Here's Why Nickelback Is Underrated
They can't be the worst band in the world... can they?
How could you hate this guy? / Photo via Wikipedia
Though Nickelback has sold over 50 million albums worldwide, to the majority of non-deaf humans with a passing interest in popular music, “Nickelback” is shorthand for “unlistenable horseshit.” The music press treats them with a vitriol usually reserved for high-ranking members of the Aryan Nation—Rolling Stone once named them the second-worst band of the 1990s (behind only Creed). A man recently got arrested in Idaho for saying the word “Nickelback” at a gas station in front of a cop, and in 2012, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel had to publicly deny liking them after a protester held up a sign that asserted otherwise. There have been petitions to ban the band from London as well as the halftime show of a Detroit Lions game on Thanksgiving. Famously, they once lost a Facebook popularity contest to a pickle. Pretty much any Noisey article people disagree with is littered with comments claiming we have terrible taste and probably listen to Nickelback, and it's not a compliment.
These are pieces of tangible evidence that people do not like Nickelback. Nickelback, for their part, seem to both relish their position of hatred and are put on the defensive by it. In an illuminating Playboy interview from 2008 (published online by a Nickelback fan account), lead singer Chad Kroeger describes himself as “a walking penis that wants to take over the world,” compares the everlasting joy of pulling groupies to the everlasting joy of fart jokes, admits to having once sucked his own dick, and lashes out at the music press by saying, “Who's the most famous music critic who ever lived? They've never made a statue of a critic.”
Because of this ever-flowing stream of vitriol launched in their general direction, Nickelback have become something of a pop culture underdog. Any position other than “Nickelback is the worst band in the world” is going to be challenged by basically anyone. However, this position is incorrect. Nickelback are not the worst band in the world. They are, in fact, perfectly OK, if not genuinely good. Here’s why.
NICKELBACK IS THE ONLY LEGITIMATELY POPULAR HARD ROCK BAND LEFT
If you take a survey of all of which qualifies as “mainstream rock,” there are basically two categories: bands that fall somewhere in a Venn Diagram composed of Mumford and Sons, Arcade Fire, and fun., and then Nickelback. No other currently popular hard rock band is selling out arenas or scoring Number One albums; however, Nickelback do both, and they show no signs of stopping for the foreseeable future. By simply continuing to exist, they have become the standard-bearers for music that prominently features aggressive guitars. It’s like if all life on earth was suddenly killed off except for cockroaches, and then all other forms of life that sprung up in its wake were subsequently replaced by lifeforms less advanced than cockroaches. In this analogy, Nickelback are the cockroaches.
NICKELBACK HAS MADE ONE GENUINELY GREAT ALBUM, PLUS A BUNCH OF KILLER SINGLES
Have you ever listened to Nickelback’s 2008 album Dark Horse? If not, I urge you to do so immediately. It’s produced by Mutt Lange, the same guy who helmed AC/DC’s Highway to Hell and Back in Black, all the good Def Leppard albums, plus all the Shania Twain albums people remember. Dark Horse sounds, essentially, like an updated version of those AC/DC and Def Leppard records. Its songwriting is tight, every song is catchy as fuck, and the melodies are at least as compelling as anything on that War on Drugs album everybody liked from last year. If you recall, 2008 was also the year that Guns N Roses’ Chinese Democracy was released to the enthusiasm of absolutely no one who doesn’t still live with their mom. If GNR had released Dark Horse instead of Nickelback, it would have been hailed as a surprising, vital return to form. Regrettably, the album had the misfortune of being released by Nickelback, so nobody gave it a chance.
Nickelback’s other albums, meanwhile, are aggressively OK. Tracks like “How You Remind Me,” “Photograph,” “Rockstar,” “Feelin’ Way too Damn Good,” their cover of Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” and that one song from the Spider-Man soundtrack are all great and stand tall against anything pretty much anything else on the radio in the past 15 or so years. Nickelback is a band that sets out to make catchy, sort of dumb pop rock that follows in the tradition of 80s hair metal, and they succeed—admirably, if I may say—at doing exactly that. Being mad at Nickelbck for doing what they do is like being mad at a professional bowler for being shitty at golf.
NICKELBACK IS NOT AFRAID TO EXPERIMENT
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
No Fixed Address, the 'Back’s album from November of last year, is by far their most sonically progressive, especially if we measure “sonic progress” only in terms of other Nickelback records. Lead single “Edge of a Revolution” is a high-profile protest song, a gesture few other high-profile bands are offering these days. “She Keeps Me Up” finds Chad Kroeger sing-rapping over a groove that feels lifted from Stevie Wonder and/or The Killers. “Miss You,” meanwhile, is a break-up song that features wall-of-sound vocals and a violin. And “Got Me Runnin’ Round.” Jesus Christ, “Got Me Runnin’ Round.” It’s a weird quasi-reggae song that features Flo Rida, and it’s either the greatest or worst song of all time.
NICKELBACK DO NOT TAKE THEMSELVES PARTICULARLY SERIOUSLY
Following their 2011 Detroit Lions debacle, in which a petition was launched against Nickelback playing the halftime show of a Detroit Lions game on Thanksgiving, the band appeared in a Funny or Die sketch lampooning their status as the world’s most hated band. It is worth watching, if only for the image of Chad Kroeger dressing as RoboCop. Meanwhile, Kroeger is totally down to make fun of Nickelback’s hyper-sexed lyrics, as evidenced by his turn on the joke-metal band Steel Panther’s “It Won’t Suck Itself,” which is basically the metal equivalent of if Kurt Cobain had collaborated with Weird Al on “Smells Like Nirvana.”
NICKELBACK KEPT A BUNCH OF WELL-RESPECTED METAL BANDS AFLOAT
Until 2011, Nickelback released albums on Roadrunner Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers that concentrates primarily on metal. A 2008 MetalSucks post argued, “Nickelback, quite honestly, are a large part of the reason that Roadrunner Records is able to continue to release records by other, less-sucky acts,” continuing, “Nickelback’s 7 million records sold fund every 100,000 to 200,000-selling release by other Roadrunner bands we like, such as Killswitch Engage, Machine Head, Opeth, Megadeth, Dream Theater, Biffy Clyro, Life of Agony, Trivium, Soufly, etc.” And what happened to Roadrunner after Nickelback released their final record for the label? Warner announced severe cutbacks at the label. I’m not saying that Nickelback was solely responsible for keeping Roadrunner alive, but they certainly contributed a hefty amount of ballast to the ship.
HATING NICKELBACK IS SORT OF CLASSIST
Still of "Photograph" via YouTube
It’s hard to pull exact demographic information for an artist’s fans, but if I had to guess (and this is based on the fact that I come from a small town in North Carolina where, growing up, everybody fucking LOVED Nickelback), Nickelback share an audience that HEAVILY overlaps with mainstream country. Which is to say: people who are working-class, white, and do not have the luxury of being able to search out new music. There is a large swath of regular America who still get their music recommendations from the radio, upon which Nickelback is a consistent presence. It’s also worth noting that Nickelback does INCREDIBLY well on Canadian radio, in part because of their home country’s self-imposed rule that any given radio station MUST devote 25 percent [Editor's Note: It's actually 35 percent] of their programming to Canadian acts. Radio is free, and CDs (as well as streaming services such as Spotify Premium) are not. To degrade Nickelback, or any other act that actively courts a radio audience, is in a way to degrade the taste of a poorer segment of the population.
So, there you have it. Nickelback: not that bad! Every generation gets the Journey they deserve, and for better or worse, ours is Nickelback.
Drew Millard is Noisey's Features Editor; feel free to verbally abuse him on Twitter.