Nickelback have gained a reputation as one of the worst and most uninspired musical acts of all time, with particular criticism usually landing in the lap of leading man Chad Kroeger. And whilst there is almost certainly a lot of legitimate criticism amongst it all, bandwagons are easy to latch onto – perhaps suggesting we need to re-evaluate this much maligned band.
‘Rockstar’ and ‘How You Remind Me’ are, admittedly, the only two Nickelback songs I know. The only other thing I know about them is that the meme of their lead singer Chad Kroeger holding up a photograph in the music video to the song of the same name is a decent one. You may, therefore, question my motives and/or qualifications for writing about them; they’re clearly not my all-time favourite band. But what I do know for certain is this: the two Nickelback songs I do remember are – in my view – absolute bangers.
Formed in Canada in 1995, Nickelback have since been declared by the 2013 readers of Rolling Stone magazine the 2nd worst band of the 90s. Ouch. There have obviously been more bitter, biting criticisms levelled against the group, one of the most famous being Mark Zuckerberg’s AI system Jarvis (voiced by Morgan Freeman to make the insult even sassier) declaring independently that there are no good Nickelback songs.
But the stats don’t lie: they have in fact sold more than 50 million albums worldwide, and are one of the most commercially successful Canadian rock bands ever. Yet that’s the sticking point- they are ‘commercially successful’, not so much revered in the public imagination. Despite millions of people clearly buying their music, posterity has not favoured them kindly, supposedly because their songs are formulaic, shallow and – in essence – naff. Historically though, music thrives on formula for success, from the intricate baroque masterpieces of the 17thcentury to the previous century’s 12 bar blues. AC/DC have, like Nickelback and numerous other bands, been criticised for their songs relying on largely one chord, and of concerning mainly alcohol, sex and drugs. But isn’t that just rock ‘n’ roll? Why, in that case, do Nickelback not qualify as a respected rock band?
In my view, they should. Until conducting research for this article I hadn’t realised just how popular they were in the early Noughties, and for me that should be recognised alongside any (admittedly) hilarious criticism they receive. To hate a musical act that everyone else hates is unifying, bringing together a divided world. Harmonising hatred: understandable but slightly unfair. To me, their downfall in the public imagination is an unfortunate product of their timing; after bands like Nirvana, who skyrocketed to fame in the 90s and expressed for the first time in decades the frustrated grunge of Western youth, they seemed shallow and plastically commercial like the manufactured groups of the talent show age. They aren’t authentic, and seeing as bands like AC/DC have already championed the virtues of rockstar debauchery, they’re only singing the same old tune. Popular culture values uncovering the unique, unusual band with only 10 Spotify subscribers. That’s what’s cool, not the mainstream.
There is no chance that Nickelback, as influential in the charts as they once briefly were, much impacted guitar music. Only last weekend rock band Foo Fighters headlined, with huge success, the Leeds/Reading festival. Guitar music is disappearing because it is no longer perceived to express the raw emotion and issue of the day. It has been relegated to a continuum stretching from Ben Howard’s chill revision tunes to Metallica’s “embarrassing dad” rock. Millions still love and listen to it to access the spirit of a bygone era, but the genre must work harder to express the essence of this one.
Nickelback don’t deserve the volume of criticism they receive; many musical acts are becoming increasingly naff and uninspiring, using the same five synth notes and squeaky “drop” to manufacture a chart hit. I am prepared to die on the hill of ‘Rockstar’ and ‘How You Remind Me’ being corny but loveable tunes; not really rock ‘n’ roll, but good all the same. Good enough for bops anyway.