The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #37/250: Rockstar by Nickelback

Nickelback: Michael Kroeger, Ryan Peake, Daniel Adair and Chad Kroeger.

Nickelback is a Canadian band that first formed in the mid-1990s in Hanna, Alberta. Originally known as Village Idiot, the band consisted of the three Kroeger brothers (Chad, Michael and Brandon) and their friend Ryan Peake. Eventually, Brandon Kroeger bowed out and was replaced by Three Doors Down’s drummer Daniel Adair. That lineup has stayed firm all through the birth of the band that became known as Nickelback. In the three decades that the band has played together, they have had several hits and have had album sales totalling over 50 million worldwide. They have also enjoyed the greatest success when it comes to being a touring band with sold out show after sold out show all across North America. Since the year 2000, Nickelback is the best selling rock band in the world! Just this past year they were elected to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Their success is undeniable. By any statistical measure, Nickelback is one of the world’s best bands. And yet…

Despite their overwhelming success, Nickelback is also a lightning rod when it comes to their critics, of which there are legion. The name “Nickelback” came from the experience a young Chad Kroeger had selling coffee as a teen. The term came from the change he would routinely give back to his customers. To Kroeger, the nickels and dimes that he acquired in tips helped fund much of his early musical aspirations such as buying second hand instruments for himself and his brothers. Because of the fact that he felt that the band was derived from working class roots, Kroeger always viewed it as the band’s mission to reflect that in the songs they wrote and the shows they put on. Thus, Nickelback has developed a reputation for writing songs about ordinary people and universal topics such as love and relationships and the desire for better things in life. Band members have stated that they draw inspiration from other rock bands such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and singers such as John Mellencamp. Critics respond by saying that what Nickelback has really done is to find a songwriting formula that worked for them and are simply repeating that formula album after album, song after song. Because the band has adopted such a formalistic approach to their music, they have found themselves routinely mocked as lacking the true passion that infuses all great bands and songs. In a world where the term “corporate rock” is equated to a lack of musical integrity, Nickelback find themselves the subject of countless internet memes and the butt of many condescending jokes.

A typical Nickelback meme.

The thing about it is that the people most in on the joke are the members of Nickelback themselves. Lead singer Chad Kroeger and his bandmates have made no secret of their songwriting style or how they portray themselves on stage. They have never even remotely attempted to be musical innovators like bands such as Tool or Radiohead. While those bands may be the musical equivalent of gourmet restaurants, Nickelback are quietly content to be the musical equivalent of McDonalds. Churning out verse-chorus, verse chorus hits such as “How You Remind Me” and “Photograph” allow fans to have a sense of familiarity with the band and their music. When you buy a Nickelback album, you basically already know what you are getting before you ever listen to it. Luckily for Nickelback, a great number of fans like Nickelback’s sound and keep coming back again and again simply because the band never changes. A Big Mac and fries is a Big Mac and fries, just as a Nickelback song from one album to the next remains the same, too.

There is no song in their catalogue of hits that exemplifies this philosophy better than “Rockstar”. The boys from Nickelback laugh at their critics from VIP lounges in clubs all over North America. These guys from Hanna, Alberta fly First Class everywhere they travel. Their bank accounts are flush with cash, making each of them millionaires several times over. They all date and/or are married to beautiful women. In short, they are living the rock star dream life and are unapologetic about how they got there. The song “Rockstar” is their anthem. It is a song about how great a life they all have. What helped give this song a somewhat higher profile than it may have had otherwise was the music video that accompanied it. In this video, the band has ordinary fans, along with various celebrities, lip sync the words to the song as it plays. While the song came out in the early 2000s, what makes it an interesting time capsule-esque watch is that it is populated with celebrities who, to a person, aligned themselves with U.S. President Donald Trump during his time in office. In the video, you will find Kid Rock, Ted Nugent and even hockey star turned conservative hero, Wayne Gretzky. It is interesting to note that the song speaks openly of objectifying women and uses women such as Playboy Playmates as examples of their version of what a woman should be. Singer Gene Simmons appears in the video, too. Why that is significant is that KISS is really the band that Nickelback emulates most closely. Simmons has always maintained that the members of KISS are not classically trained singers or the world’s best musicians, but what they are above all else is they are entertainers. So, his presence in this video is akin to him giving Nickelback his seal of approval as entertainers and showmen, too.

There is a market for the type of male-driven view of the world that Nickelback provides for their fans. While it is easy to mock the band as being derivative and corporate, it is something done at the peril of those critics who indulge in such bashing. On the eve of the 2016 Presidential election, I was asked if I was going to watch the election results on television that final night. I replied that there was no use wasting my time doing so because who in their right mind would vote for such an obvious loser as Donald Trump. I looked down my nose at a nation where almost half of the population saw their world through the lens of those who promote male-driven, white views. Consequently, for a while one of the most powerful men in the world was someone who trotted out trophy wives, lived in opulent surroundings and who viewed power as being for personal gain. So, mock Nickelback and their music all you will, their fan base is large and powerful and love them for the simplicity of their music and the comforting worldview the band puts forth with each song from each album. That each song from each album sounds exactly the same is not viewed as a tragic flaw or a weakness. Instead, fans of the band view their consistency as a strength and as something they can depend upon in these turbulent times in which we all find ourselves. If there is any sound of laughter surrounding Nickelback, it is coming the loudest from the band themselves. They know exactly who they are and are laughing all the way to the bank.

The link to the video for the song “Rockstar” by Nickelback can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the official website for Nickelback can be found here.

The link to the official website for Hanna, Alberta can be found here.

***As always, all original material contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

4 thoughts on “The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #37/250: Rockstar by Nickelback”

  1. I honestly didn’t know a thing about them, ok I knew they were from Alberta and some of their songs are unavoidable. You are so right there’s an audience out there though I think most people just like the sound and don’t pay much attention to the lyrics

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