When Detroit Lions fan Dennis Guttman heard that Nickelback would be playing during his team’s halftime show on American Thanksgiving this week, he wondered why organizers had picked a Canadian act, let alone one with a such an awful reputation. (A U.K. magazine once voted it “the worst band in the world.”) Guttman started a petition to have it booted from the show, and within weeks drew over 50,000 signatures and international attention. “Does anyone even like Nickelback?” he wrote.
For the band from Hanna, Alta., this kind of pile-on is nothing new. They’ve been taking abuse from armchair music critics since they broke on the scene in 2000. When reports emerged that Nickelback might be performing in Winnipeg to kick off the NHL season, Free Press music critics called on the NHL to scrap the plan, calling it “tantamount to spitting on Bobby Hull’s toupée.”
There have always been bands that people dislike, or dismiss as overrated and artless. But the response to Nickelback goes far beyond that—to the point where some say they are ashamed the band is Canadian. It is a view so vicious it borders on cruel. And it’s just plain wrong.
Nickelback serves a huge and devoted fan base. With record sales in excess of 30 million, it’s one of this country’s top cultural exports. Billboard named it the top band of the 2000s based on chart success, and its song How You Remind Me was named the top rock song of the decade.
The numbers, of course, are often used against it, cited as evidence that the band is too popular to be any good—that they are, in effect, rock ’n’ roll’s lowest common denominator. But there is an undeniable genius in finding mass public acceptance. It’s what every artist, businessman and politician hopes to achieve—but rarely does—when they present an idea or product to the public. Like Tim Hortons or Wal-Mart, two other blue-collar champions, Nickelback knows who it serves and works hard to deliver for them. And like Rush, another hugely successful but often critically derided Canadian group, Nickelback has put its stamp on music history. Rolling Stone said the song How You Remind Me with its “combination of Nirvana dynamics and early Pearl Jam sludge made it official that early-nineties alt-rock was the new classic rock.”
Criticism is always subjective, of course, and fair enough. But it can also be thoughtless, and even tinged with envy, particularly when it becomes as virulent as the sort Nickelback faces. “Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous,” Kurt Vonnegut once said. “He or she is like a person who has put on full armour and attacked a hot fudge sundae.”
Nickelback’s music isn’t for everyone. But when the band takes to the field in Detroit this week, there is no doubt the fans will far outnumber the noisy critics. It will be a moment of Canadian accomplishment worth celebrating.