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Monday, November 4, 2013

A Hater Gotta Hate

I'm sure many of you have experienced this (and some of the more popular ones among you may experience it constantly), but every now and then I make a post on Facebook that for one reason or another is just "hot".  Sometimes I'll get 20 likes and comments for the most mundane observations of daily life.  Who knows why this happens, but it does.
The weekend before last I made a post that had to do with the general agreement among serious music listeners that Nickelback sucks. This was one of those "hot" posts, and I've decided that it's rant-worthy.
For me personally, an appreciation of any music begins first with an impression that the artist is doing what they do because they have some genuine artistic statement they would like to make.  Some artistic statements are bolder and more ambitious than others.  Some bands have so much to say they can't squeeze it into a single artistic medium, and even after diversifying across multiple media are left with a body of work so titanic and esoteric it drives a great deal of fans away.  Other bands wish only to put across the simplest of messages, like "Dancing is fun!" or "Ain't love grand?".  I hold both these modus operandi to be equally valid, although it is debatable whether they are of equal value.  The value one ascribes to either approach is dependent wholly on one's musical tastes and one's attention span.  Add to this the fact that some timbres of sound are more pleasant to some people than others, and you have enough variables to remove objectivity from the study of music altogether.
However, this does not mean that all opinions on music are of equal argumentative worth.  Some are easier to defend than others.  We are therefore free to argue about who sucks and who rocks with moral impunity.  I have often expressed the sentiment that a particular band "sucks ass" and been met with the retort that that's "Only my opinion, and you can't argue about matters of opinion."  To which I reply that one can only argue about matters of opinion.  Facts are facts, fixed and eternal, to which there is no argument, only correct and incorrect perception.  Arguing about opinions may not be terribly effective, but well, a hater's gotta hate.
And I hate Nickelback.  I find their music to be the most flaccid, watered-down excuse for rock that exists in today's music landscape.  Full disclosure: I actually bought their first CD, and listened to the whole thing more than once.  Yep.  So when I say they blow, I'm not just blowing smoke, I know what I'm talking about.
Look at this douchebag.  Look at him!

Nickelback is just the most prominent, highest-grossing symptom of a disease that runs rampant in rock music.  While derived from the popular music tradition (I mean that in the academic sense), Rock is nonetheless stylistically distinct from Pop Music.  Pop music is a form of entertainment, while at it's core Rock music is a means of artistic expression (this was not always true; we owe this state of affairs to visionaries like the Beatles and the recently deceased Lou Reed).  The lines between rock and pop have always been blurry, and the best artists get to have it both ways.  But as the music and recording industry has grown stronger and obtained more control over the artists they "represent", more and more we see artists who wear the clothing and attitude of rock and roll but are truly pop artists at heart.  This is Nickelback I'm talking about.
Like I said, the line is blurry, but it's one of those things where you know it when you hear it.  Nickelback writes catchy tunes, but have you ever thought about one after you stopped listening to it?  I don't mean did it get stuck in your head, I mean have you ever thought about the song?  It's guitar riff, or the meaning of it's lyrics?  Probably not, and if you have, I would bet your mind is not generally occupied with anything exciting.  Pop music does not encourage too much reflection.  It exists for one reason and one reason only: so that you will pay for it (this does not necessarily mean all of it is bad; see all pop of the 1980s). Whatever it has to be to get your money, it will be exactly that.  And the people that make it often don't care what it has to be.  If one style is selling particularly well, that's the style they play.
You see this lack of engagement in all artistic media.  In Hollywood, for example, there are scores upon scores of cast & crew members for whom making movies is just a means to collect a paycheck, and to whom a paycheck is just a means to temporarily escape from the mindless minutia of daily existence.  These people don't care about making movies.  They don't know anything more about making movies than they have to.  Some of them don't watch many movies, or even particularly like movies.  The film business holds about as much passion for them as waiting tables or accounting.  These are the people that bring you films like the 2002 Rollerball or Hellraiser: Revelations.  Obviously the world could not function without these types of people, but that doesn't mean I have to afford them equal respect as I would to say David Bowie.
To this dispassionate, "I'm only here for the money" attitude, Nickelback is the soundtrack.  They're not the first, but they're this hater's flavor of the decade.
Some people can do this and get away with it by accident.  Bon Jovi is the best example I can think of; they participated in the commercialization of an otherwise 100% honest style of music (Heavy Metal), but lo and behold, they came out with incredibly kick ass songs like "Dead or Alive" and "Livin' on a Prayer".  Did anyone know or care about anything they did before, or after those songs, though?  Not many people did.  And now Jon Bon Jovi plays limp-wristed pop-country music.  Know why?  Because it's the hottest selling musical style right now, just like metal was the hottest thing in the mid 80's.
Nickelback jumped on the grunge bandwagon pretty late in the game (you can always tell the posers because they usually show up late), and they had a few hits, the first two of which are totally indistinguishable to me.  As the years have gone by, the sound of their singles has thinned out until it reached that same stylistic area of almost-country-but-not-quite.  I'm sure they still try to rock a little on their albums, but I certainly don't care enough to find out.
According to Wikipedia, Nickelback is the second best-selling band in the US, behind the Beatles.  So if we measure artistic success purely by sales figures, Nickelback is almost as good as the Beatles.  But I don't judge by album sales.  Its a quantitative measurement, not a qualitative one.  It makes about as much sense as measuring a suit by how many fish you can stuff into it.
In the end, I am occasionally happy to be entertained by pop music, but when you ask me if it's as good as say "A Day in the Life" from Sgt. Pepper's or even as good as "Girls, Girls, Girls" by Mötley Crüe, I'll be forced to tell you that no, it isn't.  I don't need every band to be The Beatles.  I don't even need every band to be The Animals or any of the countless also-rans of a particular music movement.  I just need the bands I listen to to mean it.  I need sincerity.  And that, my friends, is what Nickelback most sorely lacks.

#music #nickelbacksucks #rock #popmusic #art #hate

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