Nickelback: loud, world-beating, and loathed

by Toby Manhire / 26 November, 2012
Hate the Canadian rockers if you must, but the business model is very impressive.

Nickelback! You know you love them really. One of the world’s biggest acts, the pop-rockers, who play Auckland on Friday night – Friday night! –are the subject of a lengthy article in, of all places, Business Week.

Nickelback have become “one of the best-selling active rock bands in America”, writes Ben Paynter, “thriving as the recording industry has declined.”

Lead singer Chad Kroeger and co “have built a mini-empire on the standard rock setup of two guitars, bass and drums”.

While they “churn out songs varied enough to dominate multiple charts at the same time”, that’s backed by a polished PR formula and a touring strategy with (relatively) inexpensive stage shows enabling (relatively) affordable tickets, backed by a mountain of merchandise, licensing and product-placement deals.

And Kroeger runs his own label, too, making him “not just a drunken rock god: he’s a kingmaker”.

Yet despite, and to some extent because of, all that, they are uniquely loathed. “For many music fans ... hating Nickelback is a lifestyle choice,” writes Paynter.

Some examples of that:

In 2010 skeptics set up a Facebook  group that purposely misspelled the band’s name: “Can This Pickle Get More Fans Than Nickleback?” The pickle rallied about 1.5 million people in the single month it was live.

Last Thanksgiving, an online petition to prevent the band from playing during halftime at a Detroit Lions game drew 50,000 signatures. In the fall, when Chicago’s teachers went on strike, a pro-union protester attacked the mayor with what was meant to be a devastating sign: “Rahm Emanuel likes Nickelback.” The mayor quickly denied the charge.

But they have a smart strategy even for the flak.

Paynter writes:

Raking in so much money makes it a little easier to be loathed. In January the band’s Twitter handle @Nickelback began answering negative comments sarcastically. When a critic asked the band to please just die, they joked that this would be impossible. “We’re Immortals, sent here to torment you …,” the return message said. Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney told Rolling Stone rock ’n’ roll was dying because people had become OK with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world, prompting Kroeger & Co. to thank him for calling them the biggest band in the world.

In response to the protest of their planned concert in Detroit, they launched their own Funny or Die comedy sketch. It included several tongue-in-cheek moments such as Kroeger dressing up as RoboCop to win back that city’s fans. The spoof not only defused the situation, it seems to have won people over. In the end, they played Detroit to adoring crowds. Kroeger has even collaborated with a mock heavy metal band to make fun of his own lyrics, performing a song called It Won’t Suck Itself.

“They have realized they are polarizing; usually polarizing equals success. They are not going to change what they do,” manager Bryan Coleman says about the group. Kroeger just wants people to know that he doesn’t take himself that seriously either.

See you on Friday. Right?
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