Many jokes have been made at the expense of scorned arena rockers Nickelback, but it took an unwelcome meme from divisive U.S. President Donald Trump to rally public support for the oft-maligned Canadian band.
Defenders came out of the woodwork this week after Trump enlisted one of the band’s biggest hits of the aughts in his ongoing campaign against former vice-president Joe Biden, a dispute that has spiralled into impeachment proceedings.
The line crossed involved the video for Nickelback’s 2005 earworm “Photograph,” which had been altered to include an image of Biden and his son standing alongside a Ukrainian gas executive and another man— an obvious reference to Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the current frontrunner for the Democratic presidential primary wielded inappropriate influence in his son’s business dealings while in office.
A Twitter spokeswoman said Thursday the video link was removed due to a copyright complaint, but by then an apparent movement to reclaim the band’s pre-Trump stature was already well underway.
“Donald Trump Drags Innocent Canadian Icons Nickelback Into Impeachment Mess” a HuffPost headline huffed, a perspective bolstered by a flurry of similarly sympathetic tweets and social media comments.
“Hasn’t Nickelback suffered enough?” one popular tweet deadpanned, liked nearly 11,500 times by Friday morning.
“And just like that, Trump made Nickelback cool,” declared another.
Of course, Nickelback is still not cool by current pop culture metrics, but music industry veteran and ardent Nickelback booster Eric Alper suspects general distaste for Trump likely helped engender some sympathy for lead singer Chad Kroeger and his bandmates.
Still, he argues there is a hidden affection for the band that heretofore has not been acknowledged.
“There are a lot more Nickelback fans than most people realize,” says Alper, tracing more than a decade of public vitriol to professional critics “who were a little bit holier-than-thou.”
Indeed, there has been a rare display of advocacy for the Hanna, Alta., rockers, otherwise panned by hipsters and tastemakers for a formulaic guitar-driven post-grunge bro-sound made all the more ignoble for its chart-topping popularity.
“Why do people not like Nickelback? I feel like Nickelback gets way too much (crap); I think this is a jam!” the almighty Lizzo proclaimed while listening to “How You Remind Me” for a recent episode of CBC’s “Jam or Not a Jam” series.
“I think they get a lot of (crap) because (Kroeger) had a curly blond perm. That’s the only reason they get (crap) because this is an amazing song.”
Rising star Charlotte Cardin also put her indie cred behind the group in January when she offered a stripped down take on “How You Remind Me” for CBC’s music covers series, Junos 365, insisting the once-ubiquitous power ballad has been judged unfairly.
“I genuinely love the song,” she says in a preamble.
Fuelling prospective redemption is a wave of ’90s nostalgia, adds Alper, noting the requisite 20 years needed for retro lookbacks to invade pop culture now point directly to Nickelback’s emergence in the late ’90s/early ’00s.
Indeed, fashion blogs are awash in hair scrunchies, overalls and fanny packs, while TV and streaming schedules are dotted with oldies and remakes including “Friends,” a revived “Will & Grace,” and upcoming reboots of “Mad About You” and “Party of Five.”
Plus, music streaming services make it easy for fans to revisit yesteryear’s favourites without stigma, says Alper, who suggests that Nickelback, as well as NSync, the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera are being rediscovered with genuine approbation.
“(Streaming) is allowing people to have truly easy access to music that they can listen to in their own home or on their own device without actually having to go publicly and buy something and maybe get snark from the record store guy,” says Alper, noting those in their formative years in the late ’90s are in their late 30s to early 50s today.
“Those people who are now older who can’t find anything on the radio that speaks to them actually go back into those times where they were listening to music in a big way and (are) maybe taking a look at Nickelback again and re-evaluating how good they were.”
It might explain the results of a favourable poll Maclean’s did in honour of Canada’s 150th that found 69 per cent of those asked considered Nickelback “a national treasure.”
And sure, there will always be those who harbour a furious rage against Nickelback, a curious phenomenon unique even among other derided bands — Hootie & the Blowfish, Creed, the Spin Doctors among them — but that would only make the group’s eventual resurrection that much sweeter for devotees like Alper.
He’s quick to point out that Bruce Springsteen, Journey, the Eagles, and AC/DC suffered their own spurned periods before ascending to revered positions today.
If that could one day be Nickelback’s fate, they’d have no less than the President of the United States of America to thank for it.
“Those guilty pleasures aren’t really guilty anymore,” says Alper.
Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press