A Scientific Explanation for Why Everyone Hates Nickelback
Nickelback is a band that everyone loves to hate. Saying that someone likes the Canadian rockers is a terrible insult, even though the band manages to sell millions of albums around the world. What’s with all the shade?
One Finnish researcher tried to get to the bottom of why music critics love to hate on Nickelback. Her study in Metal Music Studies, beautifully titled “‘Hypocritical Bullshit Performed Through Gritted Teeth’: Authenticity Discourses in Nickelback’s Album Reviews in Finnish Media,” argues that it’s a matter of authenticity. Critics don’t see Nickelback as genuine.
Salli Anttonen of the University of Eastern Finland examined reviews from Finnish music media published between 2000 and 2014, finding that in many ways, the band has been stymied by its mainstream popularity.
Critics have attacked Nickelback for being too calculated in their artistic approach, she writes, citing some of the harsher reviews:
"Their songs are ‘optimally safe’, where ‘everything is up to par with the requirements of the genre’, and which create ‘an illusion of hard rock’ (Ojala 2002). The music is described as being ‘fake’ (Riikonen 2012), ‘forced’ (Hilden 2011) and ‘performed through gritted teeth’ (Riikonen 2012). Van der San (2011) claims that Nickelback is ‘calculatingly hit-focused’; Ojala accuses them of ‘laughing all the way to the bank’ (2003). Overall, the descriptions imply that the songs are not genuine self-expression written willingly, but instead forced and made for commercial reasons."
They’re also a little too similar to beloved bands like Nirvana, and they aren’t perceived as adding anything original to the formula, instead cranking out hits that might be described as grunge-light. “The hope and memory of grunge can be seen to be soiled in the worst kind of way in the hands of bands such as Nickelback, who represent everything grunge was against, not least of all commercialism,” Anttonen writes. The band’s very success undermines its ability to borrow from grunge and metal, because there’s nothing metal about a song your mom listens to on the radio—“horrifying radio rock,” as one critic called Nickelback in 2005. We might accept the mass appeal in a Katy Perry song, but people expect more artistic purity from non-mainstream genres like metal.
Not to mention, they’re boring. The similarities between Nickelback and older bands makes their music predictable, and as such, bland. No one feels like Nickelback—or its members—are dangerous. When they try to be edgy, they come off as trying too hard. They may sing about drinking hard, but the public doesn’t see Nickelback’s members living the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. (One critic blasted them for singing about drinking without ever drinking on stage.) This adds to the band’s image as “fake,” sanitized, and commercialized.
And maybe, it’s because they appeal to women, a little. One critic’s review lists fans at a Nickelback concert as “panicky little girls, tough guys in print T-shirts and leather jackets bought from supermarkets, sturdy and bald men, and preteens with their parents,” Anttonen summarizes. As another Nickelback scholar has observed, “the teenage girl is the most contemptible fan of all, and the mere suggestion that a band is popular with ‘the girlies’ may suffice to conjure the whiff of artistic failure.” The band’s sentimental lyrics put them squarely in the “girly” camp—which critics dismiss as non-serious (see: Taylor Swift, One Direction, “crazy” female Beatles fans).
This study is just focused on reviews in the Finnish press, but the anti-Nickelback quips don’t sound much different from any criticism in the U.S. In short, here is why you hate Nickelback, according to Anttonen:
Nickelback is too much of everything to be enough of something. They follow genre expectations too well, which is seen as empty imitation, but also not well enough, which is read as commercial tactics and as a lack of a stable and sincere identity.
When you look at it that way, it’s hard not to feel bad for Chad Kroeger.