Chad Kroeger once said something that changed my life. I’m paraphrasing, but it was close to “People say Nickelback sucks. Well, we pack arenas and have sold over forty million records. You don’t like us, but we clearly don’t suck.” I don’t know why I stumbled on a video of the Canadian frontman defending his place in pop, but that day I became a musical adult. Immediately digesting his words, I could now tell the difference between what I didn’t like and what sucked. As a magazine editor, I was finally free to include artists in the publication that I didn’t like, but knew were important to the pop lexicon. For years since, I’ve lived that ideal. I’ve felt that if the bands I hate give my friends as much joy as the bands I love give me, then I’m all for it. I haven’t turned up my nose at other’s taste too many times as an adult. Today, I work for a record label that is half owned by Chad Kroeger (the other half owned by legendary cyber-goon Jonathan Simkin) and I hate it… because now I can’t defend Nickelback.
I don’t listen to Nickelback, and when I say that I don’t mean “I don’t listen to Nickelback and here’s why they’re ruining the world” like you’re often going to hear from any under-forty culture geek. I mean I can’t even name one of their songs. I know that when I’m watching hockey that their songs play either at the arena or during the television overlays, but I don’t throw my hands in the air bitching about my life being inundated with heavy riffs and Vedder-y vocals. You can’t get riled up about them the way people do about Fox News, because there isn’t an equivalent of John Stewart pointing out their perceived shortcomings. They’re around, but they’re easily avoidable if you choose not to listen to them.
You see, Nickelback isn’t designed for me to love. I listen to Slumberland bands and collect Shadows albums. If I lived in Red Deer and was a pool shark, I might be required to have an opinion but I’m more irritated by acts that are sold to me as interesting and cutting edge but can’t write a song, like Salem or the xx. The Kroeger boys aren’t shredding on slightly overdriven Les Pauls so that some hipster editor of a magazine can write a glowing profile about them or have after-party tastemakers discuss their current output. Having to hear complaints about them is alien to me.
I remember my first debates over the validity of pop icons. They were always with my older brother. As young boys, we refused to listen to acts that didn’t play their own instruments or write their own music. I find it odd that over the last year or so, I’ve been pummeled with press about the Weeknd, and if we were to compare the two acts by judging hard work and creative control, Nickelback would win every time. Nickelback writes their own songs while the Weeknd has either had his songs written by the guy who did Esthero’s music, or stolen them from his ex-partner Jeremy Rose. The Weeknd has more handlers for image and music direction than any act out there. I mean, I’ve accepted that trip hop had to come back if grunge was going to, but a bunch of boner-killing, emo R&B? Get real.
The last refuge of the hater is always, “Well, I just think their music sucks,” but where do you even hear Nickelback songs? Okay, you love Xiu Xiu, but for some reason you sit around listening to Top Forty rock radio just for the schadenfreude? It reminds me of going to house parties and hearing people boast about not having a television, but after thirty minutes it’s clear they know more about The Voice and 2 Broke Girls than any mouth breather out there. It’s the same with Jersey Shore. Why do you keep up with the pageantry of orange beefcakes and fat floozies when you asked me to come with you to a George Kuchar marathon last week? I understand when people gripe about the heavy decline of acts that were once “cool” and critically acclaimed like the Rolling Stones or M.I.A. because fans feel like something was ripped away from them, but I find it hard to believe that the irony crowd was once really into early, underground Nickelback (if there ever was such a thing).
It doesn’t make you interesting to rip on an act that’s universally disliked by those who consider themselves informed. It’s too safe. I don’t listen to the Insane Clown Posse or buy Dane Cook tickets, but their art (yep, it’s art) doesn’t offend me. If I were offended by every artist that didn’t appeal to me, I’d become one sour senior citizen. There’s that character in Hannah and Her Sisters named Frederick who watches professional wrestling just so he can ponder what level of mind watches it. It’s important to remember that Frederick’s wife cheated on him with Michael Caine, and once you’ve had Caine, you’ll have it again (that’s a slogan, right?)
I used to listen to the plebes carve out a trite conversation by ragging on the Albertan swagger rock outfit and, if prompted, chime in with a different perspective. Now, with my new position, it would just come off as nepotism. I’ll miss the days of cornering a too-cool-for-Christmas kid wondering why they’re even talking about Nickelback. I don’t like Nickelback, but they don’t suck. You do.