In Defence of Nickelback. There. I Said It.

Hipsters and music snobs might want to close the blackout blinds and stay in bed tomorrow for another Nickelback album cometh.  Their seventh album, Here and Now, arrives just in time for the Christmas shopping season.

Is there are more reviled rock in the world today?  Have you ever heard anyone admitting to like Nickelback?  I mean, who would dare say that they listen to this kind of party-and-get-shitfaced chunk rock and the maudlin power ballads?

Well, someone must because Nickelback is one of the few contemporary rock bands who can still be counted on to sell millions of records and gross in the $100 million range when it comes to tours. 

This, I believe, is a Good Thing.

First, let’s ask this central question:  If no one will admit to buying Nickelback albums, where are all these CDs going?  I think the situation is analogous to what happens with pop music.  Who, for example, buys a Britney Spears album or a record by LMFAO? 

Casual music fans like what’s popular, that’s who. These are the folks who buy half a dozen or so CDs a year, usually from Wal-Mart or Best Buy.  All they want is music that they can sing to, pump their fist to and blast in the car (pick-up?) as they head to their buddy’s place with a 24 of Blue and a mickey of Five Star.  They don’t give a shit about what critics say.  They know what they like and no one’s gonna tell them otherwise.

I’m not staying that hardcore Nickelback fans are also into LMFAO.  And categorizing these people as unsophisticated rubes from the sticks is also wrong. There are plenty of this sort everywhere you care to look.  You’ll find them in the heartland fly-over regions of the continent, but they also sit down next to you at your favourite urban coffee place. 

They’re part of the vast genus of music fans that only cares to wade so far into the pool because, well, they’re got other things on their mind.  They’re perfectly happy and content and fulfilled in the shallows.  They can’t tell the difference between Vampire Weekend and The Weeknd, nor do they care to.  They’re just not that interested.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. 

Yes, everything about Nickelback is expertly calculated, from the anthemic choruses to the schmaltzy ballads to the pyro at their concerts that’s intense enough to frighten Beavis and Butthead.  But have you been to a Nickelback show where 18,000 people lose their minds when the band plays “Burn It to the Ground?”

As hard as this is for a lot of people to understand—and this still amazes me when I’m confronted with it–not everyone on the planet is as intensely into music you or I.  The very fact that you’ve found this site and are reading this underscores that fact.  But you should also know that while there are millions of us, there are billions of casual music fans.  And even though each of them doesn’t spend a lot on music, their numbers add up. 

And who are we to deny these people the high they get from the glory of music just because we don’t share their tastes?

Nickelback is on the Roadrunner label, an imprint that specializes in the hard’n’heavy.  Most of Roadrunner’s roster are niche acts, modest selling groups who have comparatively small but very loyal and active audiences.  This includes Hatebreed, Killswitch Engage, Canadian dudes Hail the Villain and Baptized in Blood, Murderdolls, Devil Driver and tons more

The profits Nickelback kicks into Roadrunner’s coffers goes a long, long way to signing, supporting, nurturing and promoting these other groups.  Hell, if it weren’t for Chad’s power ballading, it would be tough for, say, Billy Talent, to survive in the tough US market.  Same thing for acts like Atreyu, Opeth,Porcupine Tree, CKY and Alexisonfire.  Nickelback performs an important subsidy function, even more so than label mates Korn, KISS, Stone Sour and Megadeth.

There has always been a need for Nickelback’s sort of rock—and it’s always been derided as substandard stuff for the substandard music fan.  There was a time in the late 70s when magazines like Rolling Stone sniffed at acts they categorized as “corporate rock,” a term that pretty much coalesced into a genre, much like we use “indie rock” today.

Bands like Boston, Kansas and Toto were pilloried for appealing to the masses with their less-than-authentic approach to rock’n’roll.  Yet at the same time, the magazine elevated groups like Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles to godlike status.  I never got that.

I guess what I’m asking here is for everyone not to be so hard on Nickelback and their fans.  It’s become nearly mandatory to declare a hate-on for Chad and Co. lest someone call you out as some kind of mouth-breaking, knuckle-dragging, dog-in-the-bed-of-your-gun-rack-equipped-pick-up, referring-to-all-women-as-bitches Neanderthal.  Yes, some Nickelback fans are like that.  But so are some Washed Out fans I’ve met.

Do I like Nickelback?  No.  But because I appreciate their role in the rock’n’roll ecosystem (even if Detroit Lions fans don’t) I refuse–refuse–to disparage someone who does.

And just remember how some of those Nickelback profits are recycled.  Your next favourite indie/metal band just might be underwritten with some Here and Now dollars.  

If you’ve read this far, you’re must be at least somewhat interested in my argument.  If you have the stones, give this video a good look/listen with a new perspective.  If you’re a working-class stiff in a dead-end job living for that Friday night after payday, how can something like this NOT speak to you?

Oh, and notice that this video has been viewed 15.9 MILLION times…

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

21 thoughts on “In Defence of Nickelback. There. I Said It.

  • November 21, 2011 at 10:16 pm
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    This whole Nickelback debacle reminds me of a cleverly titled blog, "It's Not The Band I Hate, It's Their Fans"

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  • November 21, 2011 at 10:27 pm
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    I understand Alan's argument, but trying to base an argument around how much they have earned is total rubbish. Is Mcdonalds a better restaurant that serves great food just because they earn billions? Are they better than the mom and pop dinner up the street because they made more money?

    I find it funny how Alan bashes Limp Bizkit (also worth criticizing) but writes these defense articles on Nickelback. Same category… Sorry

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  • November 21, 2011 at 10:35 pm
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    Cross has a point: if you still think this band is the exclusive habitat of aggressive frat meatheads, you clearly haven't been to a Black Keys or DFA1979 show lately.

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  • November 21, 2011 at 11:42 pm
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    Maybe the guys in Nickeback can loan Alan Cross a few bucks to purchase some spell check? I hate to sound like an 8th grade English teacher, but seriously!? "Is there are more reviled rock in the world today?" I dunno Alan, is there are?

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  • November 22, 2011 at 12:28 am
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    Errors that even spell-check can't fix:

    Author states:

    "And categorizing these people as unsophisticated rubes from the sticks is also wrong."

    And ends with:

    "If you're a working-class stiff in a dead-end job living for that Friday night after payday, how can something like this NOT speak to you?"

    Thesis can be condensed to:

    Working-class people with dead souls who are too afraid to wander past the shallows buy Nickelback's albums.

    Addendum:

    Kruger's voice sounds like mashing gears lubricated by sand, and his hair is totally gay.

    Reply
  • November 22, 2011 at 12:29 am
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    Chad's straightened, dyed hair in this video makes it rather difficult for me to take him seriously. I admire the original drummer, Ryan Vikedal, for leaving/getting fired. Though his bank account probably regrets it. The band suing him is pretty weak, too. Greedy rockstars.

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  • November 22, 2011 at 12:36 am
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    I understand where Alan's coming from but in the words of Penn Jillette:

    "And Candle In the Wind by Sir Elton John is the best selling single of all-time. Popular sure doesn't mean right."

    Just because millions buy Nickelback's talentless drivel doesn't mean they don't have poor taste in music. Millions also see Twilight movies and buy Call of Duty games. That doesn't make them any less artfully soulless creations engineered by corporate committees. It wouldn't be so bad if Chad Kroeger wasn't such an arrogant douchebag who thinks the samey crap he cranks out is some sort of high art.

    I'll never say that people don't have a right to like Nickelback or give them their money. But that they supposedly help fund other niche acts on Roadrunner (something Roadrunner was already very successful at long before signing them) doesn't make them or their fans any less deserving of criticism. People don't like stuff I'm into as well and that's cool but it can go both ways.

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  • November 22, 2011 at 1:12 am
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    the reason the " fans " are going nuts in that video, is because they know they are being filmed

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  • November 22, 2011 at 1:42 am
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    Alan,

    Did you write this to drive traffic?

    Brilliant.

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  • November 22, 2011 at 2:02 am
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    I'm proud of so many Canadian bands and I'm sorry Nickelback is not one of them…that has to mean something right?

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  • November 22, 2011 at 2:45 am
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    I think much of this has to do with technology. With the huge amount of artists you can freely download on the Internet, people are now able to specifically formulate their own tastes. Generic rock will always exist, but the level of backlash will be more intense now. Gone are the days where we readily accept of force-fed music. Cliche pop/rock is now counterbalanced–and opposed–by millions of people who are able to tailor their music to exactly what they like.

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  • November 22, 2011 at 4:55 am
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    I just used this to disparage NB on my Facebook and it backfired. Suddenly people are telling me they like them. I don't know if I can ever take these people seriously again.

    I'm glad NB can keep other, better, less popular band afloat, but still…I mean, you've heard them, right?

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  • November 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm
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    Good point Alan!

    New kids on the block, Backstreet boys, Britney Spears and the like are all acts made up to appeal to the masses and everybody knows it. As a music lover and a musicien, this didn't bottered me much since I don't give a crap about pop/dance music. But today, almost all this genre is made this way because it sells! Now Nickelback embody the same concept, but in rock. It's the same crappy, cliché, pre-digested, ready-to-buy music as any other pop artist out there.

    So where am I going with all these obvious facts?

    They made SEVEN freaking albums!!! They make millions out of it! So it's telling music labels and radio stations that this is the kind of music its audience wants to ear (sadly it's kind of true). Since Nickelback sits on top of the pyramid of crappy rock music, I think they influence the making of bad music more so then they are funding a couple of indie band on the side. Agents and music label are willing to shed much more money on these fabricated bands now then some with original and quality content.

    It is just sad…

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  • November 22, 2011 at 9:10 pm
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    Great Article Allan! I also don't particularly care for Nickelback, but as a fan of Roadrunner Artists such as Dream Theater and Opeth you make a great point about Nickelback giving the label an influx of revenue to fund more artistic endeavours. Although I don't really care for the band, and find Chad to be quite douchey (one minute he's singing about how abuising women is wrong, the next he's yelling "I like your pants around your feet! I like the dirt that's on your knees! I like my hands around your neck") really their music is harmless and a lot of it catchy…no reason for the vitriol thrown at them by the hipster crowd.

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  • November 22, 2011 at 9:14 pm
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    Another comment…I wonder how quick the hipsters would be to jump off the bandwagon if their favourite indie band had sales approaching that of Nickelback…as soon as something becomes popular and accepted by the mainstream it is no longer "cool"…

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  • November 24, 2011 at 8:05 pm
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    I have no problem with the legitimate success of anything, and that includes Nickelback. And to be completely transparent, I've probably only ever heard three Nickelback songs in their entirety. I realize their pre-fabricated party anthem rock is the bane of many peoples' existence, but I have better things to do with my time than spew venom at a band whose music isn't really my cup of tea.

    It's no secret to most that Nickelback – and similar constructs such as Britney, like the author mentioned – are carefully designed by the music industry to appeal to the lowest common denominator of music fans. Alan very aptly summed this up with his comment "not everyone on the planet is as intensely into music you or I," and I agree wholeheartedly. I've tried, and failed, to sway casual listeners into liking some of my favourite bands such as Fishbone. But what inevitably happens is they simply turn a deaf ear to it, for whichever reasons they choose – too challenging, too crazy, too weird, too whatever. To preserve my own sanity, I had to stop taking it personally and accept people and their music tastes for who and what they are.

    Would I love to see Fishbone draw the same revenue as the likes of Nickelback? Well, sure I would. It'd mean their music was reaching a large appreciative audience and (hopefully) ensure Fishbone a long and fruitful career. But that's just not the case.

    ALL THAT SAID, what truly bothers me about Nickelback is their claim of being from Vancouver…because this also isn't the case. I'm not sure what this posturing is attempting to achieve, other than possibly making it easier to meet groupies if they are offered the promise of being wined'n'dined in a relatively cool west coast city?

    This band is from Hanna, Alberta – current population approximately 2,847 people. Distancing themselves from their actual roots and identity only alienates them from Canadians who are proud of this country and their hometowns. They should be a small-town Alberta success story that potentially inspires some 14-year-old kid with a guitar in his or her bedroom that succeeding in the music industry isn't for "other people from big cities". Perhaps claiming to be from Vancouver is some ill-advised PR ploy to prevent Nickelback from being too closely tethered to some notion of being redneck hicks, but the music they write is pretty much the furthest thing I could possibly associate with the ethos of being a Vancouverite.

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  • December 10, 2011 at 5:37 am
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    I am writing this as a pretty huge Nickelback fan. They are my favourite modern rock band right now, and as much venom that the band gets, they do get their fair share of love. It really depends where you look, if you youtube a Nickelback video there is a whole lot of love being posted and then there is those trolls fans feed simply to defend the band.

    I love music, I've been a singer my whole life and played piano since I was 10 but I do declare myself as a casual music fan. I love listening to bands like Green Day, Lifehouse, The Beatles, Journey etc. I find myself (as a music fan) being completely content with mainstream rock, because it sounds good! It wouldn't be there if it didn't!

    In regards to Nickelback, I believe Chad Kroeger is a pretty good singer for his genre, and all though most people would disagree with me he's a good song writer too. Many people call him unoriginal but if you're consulting mainstream rock music for literate lyrics and a beautiful soft vocal ability you are probably looking in the wrong place, and will then decide you hate it.
    I've seen Chad Kroeger on interviews, he really doesn't seem like a douche and he doesn't believe his music is an art form. Their version of rock really isn't supposed to be.

    So as Mr. Cross said, just take it for what it is.

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  • March 24, 2013 at 1:35 pm
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    I'm deeply disappointed with this article from someone I highly respect and who has really caused a lot of people to be interested in music in the first place. I know the name of my website makes it seem like I'm biased, but to argue that most of the population doesn't take music seriously and that justifies the existence of bollocks mainstream artists is crap. People can like whatever they want, yes, but it can still bother me when the radio is overflowing with this garbage, while I have to go hunting for quality. The sad part, as you say, is that not everyone is going to bother with the hunting. The biggest concern I have with it is that more and more impressionable young guitar players out there are hearing all this stuff on the radio, the Nickelbacks and the Theory of A Deadmans and all this other half assed rubbish, and they think they need to copy it. It's the same reason there were so many stupid American Pie movie sequels. Some people care only about making a quick buck off these masses. Even if I really can see why out of all the cookie cutter clones out there, Nickelback might have some appeal over the rest, should I not hate something just because it's doing a better job of sucking than others?
    If you wouldn't mind, I invite you to read my article on the subject:
    http://anythingbutnickelback.blogspot.ca/2013/02/the-nickelback-quandary

    Keep up the great work, by the way. I'm a huge fan of yours.
    Thanks

    Reply
  • Pingback: A Journal of Musical ThingsA New Nickelback Single is Coming on Tuesday--And I'm Happy About That. » A Journal of Musical Things

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