Investigating How and Why Nickelback Became the One of the Biggest Bands and Punchlines in Music

Since Nickelback released their big hit You Remind Me in 2001, they've become one of rock music's most successful bands...and pop culture's biggest punchlines; let's investigate why?

By Tierney Bricker Nov 15, 2019 1:00 PMTags
Watch: Avril Lavigne & Chad Kroeger Spotted Together

50 million albums worldwide. 24 years. 9 albums. One endless running joke. 

Those stats sum up Nickelback's long, successful and tirelessly mocked run as one of music's most rock bands of the last two decades, which began with their 2001 smash single "How You Remind Me."

The Canadian band's first mainstream hit song would go on to become the decade's most-downloaded song, according to MTV, with Billboard also naming it the No. 1 rock song of the decade. Oh, and according to Nielsen Soundscan, the catchy ear-worm was also the most-played song of the radio from 2000-2009, earning over 1.2 million plays. But six studio albums, countless follow-up hit singles and millions of album sales later, Nickelback (and leading man Chad Kroeger) continue to be the punchline of the music industry.

While several successful rock bands that became popular around the same time or after them experienced the same accusations of "selling out" (Coldplay, Fall Out Boy and Good Charlotte are just a few that come to mind), none have earned quite the same level of ire and hatred as Nickelback, which first formed in 1995.

Country Music Dads' Cutest Fatherhood Moments

Why is that? What is it about Nickelback that makes people so damn angry?

Well, it basically started as soon as they hit it big in 2001. 

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

After the monster success of "How You Remind Me," Nickelback seemed to become the go-to example for radio rock music, the easy target and punching bag for serious music critics and supporters to hone in on. Their unexpected success just made it all the more infuriating...not that the band seemed to mind all that much. 

Calling the backlash he'd received from a fellow Canadian rock artist "pathetic," Chad told  Rolling Stone 2002, "Once you come to America and sell a million records in two months, suddenly you're a bad guy, a Creed rip-off."

Here was the real rub for Nickelback haters--they kept selling records and gaining more popularity, with their 2005 album selling almost 8 million copies and producing three top 10 singles and five top 20 singles, meaning they were on the radio and playing in elevators...and supermarkets...All. The. Time. 

Reviews of their albums constantly highlight their sheer averageness, with Rolling Stone once writing, "The secret to their multiplatinum success is that they're masters of generality, packaging all the bland blue-collar fantasies and unrequited nostalgia of an According to Jim rerun into formulaic head-nodders."

But the real Back backlash seemed to come to its boiling point in 2012, when a perfect storm of mini-controversies highlighted the anti-Nickelback sentiment. 

When it was announced that the band would play the halftime show during the Detroit Lions' annual Thanksgiving Day football game, fans were not exactly grateful. In fact, one even started an online petition in an attempt to stop the band from performing, which ultimately garnered over 55,000 signatures. 

Martin Philbey/Redferns

"This game is nationally televised, do we really want the rest of the US to associate Detroit with Nickelback? Detroit is home to so many great musicians and they chose Nickelback?!?!?! Does anyone even like Nickelback?" the petitioner savagely wrote. "Is this some sort of ploy to get people to leave their seats during halftime to spend money on alcoholic beverages and concessions? This is completely unfair to those of us who purchased tickets to the game. At least the people watching at home can mute their TVs. The Lions ought to think about their fans before choosing such an awful band to play at halftime."

Alas, the band performed and poked fun at the petition in a Funny or Die sketch...which they filmed when they weren't busy engaging in mini-Twitter feuds.

Not only did they have to contend with angry football fans, but the band also faced off with an MLB player when the then-Atlanta Braves' relief pitcher Peter Moylan tweeted, "Note to @nickelback please attend a @foofighters concert. That's how's it should be done chad." 

The band's response? "@PeterMoylan Foos are killer for sure. We're doing just fine too thanks. ? for you Pete, is watching Kimbrel better from the bench or on TV?"

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Their other big 2012 feud was with The Black Keys' Patrick Carney after he claimed Nickelback was ruining rock music in a Rolling Stone cover story. "Rock & roll is dying because people became OK with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world," he said, going on to call their music "s--t." 

The band responded to Carney's comments on Twitter, writing, "Thanks to the drummer in the Black Keys calling us the Biggest Band in the World in Rolling Stone. Hehe."

Carney would later apologize for his remarks, but his apology might've been even more savage than his initial comments. 

"I didn't mean to single them out. It just came out," Carney told MTV News Canada. "There's much worse bands than Nickelback, maybe...I don't like bad music, but look, I've got a lot of friends and not one of them has a Nickelback record. I'm not a small minority."

It wasn't just fellow musicians and athletes the band was feuding with on social media though, as the band's Twitter feed seemed to become a stream of responses to their haters on a seemingly daily basis (and occasionally still do to this day). 

At the time, Rolling Stone covered some of their snarkier responses, including asking a follow "Did you do it yet?" after they had tweeted, "Nickelback makes me want to chop my ears off." 

Another choice response? After someone tweeted they had "an aneurysm and violently shit myself at the same time" when one of the band's songs came on the radio, Nickelback responded, "I bet it was the best day you've had in a while."

Another huge 2012 moment for the band? Chad began dating fellow Canadian superstar Avril Lavigne, the punk-pop princess of the early aughts who convinced legions of fans to wear neckties with tank tops, a match made in rock music lovers' nightmares, especially because they met while working on Avril's album, Here's To Never Growing Up.

Less than a year and one 14-carat diamond later, the two became the first Couple of Canadian Rock, getting married on July 1, Canada Day. (The pair would go on to announce they were getting divorced in 2015.)

Still, Nickelback persisted and continued to baffle their haters, with one researcher in Finland even conducting a study that combed over 14 years of research to find out why they are so hated and yet to popular. 

The study, so epically titled "Hypocritical Bullshit Performed Through Gritted Teeth: Authenticity Discourses in Nickelback's Album Reviews in Finnish Media," found the band lacked authenticity, with the researcher writing Nickelback followed "genre expectations too well, which is seen as an empty imitation."

But author Salli Anttonen theorized that the band allowing a U.K. furniture company to use their song "Rockstar" in a commercial in 2008 proved to be the ultimate tipping point for the band's image.

Ironically enough, Chad spoke about the whole not-wanting-to-sell-out thing in a 2002 Q&A with Rolling Stone when asked what he and brother/bassist Mike Kroeger fight about the most. 

"Business decisions: Are we gonna do this, take that?" he explained. "If Coca-Cola came to us tomorrow and offered us $2.5 million to do a commercial, Mike would take it. Whereas I'd say, 'No way in hell.'" 

Usually, when mainstream things start receiving backlash after their initial rise to popularity, there's backlash to the backlash. But with Nickelback, the backlash's backlash is still sort of making fun of the band. 

In a YouTube video titled "Respect the Back" to promote Once Upon a Deadpool, the PG-13 version of Deadpool 2, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds, a proud Canadian) and Fred Savage debate the merits of the band. 

After Savage said "it's music, but it still sucks," Deadpool called him out for jumping on the Nickelback-hating bandwagon, saying, "I've had it with all this Nickelback hating. You think it makes you cool with all the cool kids in school?"

And when Fred continued, calling their music "overproduced formulaic ear garbage," Reynolds went in, listing off all the reasons people need to put some respect on Back's name, including 50 million albums sold being listed as Billboard‘s most successful rock group of the last decade," six Grammy nominations and "a partridge in a fucking pear tree."

The duo eventually squashed their differences by singing "How You Remind Me" together, of course. 

And regardless of your feelings toward Nickelback, which let's be honest, are probably not favorable, we can almost guarantee you will have "How You Remind Me" stuck in your head for the rest of the week. And Nickelback, currently hard at work on their 10th studio album, is doing just fine.