I was dared to write a 10 page academic paper on Nickelback. Please don't read it, just admire it.
This is How I Remind You That Nickelback is Bad
The sun beats down on your lap, a fine layer of sawdust sits on your shoes, and you are watching the sidelines on the road race past the car. The band on the radio wails, “This is how you remind me of what I really am!” with a heavy electric guitar and brassy drums. It’s 2008, and you just had your first exposure to Nickelback while driving back from Home Depot on a Saturday afternoon with your dad.
Now, how did a generation raised on Saturday afternoon pop radio become so averse to a seemingly successful band? Nickelback can account for 50 million albums sold, 6 Grammy nominations, 12 Juno awards (whatever those are), and 1 People's Choice award. It is classified as Adult Contemporary, brushing shoulders with famous artists such as Linkin Park, Avril Lavigne, and Green Day. But with more access to the internet, the tides changed. Nickelback was shredded by the hands of pop culture. In case you happen to live under a rock, internet groups have made Nickelback the butt of every joke. Readers of the Word Magazine in 2009 elected Nickelback 'The Worst Band of All Time’. You may have even seen a popular tweet, “If you play a Nickelback song backwards you’ll hear a message from the devil. Even worse, if you play it forwards you will hear Nickelback.” (@FooGDave).
All jokes aside, this movement of hating Nickelback began gaining traction during 2003, and is now correlated with a poor taste in music, diminishing number of brain cells, and a replacement for violent expletives. While this was all very memorable and impactful during this cusp of the internet, is it still accurate? What is the impact of 2000’s era Nickelback on modern pop culture? While the notoriety of Nickelback was very prevalent during the dawn of the internet, it is now trivial to modern pop culture. This is due to the competitors of the 2000’s music industry, formulaic song patterns, and the short shelf life of internet fame.
This Canadian boy band signed in 1999 to Roadrunner music label, which calls itself a label for “homegrown heavy metal”. There was some outrage in signing Nickelback to this extreme metal label, mostly due to the fact that they were not considered part of the metal genre, and were expected to taint the label’s reputation with their music. Roadrunner started fueling this Canadian rock band instead of their other signed artists who were trying to reshape the face of heavy metal (Lazzaro, 2016). This amounted to an intense need for Nickelback to be successful, due to the attention and money Roadrunner was dumping into the Alberta band.
While the beginning of the campaign of hatred towards Nickelback is tied to ruining Roadrunner's label, the flame that sparked the bonfire of Nickelback’s roast was a commercial. In 2003 during a show on Comedy Central, comedian Brian Posehn joked, “No one talks about the studies that show that bad music makes people violent, but listening to Nickelback makes me want to kill Nickelback.” (Lazzaro 2016). This bit was so good that Comedy Central used it as a commercial for a full season. Soon the internet, in its youthful glory, clung to their new-found hatred of Nickelback. Memes abounded, filling every corner of Reddit and Twitter. Nickelback took this heat very well, sarcastically responding to tweets. One user asked the band to “please just die,” and the band responded, “We’re immortals, sent here to torment you.” The band seemed to be having fun with this new spotlight, regardless of the connotations about their band.
Some hatred towards Nickelback isn’t purely due to this Comedy Central commercial, but is based on song patterns and performances. Nickelback is often critiqued for using overtly pop-synthetic patterns for their songs. This pattern is often mentioned among most anti-fans, with a Finnish journalist even stating, “Nickelback is too much of everything to be enough of something. They follow genre expectations too well, which is seen as empty imitation, but also not well enough, which is read as commercial tactics and as a lack of a stable and sincere identity” (Anttonen, 2016). This early 2000’s era band has been classified as many different genres, but can’t seem to fit perfectly into one genus. Continually proving that their songwriting does not appear sincere or authentic.
Soon critics found more than Nickelback’s formulaic music patterns to despise, but also their performances. Live music has a heavy influence on an audience. Have you ever attended a concert and just felt incredible? Hearing your favorite band play live makes you feel on top of the world! In a study done by Oxford, researchers studied the effects of live music on cancer patients. The study reported, “live music subjects reported significantly more changes in physical discomfort, changes in mood, and changes in mood for the better; and recommended music sessions for others.” Live performances are extremely impactful and can make or break a band. Watching a great live performance endears you to a performer. Which is why Nickelback is losing endearing fans.
Many anti-fans have expressed irritation with how Nickelback performs, sharing reports of a sloppy, drunk, and sexist experience with the band. Even media journalists have expressed their disdain for Nickelback’s live performances, stating, “Nickelback now seems too drunk to even know what's going on... I only wish I was so lucky.” (@brownypaul) Live performances have always been a hallmark of a rock band's success. Think about some of the most iconic rock bands and their concerts. Perhaps the most influential live rock performance was Queen performing at the Rite-Aid benefit concert, where the massive electrifying crowd sang their greatest hits back to them. Or maybe it was Ozzy Osborne biting off a bat head in 1982. It could also be the Beatles playing on the Apple Rooftop. Whatever it may be, it is impossible to disassociate rock bands with rock concerts. Nickelback, being recognized as a rock band, simply does not come close to the performances those legends managed. The singers of “Rockstar” continuously receive hate for less than adequate live performances, adding strike as to why they are hated among music fans. This presents Nickelback to metal and rock enthusiasts as inauthentic and as machine-produced artists. It pits Nickelback against the core value of alternative music: to represent a counterculture.
Many enjoy Nickelback purely because of their musical preferences. Our taste in music is a combination of nature and nurture. From Saturday morning errands to hours-long roadtrips, our parents’ music selections are instilled deep within our subconscious. You might not be able to hear the lyrics to U2’s “With Or Without You” without thinking about your folks. There is an exploratory period where most teenagers and young adults begin an experimental phase of developing a diverse music taste. A study by Oxford suggests that the development of music taste in young adults peaks in the 24th year. The study goes on to explain, “Possible explanations include intrinsic components [e.g. a developmental period of sensitivity like imprinting] and extrinsic components [e.g., social pressures from one's peer group that reach peak intensity during a particular phase].” (Holbrook 1989). This could explain why a 24 year old may be very invested in the divergent nature of Tanzanian Psychedelic Rock for a period of time, allowing him to have new experiences with music. Every young adult’s experience differs. This proves that a genre, performer, or band cannot be argued as “bad music”, because everyone experiences music differently. Nickelback may be compared to a heap of burning trash, but that statement cannot be proved.
The idea that music can be argued as good or bad is impossible and extremely subjective. Nor would it be anyone’s place to argue the value of Nickelback’s music. However, the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health explained that “Contemporary popular/independent music, associated with the tense category, produced the largest negative mean mood change.” (Smith, 1998). This experiment does not explicitly prove the value of Nickelback’s music, nor is that the intention of this statement. Although it does stand to reason that those listening to Nickelback can encounter a negative mood change when listening to their 2000’s hits. This could be a contributing factor as to why Nickelback is so disliked.
Society has long contested that Nickelback is a garbage dumpster fire of a band, which is obviously subjective and devoid of ethos. The point of this argument is to conclude whether or not Nickelback is the most memorable band of the 2000’s. In Nickelback’s case, bad press truly is good press, as we can see from their record-selling success, before and after they became ironically popular. While the masterminds behind “Photograph” have been a very fun part of the 2000’s era, they have certainly not been the most memorable. There is not a simple way to measure this, however Google search trends gave insight into the argument. The graph below measures search popularity over time.
As shown in the graph above, the google search trends since 2004 follow Nickelback, Green Day, Eminem, Linkin Park, and Mariah Carey. As these are some of Nickelback’s most popular contemporaries, this graph helps us better understand the prevalence of Alternative Contemporary Rock in the early 2000s. Nickelback is the blue line, which remains near the bottom of the graph along with Green Day (red) and Linkin Park (green). This graph is not measuring how many streams the band has gotten, but how many times it has been searched and viewed. As shown, Nickelback has not been a popular search as of late, even considering its ironic popularity as people search for memes, vines, etc.
This is seen in the Google search trends graph below, which is a compilation of the searches involving Nickelback in the past 12 months. Nickelback has not been searched nearly as often as Eminem or Mariah
Carey, both top performers in the early 2000s. Eminem and Carey have both had their time in the sun this past decade, whether with good or bad press. They are both prevalent in meme culture, and are permanent household names around the world. This begs the question “what establishes memorability?” Each celebrity, artist, and influencer has a subjectively-given reputation, whether it be good or bad. In many cases, this good or bad reputation is what makes groups memorable or what maintains their famous status. Nickelback has simply been associated with bad music, but this does not go to prove them as the most memorable. Below you can see Nickelback search trends decline since 2004. If memorable is defined
as something worth remembering and easily retained, then perhaps it would become clear that other artists from the early 2000s such as Eminem, Mariah Carey, Justin Timberlake, and Beyonce reside in society’s memories more consistently than Nickelback.
The decreasing graph of Nickelback’s search history reinforces the fact that the internet has an incredibly short shelf-life for popularity. If you go on Facebook today and quickly search for Facebook groups based on hating Nickelback, you will find maybe two groups that are still actively sharing and tweeting anti-Nickelback paraphernalia. In an article by The Atlantic about the lifespan of internet memes, Jackson states, “Memes catch on when we need them most and retreat when they are no longer attuned to public sentiment.” (Jackson 2017). The internet is the most diverse and fast moving community, memes simply lose their flavor. The lifespan of a trend is short. Twitter and Reddit are popular sources of internet discussions and memes and each day, there is a completely new trend analysis due to hashtags and user content. Ideas and humor change quickly. While the campaign against Nickelback is fondly remembered, it is hardly referenced anymore.
Nickelback is a valuable contribution to the music community. I have read countless blogs and tweets about the quality of Nickelback’s music and the fond memories associated with them. Many feel Nickelback was their introduction to the world of rock and metal, while others relish the memories of breakfast radio blasting Nickelback’s greatest hits. However, based on current pop culture, Nickelback is not the most memorable artist of the 2000’s. Whether it be in their past decisions, song formation, or the feelings one has when listening to them, there are many reasons why the internet still may hate this group, we just don’t hear about it anymore. The collective hating of Nickelback was very prevalent, yet has since faded in modern pop culture.
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