In Defense of Nickelback

nickelbackhead

Guess who’s seen Nickelback in concert, at the low, low price of his own mother’s blood?

I should probably start explaining myself, but I want to let that thought gather gravitas through repetition. My mother’s blood paid for my attendance to a Nickelback concert. She surrendered the fluid of life to see this guy…

kroeger …prance around a stage, peel off his shirt and nearly combust while headbanging near an overzealous pyrotechnic machine. So close to being a good night. Alas. He also sang like a misfiring pickup truck, but that’s not important right now. I still need to explain myself, lest you label me an uncultured troglodyte.

Blood donations used to net prizes, like some foreign game show based around needles and vital fluids. Concert tickets were a big item. Nickelback had just released the song “Hero” attached to Spider-Man, and happened to be oozing across the Hoosier state. The stars aligned, and I found myself sitting on a lawn listening to what would become rock music’s public enemy #1.

Seriously, the flames were so close.

Seriously, the flames were so close.

That night, I discovered two things. The first was how to sniff out marijuana smoke like an airport bloodhound. The second? How much I hated, hated Nickelback. When the toothless hill people began their seventeenth round of “special cigarettes” and we’d suffered an hour of gravel-tumbling vocals, I convinced my mother to leave. It’s the only concert I left early, ever. And I’ve been in a crowd of angry, singing lesbians. But that’s a story for another time.

Now I need to defend Nickelback. Should be… interesting.

*sniff, sniff*... AROOOOOOOO!

*sniff, sniff*… AROOOOOOOO!

First I need to address their music. Music critic Michael Martine called it “grunge-lite,” blogger Tim Tamashiro identifies it as “‘F150 Rock,’ music that you listen to in your truck whether you’re a cowboy or a rig pig.” I don’t know what to call it, beyond the hipster trope of “pure crap.” In any case, it is popular. Like, 9 platinum albums popular. Like, 15 million records sold popular. How you ask?

Because they are geniuses.

Because they are geniuses.

Especially this guy. I know, weird.

Between the arguments of Mr. Martine and Mr. Tamashiro, Nickelback’s genius is evident. They play for an audience of rural smalltowners who idolize fame. They play a fusion of country and rock, the two most popular genres for that socioeconomic group. Country and rock are also the two most popular genres for radio stations. Also, in an era of illegal downloading and slumping record sales, the only places where CD’s still garner a profit is, you guessed it, rural small towns.

So their market is stable. Their music is easy to synthesize. They are profitable, they gain frequent airtime in their audience’s medium (who else listens to radio anymore?) and they can avoid the pitfalls of the modern music industry. But it actually goes beyond that. They planned all this, and worked for this conclusion.

“In the early days,” writes Tamashiro, “(the lead singer) himself was calling radio stations to talk to music directors about airplay… he followed up looking for rotation bumps and chart positions. Musicians don’t typically do this kind of thing but Chad Kroeger had a thick skin and determination. Chalk one up for tenacity.”

You can't say they aren't tenacious.

You can’t say they aren’t tenacious.

I’m sure you’re saying, “so they are popular and marketable, but that doesn’t mean they are good.” I desperately want to agree with you, but I can’t. At least, not yet. I fear your definition of “good music” is too limited. So before I agree with you, I need to disagree.

Blogger Eric Paul Dennis wrote a telling article defending Nickelback, essentially dividing the public into two groups: those with taste and those without. “People with a taste for music—any taste in music—recognize how vacuous Nickelback’s music is,” he writes. “Nickelback sold out, but they couldn’t buy cool. People with no musical taste can never really understand this. All music sounds generally the same to them.”

To his credit, Mr. Dennis claims that there is nothing wrong with lacking musical taste. Even so, he comes off as an elitist. He claims that Nickelback is like Applebee’s, or the Ford Focus, or a microwave. Music as product, not music as art.

To that I say… nope.

If Nickelback’s music communicates a message to an audience (regardless of lacking profundity) and that audience experiences an emotional response, then that is art. There is no cultural divide or inherent lack of taste. His argument (and after their concert, mine) was one of cultural elitism. That is foolish.

But that’s just semantics and definition disagreement. The real problem we have with Nickelback, at the core, is a matter of the musical bandwagon… which is not some sentient musical jalopy. Although that thought does make me smile.

We dislike them because we feel free to express our hatred. Any negative feelings we have are validated when others express disdain. Eventually, we have bandwagon mentality. That too is foolish.

Phew. Now I want to agree with you, at least partially.

Nickelback is awful. Their boring tonal quality, their insipid lyrics, the way all their crap sounds the same… you know the arguments. But they are valuable, both commercially and artistically. I don’t like them, but I respect them…unless you’re talking about “Figured You Out.” That song is just awful.

Put those thumbs down, my compliment came with a barb. A BARB!

Put those thumbs down, my compliment came with a barb. A BARB!

But let me be clear. They are NOT worth the price of your mother’s blood. Just to be perfectly clear. Don’t need another lawsuit…

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