20 Comments

Good research, and yet I'm still not really satisfied.

Pretty sure I was a junior or senior in high school when what I think was their first hit dropped ("This is how you remind me"), so I'm probably the target demographic. I viscerally hated them from the first time I heard that song, and the feeling seemed to be unanimous among my high school peer group (located in a conservative part of a Blue state). I'm also a rightist, for the record.

I don't think overexposure and a lack of sonic variety is enough to explain it. And I don't really buy that there's a political angle -- country music is way more politically loaded. And I don't think the band itself is overtly political. Maybe there's a class angle -- was the white working class listening to them?

I do think there's something uniquely irritating about Nickelback's sound. But I'll introduce another concept: it's easier to hate music that's adjacent to music you might like. There's a sort of uncanny valley effect where it's hard to truly, viscerally hate music that's too alien to your own tastes, even if you seek to avoid it. But if you're a fan of rock music, and specifically what we now call "post-grunge" that was popular around the time, then Nickelback seemed way worse than other 90s bands that had either faded away or had never achieved Nickelback's success in the first place. And Nickelback was everywhere.

This might sound hyperbolic, but I'll go so far as to say that Nickelback marks the death of mainstream rock music. The golden age of rock and roll was over. This crappy band was what we were left with. 10 years later, rock songs wouldn't even be charting anymore, so go ahead and savor these scraps, kid.

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Nickelback was/is a "pretty good" rock n' roll band. The people who like "pretty good" rock like them; their tastes are relatively simple and general, and NB fits into their mix just fine, along with 3 Doors Down, Tantric, Seven Mary Three, Foo Fighters, etc.

There are a lot of those people; but they don't make much cultural "noise", because their lives are based around other things.

Meanwhile, there are people who *hate* "pretty good" rock n' roll; believing that it should all be world-smashingly "great" (by their specific tastes), or it shouldn't exist to get in the way of bands who are (or, more likely, were; 40-60 years ago).

To people like this, NB has become the repository target of all their grievance and hatred against the bunch of "pretty good" bands I mentioned above, because it irritates these folks to even remember the different names of those bands.

It's a weird dynamic with the the folks who hate the "pretty good"; and their voices dominate the cultural discussion so much that their attitude has leaked all the way out to people whose relationship to rock n' roll is the most 'casual', for whom "pretty good" would be sufficient otherwise.

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Hypothesis #839: The fans. Nickelback puts on a phenomenal show. However, the fans were hands down the worst to navigate. And I was in a luxury box at one of their shows. Literally, some kid was doing meth with his ‘woman’ right in the suite and another 50 something came in with a cadre of ‘boy toys’ all under age. The entire scene was awful. I vowed that night that you could not pay me $1,000 to go to another Nickelback show. Not the bands fault, but enough to stay away.

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Say what you want about Nickelback but they had talented sound recording engineers to get those albums sounding nice and punchy.

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Request that next you do the Starship song "We Built This City".

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They promised us a refund at their concert, but I’m still waiting on getting my nickel back.

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May 30·edited May 30

@Kenneth Fockele... I thought the same could be said for ABBA. Listen to "Waterloo" (1974) and their final* single, "The Day Before You Came" (1982), and they sound like completely different bands. However, the sound of their "heyday", say between 1975 and 1979 - could be said to have more internal sonic similarity than if compared to songs outside of this period. I wonder whether the sonic similarity ranking is influenced by play count, i.e. with similarity scores between songs with higher play counts being weighted over songs with lower play counts. It stands to reason that songs with higher play counts would be more representative of a band's "sound" as perceived by music consumers, so perhaps that could partly explain the ranking for both R.E.M. and ABBA.

* I use final here in the sense that it was the last single of their initial run. The 2021 releases need to be excluded for any reasonable appraisal of their musical development. Legacy bands reforming rarely stray far from the sound of their heyday for obvious reasons, though The Guess Who's "Plein d'Amour" is a notable exception to that rule!

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Personally, I'd lean toward the low-level memetic influence theory as a reinforcing and perpetuating agent. You see, I'm a mellow guy who doesn't feel strongly against (or for) anything, yet I still picked up the Nickelback hate at some point. Probably not even through listening to them, just by seeing the meme once or twice. Quite spectacular. It makes you think how easily one comes to believe certain things he doesn't even care about. I bet most of politics-marketing (propaganda) works on this principle.

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I agree with Spouting Thomas: "it's easier to hate music that's adjacent to music you might like." Just look at all of the ridicule and outright scorn that Kenny G has received from the jazz world for decades.

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Is there a mistake in your Energy Variance Rank? In your example of ABBA, U2, and Katy Perry, it seems that you switched the rank order. ABBA has an energy variance of 22% and is ranked 1, but U2 has an energy variance of 26% yet is ranked 3.

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I don’t hate him. He is just hilarious. I don’t know why. I lough all the time when I hear him sing or speak.

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#3 in this list comes so close but fails to note that Silver Side Up released on 9/11/2001. It did not fall onto any post -attack anti-American radio ban lists most stations adhered to (unlike contemporaries 3 Doors Down and Creed), so it was repeated mercilessly on rock radio at a time when most Americans were very upset. Whether the band is good or bad is irrelevant- unconsciously or not, Nickelback = war on terror. Aside from that fact, Spouting Thomas is dead-on: Nickelback has a regurgitated, then sanitized, post-grunge sound that just wasn’t interesting. Then it was sort of co-opted for the war on terror, which was even cringier.

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I'm curious about the song variability rank. I was shocked to see R.E.M. ranked so low, given how radically they continually reinvented their sound. Do you know why that is?

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I don't like them because...well, I heard I'm not supposed to...shame on me.

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Well researched and written article. Truly don't know ow where the anghst comes from. They still get a lot of airplay up here in Canada.

Trivamia answer : Bass player Mike Kroeger spent time working in a coffee shop. “Here's your nickel back,” Kroeger would tell his customers when dispensing change for cups of coffee – and thus the name Nickelback was born.

- Canada's Walk of Fame information

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