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Explaining the Nickelback Problem: Why There’s No Choice But to Hate Them

By / 08.25.12

Nickelback, widely considered a band that’s only popular because they’re popular, has made some waves around the web lately. Earlier this week we saw Jason Alexander, a debatably relevant human and sudden baldness vanquisher, star in their video for “Trying Not to Love You.” As if that weren’t enough, we recently learned that Avril Lavigne was getting hitched to the band’s frontman, Chad Kroeger. This of course, sent a collective shock around every sphere you can think of, particularly the one’s who had been pulling for Sk8er Boi.

The reactions to these two “news” items were generally on par with previous public sentiments regarding the Canadian Rock Group–filled with unequivocal hate, snark, and a rare form of piggyback bullying. Details can be delved into, but by now it’s safe to say you know the drill–let’s sign a petition because f*ck Nickelback, I bet this pickle can get more fans than Nickleback, and if you say Nickelback one more time, I’ll be left with no choice but to slam down my whiskey, grunt ambiguously, and sprout somewhat unkempt facial hair.

If the point is that people hate Nickelback, the funnier point is that people actually don’t. On the contrary, the stats show that people LOVE Nickelback. Here’s some quick factoids

  • As of 2010, Nickelback sold over 50,000,000 records worldwide (certified). This is on par with the likes of Jay-Z, Coldplay, Johnny Cash, and Oasis.
  • They’ve hit platinum 29 times in Canada, 21 times in the US, and 12 times in Australia. As of 2012, this would mean they’ve accrued 62,000,000 in platinum sales alone.
  • Nickelback was the 2nd best-selling foreign act in 2000’s (in the US), topped only by the Beatles. They were the 11th best-selling act overall
  • Nickelback’s Facebook Page has over 14 MILLION Fans, more than Leonardo DiCaprio, Blink-182, Louis CK, and “The Dark Knight Rises” combined
  • An inaccurate but interesting comparison–the universally-beloved show “Breaking Bad” has yet to top 3 million in viewers for a single episode.

With numbers this high, it’s pretty clear that a f*ck ton of people just want to be rockstars, live in hilltop houses, and drive fifteen cars. This obviously offers up quite the paradox, being that EVERYONE also hates them. So, what gives?

The quick fix here would be that most people consider Nickelback their guilty pleasure. That, very much like a Bro who secretly listens to “One Direction,” a person is not allowed to like Nickelback because their outright appreciation would somehow compromise the legitimacy of their cultural taste, and/or a personal narrative they’ve worked hard to fulfill through attending EDC and following Steve Aoki on twitter.

While this idea makes sense–there’s no doubting that music has always been tied with movements as much as the music itself–the large fanhood of Nickelback has, in a sense, diversified its portfolio. In other words, because of their “mainstream” presence and large following, there is no prerequisite as to the type of person you have to be in order to like Nickelback. Brohemians dig Santigold and overprivileged college kids dig Mac Miller, but anyone can dig Nickelback. This, ironically, might just be the problem.

Namely, it is both everybody but nobody who listens to Nickelback. A faceless mass, if you will. An entire bar singing along shamelessly to “How You Remind Me,” but not one group of people taking the lead. And because Nickelback sings songs with generally universal themes (“Rockstar” is about wanting to be a celebrity, “Photograph” is about wistful nostalgia, “Someday” is about someday), they don’t necessarily perpetuate a message that people get uncharacteristically pumped the f*ck up about.” Nickelback will never Rage Against the Machine, and Chad Kroeger will never tell Paul Ryan that he doesn’t deserve to play his songs because the message is f*cked up. Nickelback's message is one of limited animosity, directed at no one in particular. Unlike bands of similar ilk, it doesn't appear like Nickelback is even mad at anyone. (Obviously, this is because they're Canadian)

Listening to Nickelback therefore, isn’t a statement. It’s just something that exists, something that people do because its there, and as a result, something that nobody is particularly proud of. And because music is bound by an obligation to make people feel something, it is this lack of distinctive pride that leaves people with only one option–to channel that energy to the only outlet left. In this case of Nickelback, the only remaining option is irrational hate.

Chuck Klosterman, writer and person who has opinions that people respect, once wrote, “Sometimes it's fun to hate things arbitrarily, and Nickelback has become an acceptable thing to hate…there's no risk in hating Nickelback, and hating something always feels better than feeling nothing at all.” He is of course, correct, but I would offer a small caveat–people now hate Nickelback because there’s no other choice. Nowadays, saying you like Nickelback is never interpreted as actually liking Nickelback–instead, it’s interpreted as being a slimy ironic hipster, who only wishes to have an opinion contrary to that of the majority. And for everyone–even hipsters themselves–that is simply unacceptable. Hate therefore, is the only option for everybody. 

Point being–let’s all viciously pregame to “Creed” tonight.

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