Nickelback’s Surprising Postmodernity

November 27, 2012 10:13 pm


My initial impression was that Nickelback were simply terrible. This is an impression virtually everyone I know shares, and is often recreated by radio DJs, internet campaigns such as “I bet this pickle can get more likes than Nickelback” (the pickle won), and Detroit’s efforts not to let the band play at the Lion’s half-time Thanksgiving game.

But then I paused, and listened to the lyrics. A warm, almost divine light overcame me. I felt as if I had been touched by the form of beauty. In just a few seconds meditation, I came to realise that Nickelback are quite possibly the most important cultural icon the world has yet produced.

Let me explain. I was musing the pretentious over-plot I’m trying to develop within my own novel, and finding it difficult. I went onto Youtube for some guilty mainstream rock pleasure. Some Placebo, perhaps some Avril Lavigne. The metric suggested Nickelback – Burn It To The Ground, and I bowed to its superior judgement. The power chords and banal lyricism began to pound my eardrums.

Then it struck me; Chad Kroeger is an intellectual colossus, one of the Great Songwriters of our epoch. The project, the image, the idea and essence known to the world as Nickelback is an extended, genius form of socio-political commentary. My eyes are now open.

When you hear ‘Burn It To The Ground’, your first impression is mediocrity. It feels like you have heard this song many, many times before. The style, the rhythm, the tone and lyrical content are all emblems of a watered-down hard rock sensibility found in Incubus, Linkin Park, Korn and whatever is popular these days.

“This is the apogee of ‘generic’” I mused to myself in a typically self-congratulatory manner.

But wait! Look at the lyrics:

That shit makes me bat shit crazy
We’ve got no fear, no doubt, all in balls out

We’re going off tonight
To kick out every light
Take anything we want
Drink everything in sight
We’re going till the world stops turning
While we burn it to the ground tonight

[From ]

Chad Kroeger’s hedonistic content seems so completely simplistic, so dreadfully formulaic in its similarity to Kid Rock,  Metallica etc etc, that I began to wonder if the whole act was a joke – from Kroeger’s visible crotch-thrusting to the pulsive, anthemic nature. The footage of tens of thousands of ‘fans’ chanting in mindless unison reminded me strikingly of the latter stages of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, in which ‘Pink’ (Bob Geldoff sans eyebrows) uses his rock-god popularity to lead a fascist coup. Perhaps this wasn’t a coincidence – perhaps this was a parody?

I ran with this idea. A typical requirement of satire is to include hyperbolic examples of the satirised positions, extenuated so far as to appear ridiculous. Burn It To The Ground certainly suggests this, chiming with other Nickelback songs such as Rockstar in celebrating violence, alcohol, reckless abandon and heteronormative sex.

However, skilful parodies such as John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera usually go a step further by highlighting the contradictions in their subject’s position. Nickelback’s hit If Everyone Cared fulfils this aim.

The chorus:

If everyone cared and nobody cried
If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
Then we’d see the day when nobody died

Seems to convey almost diametrically opposed sentiments to those of the aforementioned militaristic anthems. Moreover, the music video augments the juxtaposition, showing a number of peaceful and civil rights movements, culminating in Nelson Mandela’s election.

One could almost call Nickelback’s project a self-perpetuating joke. Perpetuated, that is, by the adoration of millions of fans unaware of how ridiculous it is to embrace all of Nickelback’s pseudo-creed at once. Kroeger’s exaggerated moral-political positions burlesque both extremes, mocking both North American hedonistic exceptionalism, and hopelessly naïve hippy pacifism. In this way, Nickelback’s songs, whether dealing with romance (How You Remind Me), reminiscence (Photograph) or nothing-in-particular (Savin’ Me) ape the popularity of overtly comedic bands such as Bowling For Soup. However, in terms of scope, ambition and subtlety, the Canadian rockers are many light-years ahead.

At the same time, the band’s wide array of popular styles  reference Plato’s sophist, who flits from trope to trope to please ‘the mob’; Kroeger equally pokes fun at the sensibilities of popular music fans with his band’s hopelessly simple imitations of popular styles such as stadium rock and whimsical country.

As such, we might even suspect that Nickelback are providing a critical examination, not just of the music industry, but of Western culture itself, in examining how blindly the people devote themselves to tat. That Kroeger bears a passing resemblance to Nicholas Cage is intrinsically hilarious given Cage’s well-known career as an ironic actor-parody. Re-watching their videos in the light of this revelation, it all becomes clearer. You can hear the amusement in Kroeger’s voice, you can glimpse in it his cheeky glances into the camera and his confused media appearances. His criticisms of Kurt Cobain and characterisation of airwave popularity as ‘just maths’ take on multiple new meanings when we realise that Kroeger is calmly reaping profit through undermining Western culture in what is, perhaps, the largest practical joke in history.

But perhaps I’m not the only one who recognises this. Perhaps their legions of fans are, at least subconsciously, perceptive. Their participation, both in capital and ideological terms, serves to augment the musical joke to global proportions as a conceptual community of those ‘in on the joke’ grows with every Like, every Share and every bum humming vaguely meaningful lyrics.

Truly, Chad Kroeger has overcome the weaknesses and existential uncertainty he exhibited early in Nickelback’s career. Now, he is a Leader of Men.

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