Nickelback-ing: Why do we hate them so much?

When it comes to pop culture:  music, sports, fashion and movies, there is a question that often gets answered but rarely ever asked.  The question is: “why are some things so easy to hate?”  People have many different reasons for loving or admiring what they do in popular culture.  However, hatred of a pop culture symbol, icon, cinematic display or sports team, is often born of an obvious singular flaw.  Thus, a social chorus slowly grows as this flaw becomes accepted into the pop culture mainstream; making it safer to agree with the “dislikers” than the likers.  Whether the perceived flaw is based upon ridiculousness, success or maybe failure, the flaw is generally the accepted reason for a large part of society to, at least express, how much they hate something.

A few examples of denigrated pop culture include: George Clooney as Batman, any more superhero movies in general, movies starring The Rock, Jar Jar Binks of Star Wars Episode One fame, the New England Patriots, Alabama Football, Justin Bieber, Miley Cirus, people that post many selfies on social media, social media in general, the Macarena, cut-off jean shorts (again), and the Kardashians; to name a few.

There are many more associations in society, whether they be fame related or not, that generally draw an enormous consensus of prejudice and contempt among the masses.  By writing a blog about things easy for society to hate, I understand it will come across as an exercise in pointing out the easily distinguishable; a waste of time at the least.  But I was generally curious enough to delve into the reasons for the undeniable hatred that polarizes the rock band Nickelback.  I mean….I hate them too, don’t I?  I figured I’d find out why rather than regurgitate the standard talking point: They Just Suck!!!

To lend some credence to this blog I decided to do some homework, which will make it more of a “blog report;” even if it’s only myself who reads this.  Doing homework on Nickelback didn’t really excite me, either.  However, as I write this I have digested about a dozen record reviews of their albums, watched a good amount of band interviews, read about the origin of the band and, in perhaps the most astonishing of the tasks, listened to every Nickelback album from start to finish.

Let’s start with the widely accepted variable: most people hate Nickelback. And of those people who hate the band, they will either espouse their dislike for Nickelback straight-forwardly or via sarcasm; insinuating that the band is terrible.  This includes but is not limited to: reposting Nickelback memes on social media platforms and rhetorical phrases such as- “can’t be as bad as Nickelback.”  Nonetheless, eventually one knows, or lets be known, that they are of the ilk whom doesn’t like Nickelback; a stance which is rarely met with peer conflict. Despite what seems like the clear majority falling into the “hate Nickelback” category, they obviously have millions of fans that like them.  We know this based on record and concert ticket sales.  Those fans may even be a majority; befuddled equally by the number of haters hating.

The reasons for disliking Nickelback are, indeed, pretty obvious for those of us who have always existed under that assumption.  They basically epitomize the post-grunge, cheery rock sound, using generic riffs and lyrics that generally leave nothing to be discovered.  Right?  And if we’re being honest, the lyrics hold most of the weight as to why they’re so disliked; their most recognizable singular flaw.   If it were Rob Zombie penning lyrics and singing over some of Nickelback’s riffs, we may not be so “not ok” with the songs.  I say that with some authority now because as I listened my way through Nickelback’s catalog, occasionally I came across songs that can be ok rock songs, if one can overlook the whole lyrics thing.

It’s generally true that a good lyricist draws from experience and emotion.  Or at the very least, he or she tries to mask the lyrics with a certain level of ambiguity, so as to leave some of the fun up to the interpretation of the listener. Countless Nickelback songs, however, are merely about how to drink, what to drink, who they’d like to bang and how, and when it’s ok to get in a fight.  The problem is, despite the less-than-creative lyrics, it’s just not believable. Their image doesn’t fit with bad boy qualities and that is highlighted by the fact that they feel compelled to tell us outright about their partying ways with conspicuous lyricism.

Ironically, the band’s first two albums, Curb and The State, are much different than the albums thereafter.  No doubt Nickelback were influenced by the grunge scene of the early 90’s on these two albums, as they have that unmistakable Seattle, copy-cat alternative sound; complete with mostly one-word song titles. For other examples see: Creed, Seven Mary Three, Days of the New etc. The real irony is that the lyrics were at least a little less lucid in content but much less discernable due to the deep-throated, mumbling style of singing that plagued so many Kurt Cobain rip-offs.

In my opinion, the Nickelback decline into becoming the “cilantro of music,” as they call themselves (either love it or hate it), began just after the third album, Silver Side Up.  This is the album with the song “How You Remind Me,” which was their first, and still perhaps their biggest, hit song.  Their sound began to become more defined riff-wise on this album and Chad Kroeger (singer) went away from the gargling vocal style to a rougher, rock style.  It still resembles the post-grunge sound to a degree but it was certainly the turning point toward becoming more of a rock band and less of a grunge-take-off.

Most of their albums, from this point on, do have some driving and hard rocking songs coupled with some not so bold attempts as ballads.  Unfortunately, the sappier radio hits that sprinkle throughout are what they are defined by.  If we were to pinpoint the exact moment Nickelback became synonymous with putrid, I’d have to suggest it was with the album All The Right Reasons.  This gave us the song “Photograph,” with it’s opening verse asking, “what the hell is on Joey’s head?”  That opening stanza has put Nickelback into a death spiral they may never crawl out of.

I feel compelled to conclude in at least coming to some defense of Nickelback. Why not?  Although I fully understand the relative animus that exists toward the band, after listening to the full catalog and seeing interviews, I have come to find a few bright spots in the dark web that’s been weaved around Chad and the boys.

I’ll start with the guys in the band, themselves.  Watching interviews with them I come to find that they are exactly what we thought they were; which isn’t really bad a thing.  They’re nice, humble men that really like music.  And to boot, they’re not bad musicians.  They do try to front an image as bad boys, which is quite transparent, conceivably to appear worthy of rock star status.  But really, it’s hard to hate the kid that just wants to fit in, isn’t it?  Unlike many of the Rock Gods I grew up admiring, they respectfully answer questions and never come across as arrogant in an interview.  Nerdy maybe, but no real signs of self-importance.

As far as the music goes, I have discovered a few Nickelback songs I’ll be adding to playlists. You read that correctly.  Like I’d mentioned earlier, some songs are good and have a cool and edgy groove to them.  And not all the lyrics are lousy, just a lot of them.  It’s not a crime to be a rock and roll party band and write music in that spirit.  I grew up in the 80’s and I certainly listen to that era’s glam rock with childlike fervor still.  However, if that’s going to be the content, it’s better to sound like you’re part of the party and having fun rather than that person at the party telling everyone how much fun you’re having.  Unfortunately, the latter is often how Nickelback comes across lyrically.

I don’t think they’ll ever buck the trend that has seen them slowly become a bit of a punchline to many music fans.  And that’s not the fault of the music fans.  But I think if a listener can accept what it is that Nickelback are, instead of comparing them to Aerosmith or Foo Fighters, they can be worthy of some listens.  If there’s one thing I can’t be accused of it’s music snobbery.  I certainly don’t mind a small amount of cheese in my music.  I can get over it.  What bothers me more are artists who think what they’ve created is worthy of everyone’s praise.  Good music is in the ear of the beholder; there is no doubt.  And criticism is fair game as well.  But I’m not so sure Nickelback deserves rock’s citation as the “cilantro of music.”  I guess I should have seen this conclusion coming however…..because I really like cilantro.  My next blog I’ll seek to answer the question that appears as unbelievable as being apathetic toward Nickelback: “Are there really people who hate cilantro?”

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