By Josh Ong
For my third and final year within Student Media, I decided to switch desks at Quench again. From Food & Drink, to Music, I now find myself as the magazine’s Columnist. I was mostly drawn to Column for its relative freedom over other desks; I now have the ability to focus on any topics that I feel need covering, regardless of which section’s jurisdiction they would fall under, especially. I also thought that a change of scene would do me some good, and give me some more experience before I venture out of the relative blissful ignorance of higher education and into the real world of relentless job hunting and rejection. In the meantime, you can expect my columns to wide gamut of topics, from social issues, to politics, music and food; nothing is off the table. My initial pitch for Columnist here was to make the section far more reflective of its author, for both me and the future, as well as being less fearful to cover contentious topics that might have been avoided in the past.
And thus, I decided to start this series, in which I will attempt to defend my moderately controversial opinions across popular media. I do however understand that this might seem like a bad place to start. More often than not, these opinion pieces are utilised by career shock jockeys whose opinions are derived from mere contrarianism born out of a state of necessity to stay within the public gaze. Fortunately, I am neither famous, popular, nor do I actually have a career in journalism currently, so this series of articles is mostly just going to be a little more lighthearted and fun. Today, I’m kicking off the series defending, at least in part, one of the world’s seemingly most hated bands, Nickelback.
Edit (24/07): This introduction doesn’t really mean anything. I had quite a few ideas for the Column, but alas, things don’t always turn out the way they’re first imagined. And, after just a few weeks, and online one article published online, I have moved onto being fortunately appointed as the Second Deputy. Nonetheless, we’re now hunting for a new Columnist to fill my shortly occupied, and fairly underwhelming, shoes.
I should probably preface this by saying that I’m not even a massive fan of Nickelback. I have no specific soft spot for them, nor do I believe that they even make that great music. However, for too long I have seen people piling onto the universal truth that they’re music’s antichrist. Nickelback’s reputation as a band is not only dire, but serves almost solely as a punchline. In a poll a few years ago, American were asked what they hate the most; they came second, only to incumbent President Donald Trump. Hatred for the band is widespread, but most curiously, I have never encountered anyone who has been to tell me why they think the band seems to deserve their notoriety. In this article, I will be somewhat defending Nickelback’s honour, at least partially.
Springing into the limelight with their 2006 hit, Rockstar, Nickelback sprung straight into the forefront of musical fame. At the time, I distinctly remember how the single was near inescapable. Just about every radio station everywhere was near saturated with replays of the track, and rightfully so. It slapped, it still does, to be quite honest. Sure, it won’t win any awards for groundbreaking profound lyricism, nor does it include anything that sparks musical intrigue. It’s nothing incredible, but there’s nothing easily highlightable that would make it deemable as overtly atrocious. If anything, especially in Britain, it was initially received fairly well, managing to span a whole 9 months in the charts. This was similarly the beginning of the end for the band, as I feel as though it’s repetition across just about everywhere only came back to stab them in the back as time progressed and Kroeger’s guttural and grouchy grumbles of attempted witty quips of drug dealers on speed dial became inescapable. Since then, the band’s reputation hasn’t recovered.
On numbers alone, the band boast a fairly strong standing; from being the second highest selling foreign artist in the USA since the 2000s alongside a total of six GRAMMY nominations to their name, some people were clearly lapping it up. Granted, judging artists on GRAMMY nominations, but they do still hold some credibility. Yet, you never hear anyone mention the ‘Six-time GRAMMY nominated band, Nickelback.’ Odd.
Much of the hate directed towards the band comes from those who feel they lie as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Their post-grunge sound interlaced with generic manufactured soft-rock sound was frankly undermined by their routine 4 chord laziness and predictability. It’s true, a lot of their music does sound the same, but there lies a whole library of other artists whose entire discography often blends into one monotonous snooze-track, many of which have managed to get off scot-free in comparison. To me, Royal Blood’s debut album, which was pretty well received, is a fairly clear example of this; every single song sounds nearly identical to my ears. Granted, there’s only so far you can push a two-piece bass and guitar band, although Slaves have demonstrated otherwise, yet you don’t see people sending them death-threats. I equally realise that my nonchalance towards Nickelback’s relative mediocrity might stem from my affection for pop-music, among other genres. If you’ve read any of my work before, you’ll be shocked to hear that one of my favourite artists is Taylor Swift, whose entire discography is almost entirely built upon I-V-VI-IV chords. Using these doesn’t necessarily detract value from the music, or artist that uses them though; they’re the foundation building blocks of music. There’s a reason certain chords resonate better with listeners, so you can’t really blame Nickelback for pursuing that path.
I also understand people’s issues with Kroeger’s vocals. A vast proportion, if not all, of Nickelback’s discography sounds like a de facto breakup record, in which Kroeger’s only emotional escape of getting over his long-term girlfriend is to grouchily weep into an undeserving microphone. His vocal style is certainly… unique, for lack of better terminology. This adversely affects a lot of their music, especially those that are completely unrelated to relationships. However, when the two subjects actually align themselves, such as in their 2001 track How You Remind Me, it does actually work, at least partially. The song’s lyrics touch on the struggles of lost relationships through alcoholism and regret. Whilst I’ve attacked a fair bit of their discography so far, I will actually be defending this track. For those who firmly sit in the ‘I’d rather rip my own ears out with a rusty spoon than ever have to listen to a voice that sounds like he’s permanently shotgunned a fistful of gravel’, I’d thoroughly recommend listening to Avril Lavigne’s cover of the song, recorded whilst they were still married. It successfully manages to reframe the song, softening the band’s overbearing sound with Lavigne’s softer tones.
As I’ve been writing this article, I’ve had Spotify’s carefully selected ‘This is Nickelback’ playlist on in the background. The formulation of these has actually never been confirmed, with most speculation suggesting that they’re algorithmically generated on the artist’s most popular songs. Either way, where every artist has b-sides and filler tracks, this playlist shouldn’t be filled with them. Yet, I can categorically say that there wasn’t a single track that really stood out to me. Equally noteworthy is how their music bounces around around stylistically. Where their more well-known hits lie in the aforementioned soft-rock post-grunge sound that was all too familiar to the early 2000s, some tracks, unbeknownst to me prior to writing this, are actually a fair bit heavier. At times, some of the backing behind Kroeger’s vocals, which are fairly consistent throughout, are closer to Pantera than a band from roughly the same musical hemisphere, like Foo Fighters.
However, and most importantly, I don’t think any of the above matters on the basis of one factor; meme culture. Whether it was Kroeger asking you to look at his graph at the height of Vine’s heyday, the numerous memes rather accurately comparing Kroeger’s hair to packet instant noodles, everything to do with the band is a joke. Granted, most of them are pretty funny too. However, I do feel as though they have held a profound impact on the musical reputation of the band, despite that not being the joke’s focus. It really takes a lot to dethrone early-era Justin Bieber as Canada’s worst musical export, yet somehow they managed it. At one point, even Deadpool, the reigning world-champion of milking pop culture jokes until they’re dry, got in on the action. When the anti-hero speaks with Fred Savage, of The Princess Bride fame, he passionately defends Nickelback, to which Savage refers to them as ‘overproduced ear garbage.’ Once more, he’s kinda right. Nickelback’s sound lies in that odd purgatory between rock and pop; it’s too clean to match the raw emotion and energy of traditional rock, but also just a little too ‘out there’ for the regular chart goer.
Naturally when writing this article, I found myself with a simple Google search: ‘Why do people hate Nickelback?’. I trundled through various posts, Twitter threads, but one trend seemed to be clear across it all. People don’t hate Nickelback, they hate what Nickelback embodies. To some, they stand as the ultimate attestation of how far mediocrity can be pushed and forced into public gaze. This is somewhat indisputable, yet I still hold firm on my opinion. Nickelback are not good by any stretch of the imagination. But, mostly importantly, they’re not discernibly worse than a vast portion of music across the world. Every genre possesses a set of artists that attempt to chase the ‘popular’ sound, who attempt to create a musical algorithm that should, in theory, appeal to the target audience. Nickelback sits resolutely within this camp, but their presence there doesn’t warrant their reputation as it stands. Thus, whilst this article might seem a little click-baity from the get go, I am genuinely tired of defending the band’s somewhat tarnished status. I’m not a fan of theirs in the slightest, but I still feel compelled to defend them, as long as the reaction to anything regarding them remains gargantuanly out of proportion, given how many far worse music artists there are out there. There are good reasons to dislike Nickelback, but there’s only so far you can go without stepping on other artists’ toes before you become a hypocrite.