How did Nickelback become the 'most-hated band in the world"? Here's the real story
The strange and fascinating story of Nickelback, a multi-platinum, stadium selling rock band that has gone on to be one of the most hated bands in the world.
As far as bands go, Nickelback is in a unique position. Behind The Beatles, they are the second-biggest selling foreign act in the United States from the 2000s. The band has sold over 50 million albums worldwide and was listed number seven on the Billboard top artist of the decade, with four albums listed on the Billboard top albums of the decade.
They've sold out stadiums for over a decade during their live performances, including New York's legendary Madison Square Garden and the Wikipedia page for their list of awards and achievements is certainly no stub. You couldn't have lived through the 00s without hearing Chad Kroeger's distinctive drawl at least once (more like a few hundred times). Be it the radio, the local pub, a house party, the mall or even elevator music, the band's music was ubiquitous and pervaded nearly all spaces.
Yet, Nickelback has carved out a reputation for being one of the most universally hated bands in the world. Just a quick glance at the thousands of memes about them is enough to give you a clue as to how far-reaching and widespread the hatred for the band is. In fact, it's almost as if hatred for the band is a tribalizing force on the internet, meaning that two strangers can break the ice and get comfortable once they've acknowledged that both of them can't stand Nickelback!
So how exactly did this certified multi-platinum rock act end up being so widely dissed, even landing NME's Worst Band award in 2003? Here is the strange and fascinating story of the band that everybody loves to hate.
The band sold out to the wrong record label
Back in the mid-nineties, when the rock world was still mourning the loss of Kurt Cobain, Chad Kroeger and company (can anybody even name the other three guys without Googling it?) started as a cover band called the Village Idiots in the small town of Hanna, Alberta, Canada.
Kroeger's growling voice and the band's metal-influenced sound stood out at the time, and like most garage bands in the mid ’90s, they covered acts like Metallica. Chad Kroeger soon decided to pen his own tunes — the band self-released an EP named Hesher in 1996, and an LP called Curb the same year. If you listen to tracks on both of these releases, you can pick up on their harder rock influence, a sound that was in tune with their successful contemporaries like Soundgarden or Bush.
But what little scope for evolution they had, the band threw away when they scored a record deal in 1999 with Roadrunner Records, their sound quickly shifted towards a more generic, radio-friendly pop feel, with a distorted guitar riff or two thrown into the mix.
It turned out that first tryst with commercial recognition for Nickelback was like sitting on top of a slip-n-slide and waiting for a push. And what a push it was!
As it turned out, Roadrunner wasn't really a good fit for the band's sound. Roadrunner Records was formed in 1980 as a label for the then emerging heavy metal genre. A decade later, they were cementing themselves as forerunners for the revival of metal music, as metal legends like Slipknot, Sepultura and Machine Head jumped on the bandwagon.
In contrast, Nickelback's sound, which although was slightly more rock-oriented in the early days (although nowhere in the same league as these big metal acts), was straddling the fence between generic three-chord rock and pop.
Nickelback guitarist Ryan Peake discussed why they signed with Roadrunner instead of a different label, stating, “They wanted it more than anyone else, and that was a good feeling. [Other places] felt like a sausage maker.”
So the band's formula based singles-driven approach and relatively softer sound was already costing them some serious credibility.
They refused to evolve or experiment over the years
Unlike most modern bands that are constantly on a journey to re-discover their sound and feel, Nickelback made the awful mistake of deciding to play it safe. After their first massive hit, 2001's 'How You Remind Me,' Chad Kroeger and company continued to write same-sounding formulaic songs that lacked any innovation. Their approach was similar to that of a boy band: write an upbeat single, release a catchy single, rinse, repeat - with almost no effort to stitch the songs on an album together tastefully.
There are far too many videos on the internet to prove the point. Here's one such instance below. The video plays 'How You Remind Me' on the left channel and 'Someday' on the right channel. The two songs were written two years apart. Even with both songs playing at the same time, they are so friggin' similar that it doesn't even disorient your senses. Try doing the same with someone like say Radiohead, and you'll probably be nauseous in a matter of seconds!
Nickelback is one of the biggest selling acts in the world, but what ultimately makes them lose their credibility is their songwriting. Even in the world of pop, artists like to keep things fresh by changing up things here and there and finding some new hooks. But not Nickelback! It's as if the band is stuck in a time capsule in the year 2001 and with every song, they are reliving the same moment over and over again.
Radio killed the wannabe 'Rockstar'
There's a sense of irony when it comes to the downfall of Nickelback. The band's three biggest hits, 'How You Remind Me', 'Rockstar' and 'Photograph' took the phrase heavy-rotation and gave it an obscene new meaning. According to Billboard, 'How You Remind Me', the “signature song” for the band was played a gruelling 1.2 million times from 2001 to 2009. Considering the fact that the song still gets airplay today, it won't be a big surprise if it might hit another 1.2 million plays by the time this decade passes.
There's only that much a listener can take if the same, repetitive tune is being played over and over and over again. At some point, one is bound to snap. So in a sense, it was their popularity that triggered the first wave of crigeworthiness towards the band.
T.V. didn't help either...
As if radio hadn't done enough damage to Nickelback, television didn't do them any favors and only added more salt to a fresh wound. Way back in 2003, Comedy Central was running a well-advertised panel show called 'Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn'. The show involved four comedians who discussed topical news stories. On one episode, comedian Brian Posehn brought up a study that tied violent lyrics to violent behavior. He quipped, "No one talks about the studies that show that bad music makes people violent, like [listening to] Nickelback makes me want to kill Nickelback."
A clip of the joke turned into a promo that ran during commercial breaks on the channel for several months. Everyone who watched Comedy Central during that time was bound to see it at some point. Even if you weren't paying attention, that quip was bound to somehow linger in your sub-conscious mind. Suddenly, it became a cool thing to rip Nickelback!
Nickelback's lyrical content is openly sexist and in bad taste
Chad Kroeger's lyrical content didn't help fix Nickelback's image. In fact, it did quite the opposite. He openly objectifies women in his songs, reducing them to a series of actions and body parts aimed at fulfilling his own desires and fantasies. Occasionally, these descriptions dive into darker territory with imagery that hints at violence and abuse, but instead of being introspective or redemptive when touching upon these themes, Kroeger just lets it fly tastelessly and without any tact whatsoever.
Sort of like the exact opposite of Arctic Monkey's Alex Turner, who can take practically any sort of smut and spin it into a cool and catchy line.
In 'Figured You Out,' after mentioning that he likes a woman's pants around her feet, Kroeger croons that he "likes the way you still say please / While you're looking up at me." Not very subtle is it? The transparently titled ode to Bill Clinton 'Something in Your Mouth' pushes the misogyny dial a notch higher even: "You're so much cooler when you never pull it out / 'Cause you look so much cuter with something in your mouth," he sings.
Lyrics like that are not cool to start off with. Add to that the rise of the millennials in the era of being 'PC' and 'woke' and it's a perfect recipe for being a brickbat magnet.
Chad Kroeger's terrible understanding of the rockstar image
Being the frontman, Chad Kroeger forms a key role in shaping the image of the band. Instead of taking the spotlight with grace, or even a rockstar's off-handed recklessness, Kroeger repeatedly engages in activities that make him come off more like a frat boy than a professional musician. What's worse? He likes to brag about it!
Once, in an interview with Playboy, Kroeger talked about the time he 'went down on himself' for a free case of beer and bragged about his binge-drinking abilities.
"I drank 13 Coronas in a row once, in Cabo San Lucas," he said. "The little flap that seals off your stomach and keeps the food from coming back up in your throat, I f*cked that up. I can get a Corona down in five or six seconds."
In another interview with Men’s Health in 2012, the Nickelback frontman once paid one of the band’s drum technicians to stick his penis into the blades of an electric fan for 600 deutschmarks. "I can still hear the 'bleh-bleh-blehhhhhhh' of the blade slowly sputtering to a stop and this blood-curdling scream," said Kroeger.
"It was fantastic." Add his 2008 DUI incident to the above examples and its easy to see how little he cares about others, something that didn't go unnoticed by fans or the general public.
The band's hypocrisy and commercial image
In the 2014 song 'Edge of a Revolution,' Kroeger calls the people of Wall Street “common thieves” and shouts generic, flat lyrics that's the stuff of protests and demonstrations in liberal arts colleges since the 1960s, such as, “We want change and how’re we gonna get there? Revolution.” Of course, this song was completely trashed by critics and fans alike because Nickelback themselves are one of the most corporate bands ever.
Chad Kroeger is worth around $60 million himself, and he’s complaining about the concentration of wealth in Wall Street. Where's the sense in that?
Another nail in Nickelback's coffin came during the Alberta Flood Aid fundraiser concert they headlined in 2013. Over 32,000 people attended the live-streamed festival, which raised $1.5 million for flood relief. Everybody was in a joyous mood, grooving to the jams while enjoying the spirit of giving and sharing. But all that changed when Nickelback took the stage and requested that the live stream be cut. The social media backlash was swift and brutal. Nickelback fans protested the band's decision, while others criticized the band for being stingy with their music at an event created to promote goodwill.
They let 'Rockstar' be licensed for a furniture commercial
Nickelback perhaps reached the zenith of selling-out when they then licensed their 2005 hit 'Rockstar' for a furniture commercial in the U.K. in 2008. The commercial is as cringe-worthy as the band's music, if not worse. If you have the appetite for it and haven't eaten anything for the last couple of hours or are the kinds that doesn't get squeamish easily, you can watch the commercial above. If not, just take our word for it and know that it's pathetic.
The commercial was proof that Nickelback didn't really care how their music was perceived and it showed the band's tastelessness, the inability to understand the difference between an actual band and a jukebox.
The wrath of the Internet: The final nail in the coffin
The internet is a cold-hearted, nasty place and just two minutes on the comment section of a Youtube video is enough to know that. For Nickelback, the era of social media meant that there was now a place for haters to diss the band more rapidly than ever, uniting forces and using the unlimited creativity that the world of memes offers to absolutely tear the already tarnished image of the band apart.
One notable example is a Facebook page called "Can This Pickle Get More Fans Than Nickelback?" According to The Guardian, at one point in 2010, the pickle fan page had more fans than the band's fan page did (compare 1.47 million pickle fans to 1.42 million Nickelback supporters.) Anti-Nickelback captions began appearing on popular trending memes such as 'Grumpy Cat' and 'Bad Luck Brian'. Some of these memes made fun of specific things, like Kroeger's hair. Others just poked fun at Nickelback for being Nickelback.
To make matters worse, Nickelback thinks it’s absolutely hilarious that the entire internet loathes them. The band claims that they’re in on the joke and that “nobody makes fun of them more than they do of each other.”
But they surely weren't laughing when they made their lawyers take down a site parodying their song, 'Photograph' back in 2012. Of course, the YouTube channel College Humor saved the day by latching on quickly and creating another parody called 'Look at this Instagram', and the rest is glorious internet history.