In 2006, I had no taste. Not bad taste. No taste. As in, I had no faculty for deciding which music I liked. I mostly just listened to The Cage-era Triple M and figured ACDC were the greatest band in rock canon. My circle of friends at the time constituted anyone in the school who could accurately quote The Simpsons
and thought Mick Molloy - whose name hung embossed in gold around the school on boards for esteemed past students - was a bloody legend. Not real sophisticated, but that's high school. I introduce this group for the sake of indicting them, for these were the culprits who all chipped in for my birthday to get me a copy of a record called All The Right Reasons
, Nickelback's fifth studio album, with a proclamation: "They're coming in April. Get tickets." At the Rod Laver Arena we acted out a script of how to perform at a rock show handed down through movies and television. We threw up the horns when they played a tribute to the late Dimebag Darrell, who I'd never heard of. One of our group, a beefy kid of Polish descent who asked me to shoot him if he ever became gay, squealed hysterically throughout their entire set. That was the first time I ever saw a band live. I think I had a good time.
A couple weeks ago Nickelback announced plans for a summer tour of Australia, triggering another wave of anti-Nickelback sentiment and, predictably, trite defences amounting to not much more than well they sell a lot of records! Nickelback are frequently touted as the most hated band in the world, but a Google search comparison of the terms "nickelback are the worst band in the world" and "coldplay are the worst band in the world" tips the scale towards Coldplay at a ratio of 2:1. Both bands belong to a canon of recording artists who are fashionable to hate: Linkin Park, Kings of Leon, Limp Bizkit, et al. all of whom provide Western civilisation with an antipathetic shibboleth; regardless of how one actually feels about those acts, it is understood that they're supposed to be hated. Like any meme, it's an inside joke the whole world is in on.
The raison d'etre behind this particular phenomenon is no different than the adolescent distaste for pop culture in general, the same myopia that leads to the championing of Pink Floyd's genius over Lady Gaga's ostensible vacuity. As the modern day opiate of the masses, separating oneself from pop culture is a convenient way of elevating oneself above the mainstream. It's a lazy form of cultural elitism, feeling superior without having to actually do anything. Because Nickelback are so unbelievably successful among the general population, they become an ideal totem for the crassness of popular culture.
That's not entirely misguided, though. Nickelback's lyrics portray a crudely heteronormative universe in which Chad Kroeger is the masculine hero who divides his time between drinking brews with his bros and fighting - literally fighting - anyone who brushes up against "his girl." Kroeger is lyrically preoccupied with such a limited palette of topics that it doesn't seem unfathomable that the totality of his personal existence involves nothing more than blowjobs and Jack Daniels, sometimes at the same time. Yet those are hardly unique elements. Television has been a source of masculine wish fulfillment for decades, recently with shows like Entourage
, Sons of Anarchy
, even The Newsroom
, which I'll go so far as to join in the condemnation for its damsel-in-distress female characters in need of saving by the gallant paragon of journalism, Will McAvoy (at least when he's not condemning them for their femininity in the first place). Even in music, ostensibly cool bands like the Black Keys are selling a similar image of womanizing and female objectification, making Patrick Carney's disparaging comments about Nickelback highly ironic: what difference is there between Kroeger's jealous threats in "Next Contestant" and the brawling over a woman in the video for The Black Keys' "Tighten Up"? Things are certainly looking up, with shows like Mad Men
and Eastbound & Down
overtly subverting the myth of masculinity, but male fantasy is still a lucrative selling point. That's not to say Nickelback should be absolved of criticism, but those criticising should take more care examining their own taste and popular culture at large before letting Kroeger et al. bear the guilt for them.
And yet, even though Nickelback are a quantifiably reprehensible band, they reveal something hideous about human nature, which is that we need something to hate. Opposition is unifying. Like the science-fiction theory that an alien invasion could be the only catalyst for a unified world government, bands like Nickelback, who're simultaneously incredibly successful and massively reviled, bring people together. Hatred for Nickelback transcends geographical, generational, racial, sexual and political boundaries. Framing it like this is obviously facile, but consider this: every time you admit you don't really care about Nickelback either way, you're distancing yourself from the goal of world peace. That might constitute the hippest pose of all.
: Jake Cleland