Music Man–30 Million Nickelback Fans Can’t Be Wrong (or can they?) Pt. 2

[ 0 ] August 17, 2009 |

We’ve
established the difference between music junkies and passive music fans. If you
want to brush up click
here to see part 1.

What
I want to establish this week is the reason behind one song’s success over
another. Why do bands like Nickelback continue to have multiple chart topping
songs album after album. Surely even the most passive listener alive has heard
enough by now, right? Nope. In my opinion there are two reasons why people
continue to gravitate towards songs that are otherwise repugnant to the ears of
my junkie pals. Here they are:

 Escapism–The HBO show Entourage is a huge hit. What makes this
show a hit is that those who watch it are given the opportunity to escape into
the lives of the show’s four main characters. They watch attentively each week
as Adrian Grenier’s character Vincent Chase has his way with whatever
super-model he wants, then hops into his Aston Martin and hits a pool party
with Jessica Alba while reading scripts for his next movie which he’ll get paid
twelve million dollars to star in. Meanwhile, his childhood friends and half
brother go along for the ride taking whatever scraps they can get, and Vinnie’s
scraps are pretty solid. It’s escapism at its absolute finest. This is a show
that your average American worker loves to watch because for 26 minutes per
week they get to live vicariously through Vincent Chase and his boys. It’s
magic.

Similarly
when Joe Six-Pack hears Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger sing about having sex (see
the stunner “Figured You Out”—sample lyrics, I kid you not “
I like your pants around your feet, And I like
the dirt that's on your knees, And I like the way you still say please, While
you're looking up at me” from the 2003 album The Long Road) he momentarily lives vicariously through a real rock
stars point of view. For better or worse, and whether the listener realizes it
or not, for three minutes and forty-nine seconds he is a rock star doing
whatever he pleases with a stranger, and then it’s back to the grind. The
listener temporarily escapes into the song. He then buys said song (or in
Nickelback’s case the entire album) or requests his local radio station to play
it over and over again so he can live, if only for a moment, the life of Chad
Kroeger (or any other rock star).

Relatable: The pre-Neil Peart rock band Rush, had a hit in 1974 called “Workin’
Man” in which the opening line is “I get up at
seven, yeah
And I go to work at nine,
I got no time for livin' Yes, I'm workin' all the time.” I ask you, what
hard-working, passive music listener can’t relate to that? Or, fast forward
thirty years to our heroes in Nickelback and their re-make of Elton John's “Saturday Night’s
Alright (for Fighting)” from 2003’s multi-platinum The Long Road and you get  “It's
getting late I haven't seen my date
, so
tell me when the boys get here
, It's seven
o'clock and I wanna rock
, want to get a
belly full of beer.” I mean, let’s be honest here, every dude who rolls out
from underneath a car at the end of a long work day can relate to that, and
that’s what sells records. Apply the same to rap, country, you name it, it
works. The general population likes to listen to things they can relate to; this
isn’t rocket science.

By the way, clearly there are songs that have seen commercial
success and have had lyrics that are not relatable, nor have they enticed the
listener into escapism. These songs are usually successful due to either the
novel characteristics, or just the amazing chorus/hook that renders the lyrics
irrelevant. I never said my theory was fool-proof.***

So can 30 million Nickelback fans can be wrong?  That depends on whose definition of wrong
we’re talking about. From my perspective as a major label A&R guy (whose
job depends on signing bands that sell a lot of records) anybody who buys a
record in this day and age has impeccable taste.  But from my music junkie/fan perspective, and
the perspective of a lot of my friends, their taste in music is questionable at
best. The real question I have is can that amount of commercial success be seen
while maintaining artistic integrity enough to please both passive and active
music fans. I can count the amount of bands that have achieved this in the past
ten years on one hand, so I’m not holding my breath, but I will always hold out
hope.

***There are other exceptions. Even though I haven’t particularly
cared for their last couple of records, one of my favorite bands of all time
(easily in my top 5) is Radiohead, and when it comes to album sales they are
definitely an anomaly. As a full-fledged music junkie, I find Radiohead’s music
(up through 2001’s Amnesiac) smart,
entertaining, innovative, and highly listenable. But that’s not the case for
everyone. Radiohead hasn’t had a full-fledged commercial radio hit in years,
despite the large amounts of money spent by their former label on their radio
campaigns (and yes I know that as a band they haven’t exactly tried or cared
for radio success).  Could this be
because the average Joe (or Sarah) can’t relate to “Yesterday I woke up sucking
a lemon” (from Kid A’s “Everything In
Its Right Place”
2000), or “While you make pretty speeches, I'm being cut to shreds
, you feed me to
the lions,
a delicate balance” (from Amnesiac’s “Like Spinning Plates” 2001).
I’m willing to bet on it. Their biggest commercial hit was 1993’s Creep and
that was due to the amazing hook in the chorus, the stuttering guitar, and
unforgettable line “I’m A Creep, I’m a Werido.” Very relatable to the slacker
Generation X culture of the time. Non-music heads don’t want to have to think deeply
about the music they listen to, and that’s ok. Just like I don’t really like to
dig deeply into who’s on the Falcon’s special teams this coming season, they
don’t want to try to figure out what Thom York means when he says “Two and two
always makes five” (because it doesn’t, it always makes four—see?!).

 

**Fun Fact: While writing this piece, I heard about a friend
of mine who’s brother recently broke up with a girl when as they were walking
into a restaurant she declared her love for Nickelback. He left on the spot.

-jay harren

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Category: Music Man

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