By Hayden Wright
“Nickelback” is a loaded word for music listeners and critics: For many, it’s come to signify a lowest common denominator for pop-rock on the radio. Among rock writers, it triggers outright contempt. In mixed company, the opening bars of “Photograph” are bound to elicit at least a couple loud groans. Nickelback’s well-documented image problem seems to revolve around the band’s multiplatinum success, but what makes the hate so powerful and enduring?
In a recent paper , “Hypocritical Bulls— Performed Through Gritted Teeth: Authenticity Discourses in Nickelback’s Album Reviews in Finnish Media,” Finnish doctoral student Salli Anttonen strives to uncover the root of our Nickelback fatigue, antipathy, or whatever you’d like to call it. Anttonen’s study holds a mirror to critics who routinely use the band as a punching bag to work through their own ideas about “authenticity.”
Related: Nickelback Call Out Kanye West
“The fact that the compositions suit the radio charts is a problem for critics,” she writes. “So then the songs are not authentic self expression, or have been made with commercial purposes in mind, rather than expressing your deepest emotions.”
As it turns out, perhaps Nickelback is just too good at being Nickelback.
“Nickelback is too much of everything to be enough of something,” Anttonen continues. “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.”
Band members are not immune to the reputation—dismissals are now part and parcel to the Nickelback mystique. Frontman Chad Kroeger said it best in 2014:
“No one — no one, and I know this is hard to believe — can make as much fun of us as we make fun of ourselves. And we are harsh. If you think the Internet’s rough, you should sit in a van with us. We are really harsh. We make up the best alternate lines to our own songs. And this is some top-shelf stuff.”