Well, it had to happen sometime.
Let’s backtrack. We here at Popblerd like to toss around ideas for fun segments – if you peer behind our proverbial internet curtain, you’ll see a group of nerds (many bespectacled, myself included) gathered around a card table, clutching their rarest vinyl treasures, enthusiastically debating pop music’s greatest conundrums – and when the idea for a recurring column outlining exactly why we hate our most hated of songs cropped up, it was an instantly attractive proposition for even the most optimistic and forgiving of our writers. We love to rail on and on about art which excites us; what’s often underrated is the sheer release of writing about art which infuriates us.
But I had a caveat early on: I didn’t want to take on the easiest of targets. This is partially because the easiest targets are often boring to write about – jet on over to Rateyourmusic.com sometime, and take a look at the Nickelback reviews, many of which simply regurgitate reiterations of “they’re not talented”, “the lead singer sounds like he’s pooping”, and “these songs suck, rock is dead.” This is often, but not always, followed by an offensive statement about people who like Nickelback (“I think it’s adorable that retarded people have their very own band to look up to”) and/or an unflattering and gross description of what listening to Nickelback sounds like (“listening to Nickelback is about as pleasant as having Hitler crap razor wire into your butt”). Cue flippant comment about Chad Kroeger looking like Jesus, ad infinitum.
Don’t get me wrong here, guys: I don’t enjoy Nickelback. I once dated a girl who requested a Nickelback album for Christmas, and I dumped her. (Note: These two statements may be unrelated.) I slander them mercilessly on my Facebook wall. I use them as a synonym for bad music. I unleash bloodcurdling screams if they’re played on the radio or in a restaurant, terrifying passing motorists and/or innocent patrons. I berate anyone who requests them at one of my DJ gigs for poor taste and snidely refuse their request. (In my brain, at least.) I’m an avowed hater of Nickelback, just like everyone who’s not among their millions of fans, it’s true; and yet, it seems like lazy criticism. How many times can you iterate a variation of “they totally suck, dude”? And moreover, what does that accomplish?
And so I vowed to steer clear of music’s deadest of dead horses, at least as it pertains to this column. And then, something strange happened: hosting a local karaoke show, an aspiring singer handed me a slip with a single song number on it, slyly neglecting to write the song’s title. I put it on for him and snuck off to the bathroom, only to hear his raspy yowl floating through the ether: “I’m through standin’ in line at clubs I’ll never get in…” It was at this point that my brain broke.
See, Nickelback is an easy target, because their songs are lyrically inane and musically blase. And that’s not even necessarily a cardinal sin – after all, it took me a full decade to start despising Train for the same reason. But ever since storming the charts with “How You Remind Me” way back in 2001, Nickelback have steadfastly refused to alter their formula: each successive album is a tepid mixture of howling post-grunge angst anthems and creepy sex-rock. It sounds inoffensive, but as the marketplace is flooded with this lukewarm tidal wave of MOR pablum, it quickly becomes overbearing, and the discerning listener’s angry gaze turns towards Chad Kroeger and Scott Stapp and whoever’s in Shinedown. Nickelback are the torch-bearers of this particularly virulent strain of rock mediocrity, and thus the figureheads. And we hate them as a symbol of all that is wrong with this genre.
And yet, it wasn’t until “Rockstar” that we truly saw the full picture. Before this catastrophic event, Nickelback were simply a lame facsimile of the rock band, with lyrics like “what the hell is on Joey’s head?” and “I like the white stains on your dress”. They were the soundtrack to every attempted frat-house date rape, sure, but that wasn’t their fault. But then… then there was “Rockstar”.
For the uninitiated, “Rockstar” is a jaunty three-chord number that differentiates itself from a Toby Keith tune by being sung in a screamy rasp as opposed to a smug drawl. Owner of that screamy rasp Chad Kroeger opines about wanting to be a “big rock star” because of things real artists crave, like
making good music cars and titties and cocaine. See, good old Chad wants you to believe that his song is satirical – thus, he embellishes the trappings of fame and success to illustrate how empty and unfulfilling these desires truly are. The problem with this is that Nickelback don’t have artistic integrity. They learned their instruments enough to sound competent behind them, and then proceeded to shill their sound to the highest bidder. This is why every new Nickelback single sounds like a forced attempt at a Nickelback single – because you eat those up.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that – I daresay that most folks in Nickelback’s shoes, staring at a fork in the road, wondering if they should be security guards or millionaires, would choose the latter. They can’t be blamed for it – America came up to them and said, “hey, do you want a whole bunch of money?”, and Nickelback responded “boy, do we!” But shilling the exact same set of songs to the sheep-like populace and then attempting to write a satire of empty stardom? That, Nickelback, is the pot calling the kettle a sellout.
And so, “Rockstar” instantly implodes under layers of irony. They made a ham-fisted attempt at an ironic song, which ironically fails because of its lack of irony. It would be fascinating if they weren’t laughing in all of our faces; writing a song this basic and unstimulating about the ironic poses struck by rock stars the world over, while simultaneously making a mint from it along with 60 other mundane carbon-copies? It’s practically screaming, “hey, we make bad music, and then you buy it, and now I have an enormous house and I don’t have to work, and you’re scraping pennies together to pay your electric bill! HILARIOUS!” The nards on these guys! How dare you “ironically” send up your rock star image while simultaneously, subconsciously, buying into every single vapid sentiment you’re supposedly satirizing, you PRETENTIOUS, GRINNING, FEATHER-HAIRED, SMUG, WILLFULLY OBTUSE DEGENERATE SELF-SATISFIED ARTISTICALLY VOID HINDER-SPAWNING PIECE OF—
No, Drew. They’re just a band. You’re better than them.
Really, the conundrum of “Rockstar” is so labyrinthine that it’s almost fruitless to dissect it – odds are, you’re more likely to end up in the corner of your bathroom, medicated out of your mind, trying to chew off your own elbows than you are to write a mannered, scholarly dissertation on the topic. It’s like a modern-day “Gloomy Sunday”. But the video introduces another wrinkle – in the video, Nickelback take a backseat to a host of adoring fans and famous buddies, allowing them to do all the lip-synching legwork. They cut from gyrating models to doe-eyed moppets to Paul Wall and back again. Once again, the subliminal implication may be unintentional – it’s like the video is saying that literally anybody could be Nickelback, so faceless and undistinguished is their music, so how lucky is Nickelback to have been the four guys in the right place at the right time? Here, enjoy this taco from a lunch truck for spending the day pretending you like Nickelback while my butler cuts into my filet mignon. This particular cut of meat actually comes from that cow in “Twister”, so I have to make sure it’s appropriately tender. (Musical luminaries appearing in the “Rockstar” video include Paul Wall, Nelly Furtado, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons passionately begging me to smash my dog-eared vinyl copy of Eliminator over my knee, and, in a douche tornado of near-epic proportions, Kid Rock. Lip-syncing a Nickelback song. The apocalypse is nigh.)
Look, I know that music tastes are subjective, and that no opinion can be wrong. That said, if you enjoy Nickelback’s “Rockstar”, I have to assume that you’re either a horrible person, or you’ve had part of your brain removed and are also convinced that you’re both Salvador Dali and Judas Iscariot. But, in the interest of equality and objectivity, I leave you with several fan quotes from the Youtube comments page for “Rockstar”:
“0:19 huge boner. Why you ask? because she got nice tits and body.” – redbear555
“YOUR A COCK!!!!!!” – 09musto, in response to someone who didn’t much care for the tune.
“5822 people is idiots.” – jzgustainis, referencing both those who down-rated the video and his own keen sense of irony.
“love it! nickelback is sooo beast” – Michalla Pratt
“you can go jack off bitch” – go go, once again in response to a non-fan
“5785 dislikes??? WTF???? u dislikers r one big piece of s*it, wtf??? i just cant belive it…great song and so much dislikes…it must be bieber girl ”army” -.- real dumps” – 11RD1993
“My entire glee club of 43 6th and 8th graders ADORE this song!!! :D” – MultiLambertLover
“My friend comes to my house … sees me jumping and rocking out to this song … then he says : you listen to this cr*p … Then I turn around and say : GET OUT OF MY HOUSE UNBELIEVER !!” – TeBraRkle98
“8==D~~ 0:18” – owenbrod