remember those?) around 1999. Then that How You Remind me song came out in '01 and I found it bland, but inoffensive, not strong enough to make me buy the album. Which was no great sin on their part, but then they consistently re-created that one damn song for the next decade, as if stumbling on the formula and repeating it ad naseum. And on the side, they do some pretty sweet old school Metallica covers at their shows. But rather than push the envelop, their content to be a safe rock n roll band for 30-50 year old set and keep pumping out radio tunes. I guess at the end of the day, the capitalist in me can't hate them for that.

    1. Yeah, that's sort of the point I was making, their music seems more like a cash grab, so rock and roll enthusiasts are allergic to them because its conformity in a medium that represents rebellion. Also, something I didn't mention above is that it doesnt SEEM like they have a sense of humor about it (which is something Klosterman touches on in the article), which doesn't help. But there are a lot of bands like this (lifehouse comes to mind), but Nickelback seems like the go-to whipping boy. But whatever, good for them i guess.

      I think people find identity through putting other shit down because it evokes a strong emotion. Happens a lot with music.