In defense of Nickelback.

In Defense of Nickelback Nickelback is a phenomena... but for unusual reasons. Rarely has there been a band that has received such incredible success yet so much disdain at the same time. Publications like Rolling Stone and Allmusic seem to revel in taking swipes at Nickelback whenever a new album is released. The band is regularly listed as the "worst band ever" in various polls around the world and joked about by Joe Q. Public when they spontaneously utter the phrase, "Nickelback sucks!" without having a real reason why.

I started thinking about this. Surely, trusted music critics saw something in Nickelback that warranted such hatred. And then I realized that all this criticism of Nickelback is just a form of mob mentality (a.k.a. bullying). Yup, I said it. No critic in their right mind would say that they are a Nickelback fan after so many other critics have gone on record saying the band is crap. That would be career (and reputation) suicide.

A dfrnt perspective

How could a band sell 30 million records worldwide and still be voted "The worst band in the world" by readers of The Word magazine in the U.K.? Clearly there's something happening here that needs some 'splaining. So I decided to shine the "dfrnt light" on Nickelback to give a brand new perspective to the phenomena that they've created.

Full disclosure: I don't personally own any Nickelback albums. They're simply not my cup of tea. My son has a few songs on his iPod though. That's the extent of our Nickelback consumption. I can appreciate what they've accomplished though and I'm not afraid to give them credit for their success.

So how can I defend a band that I'm clearly not a "dyed in the wool" fan of? Simple... I just look at the facts:

  • 15 years together

  • 6 albums

  • 5 platinum albums in Canada and USA

  • 4 platinum albums in U.K. and Australia

  • 6 countries with #1 albums (Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, U.K. U.S. Norway)

  • They are a massively successful touring act

  • They are a guaranteed radio staple

Here are some links for you to check the stats yourself:

In fact, take a look at the Billboard Top 100 songs of 2001 and see how many artists are still around. Nickelback is at #23.

Why are they so successful?

So why is Nickelback so successful if the critics hate them so much? The answer is simple: they actually like what they do and they're really good at it.

Nickelback created their own success. They know how to write songs that they love, that radio loves and that their fans love. Chad Kroeger knows how to write a hit song. How many songwriters can do that? Not many.

They also weren't afraid to get out there and do the work. In the early days, Chad himself was calling radio stations to talk to music directors about airplay. Not only did he ask... but he got airplay... and he followed up looking for  rotation bumps and chart positions. Musicians don't typically do this kind of thing but Chad had a thick skin and determination. Chalk one up for tenacity.

The perfect storm

Chad Kroeger is an "outlier"; a phenomena that Malcolm Gladwell addresses in his book "Outliers". He explains that an "'Outlier' is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience." In other words, for Wayne Gretzky to become the world's most incredible hockey player a perfect scenario had to be set in place. He needed the perfect parents, perfect community, perfect birth month, perfect opportunities and the perfect amount of support from a wide range of individuals. Bill Gates... same thing. Albert Einstein... same thing. Beatles / Nelson Mandela / Barack Obama... same thing.

Chad grew up in Hanna, Alberta listening to country and hard rock music. If you grew up in a small town, you'd know what that's like. Prior to Nickelback there was no "sound" that captured both country and hard rock... you know, "the sound of your small town". Chad's environment as a youth contributed greatly to what Nickelback would become. Hook laden songs with catchy melodies coupled with crunchy chords and a gravely voice were not the norm. In many ways Nickelback created a new genre of music that no critic has identified. So I'll just go ahead and identify it as "F150 Rock". It's music that you listen to in your truck whether you're a cowboy or a rig pig... and the girls like it too.

Yes, small towns have stories too and Nickelback captures those stories in their songs. Pull up some Nickelback lyrics and you'll see what I mean. These songs resonate with people just like Chad Kroger because in many ways he's singing their story. His brilliance is the way he can consistently tell these small town stories through song.

Resonate and prove it

To be successful (in business or music) you have to provide value that resonates with your customer. Radio has been a huge part of Nickelback's success. Radio was the loudspeaker that took Nickelback's F150 Rock to the people. The first huge hit for Nickelback was "How You Remind Me" back in 2001. Back then it probably appeared that Nickelback was destined to be a one-hit wonder but the world would soon see that this was not the case.

Nickelback was far from a one-hit wonder. They've proven over the years that they know how to write a song that resonates with both radio AND radio listeners. They have a community that includes radio, promoters, record label and fans that will virtually guarantee that their songs will receive attention.

On top of it all... the NEGATIVE press the band gets further boosts the bands brand and presence. I find it ironic that a huge part of Nickelback's success comes from the critics constantly berating the band when in actual fact all they are doing is rehashing the same old ridiculous story. Their rants are actually advertising that there's a new Nickelback album available. 

Are the critics coming up with new angles or reasons why Nickelback is such a terrible band? No. They just put out a poll every now and then that lists Nickelback as one of the choices for "worst band in the world".

Can the critics resonate with people and prove that Nickelback is such a terrible band? Yes, they do resonate with people but they can't prove that Nickelback is a terrible band.

Can the critics sit back and weigh Nickelback against any of the other pop drivel that is currently on the charts and still prove that Nickelback is worse than anyone else? No (proof: see Ke$ha).

Are Nickelback coming up with new songs that resonate with their fans and get played on the radio? Yes. 

Are they selling albums? Yes.

Do they have more real fans than detractors? Yes.

Do the detractors even matter? No.

Critics are like professional wrestlers

Critics are supposed to get your blood boiling. That's why they're called "critics" and not "supporters".

I can't imagine the amount of ink that has been used slamming Nickelback since the 2001 story in Rolling Stone where they wrote "If you're looking for originality, you might want a full refund
instead of a Nickelback." Suddenly, critics around the world had all their work done for them. All they had to do was write a negative review of anything Nickelback released from then on despite what their fans thought.

I see it as the equivalent of Nelson on The Simpson's pointing at Bart and laughing "Ha-ha!". Rolling Stone said that Nickelback sucked, then AMG and so on and so on. No critic would want to be on the receiving end of that "Ha-ha!" so they just jumped on the bandwagon instead. Critic sheep explained.

And Nickelback still continues to write songs that matter to their fans. If I were them I might consider taking out a full page ad in the New York Times. Maybe they could license an image of Nelson from The Simpson's pointing at the reader laughing, "Ha-ha!" The caption would simply say, "To all our negative press: Thanks for all the free ink!" Love, Nickelback.