Sales can’t buy love for some top bands
NEW YORK – Few bands inspire such intense hatred as Nickelback.
The post-grunge Canadian quartet has been trashed, bashed and hated on by countless critics, music snobs and other like-minded souls. So have much-maligned acts like Hinder, a rock band from Oklahoma; the Grammy-winning Black Eyed Peas, who have spawned infectious rap hits “My Humps” and “Don’t Phunk With My Heart”; and Britney Spears, who in her heyday ruled radio but was condemned for everything from her voice to not writing her own songs.
Yet these acts have sold millions upon millions of albums. So are the critics wrong? Do music buyers have bad taste? Is this karmic payback to all the haters?
“There are some bands that, let’s face it, are critic-proof,” said Nathan Brackett, a senior editor at Rolling Stone. “Just like there are some movies that are critic-proof. Nobody is really reading the reviews for `Norbit,’ you know? And nobody’s reading Nickelback reviews either.”
That might be a good thing. Nickelback’s “All the Right Reasons,” which debuted at No. 1 on the charts in the fall of 2005 and was still number 16 this week, was called “hard-rock ridiculousness” by The New York Times and “unspeakably awful” by Allmusic.com. Even the late Nirvana frontman and grunge icon Kurt Cobain would disapprove, suggested Rolling Stone, which called the disc “so depressing, you’re almost glad Kurt’s not around to hear it.”
Young people who “are introduced to these bands on the radio, they don’t have a lot of baggage,” Brackett said. “A lot of kids don’t care if an act, you know, kind of took their guitar sound from some other band.”
Post-grunge outfits like Nickelback and Hinder continue to be popular ó or wreak havoc, whatever your opinion ó in part because they appeal to the estrogen set, said Craig Marks, editor in chief of Blender magazine. A “slightly hipper band” will sell more albums to guys than girls, he said.
“They’re selling a lot of records to very casual music fans who don’t buy a lot of CDs,” Marks said. “When you’re selling 5 million albums like Nickelback or 2 1/2 million like Hinder, and especially when you’re making your mark with big ballads that are kind of wedding songs, then you’re selling records to both males and females. And that’s often how you get from selling 1 1/2 million records to selling 4 or 5 million records.”
When “teenage girls or tween girls like an artist, that’s often a sign that … the artist isn’t cool,” said Marks, who also gives Spears as an example. “You know, `My little sister likes them.'”
Advertisements, music reviews and fashion trends tell us that “cool” is an edgy rapper, an up-and-coming hipster band or a British chanteuse like Amy Winehouse. Cool is not Nickelback or the Black Eyed Peas. They’re not so uncool that they’re cool, like Fountains of Wayne.
They’re just, in a word, uncool.
Chris St. Peter, 26, of New York, witnessed this hatred years ago at a concert in Boston, where Nickelback was opening for another band in front of an indie-rock crowd.
“They threw batteries at them, which is also terrible but also really funny,” St. Peter said. “Nickelback represented everything I think they hated.”
Though he didn’t hurl any batteries, St. Peter gives the band a thumbs-down. “I hope they go the same way as, like, Creed, and they just sort of disappear.”
But for every hater there’s a lover like Jaclyn Hafenstein, 30, from Madison, Wis. “Don’t they trash them because their music is considered simple, not unique?” she wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “Why is that bad? Whatever it (is) they’re doing, it makes me bob my head and sing along! I can’t say that for every band, whether I like them or not.”
Often, bands that are popular in places like Wisconsin get dissed by snobs on the coasts. “There’s a real danger with … writers being in their kind of music-critic clique, you know, in either New York or L.A. or San Francisco, and kind of ignoring these bands just because all the critics they know and all the kind of so-called cool kids are ignoring these bands,” Brackett said.
He points out that classic acts like Led Zeppelin, the Doors and Billy Joel were at first ignored by critics. Then again, he said, “there are a lot of times when music critics are right.”
Acts hoping to collect both money and respect would do well to study an It band like Fall Out Boy, which sells heaps of records to teen girls while delighting the critics, too. They don’t take themselves too seriously, unlike, say, the Killers in their latest incarnation or ó again ó Nickelback.
It all comes back to Nickelback, doesn’t it? At least they’re now big enough to headline their own shows, and that means no batteries will be hurled.
Only verbal ones, from outside the venue.
“You know, you have to be really popular in order to corral that sort of hatred,” Marks said. “It’s the best ballplayer on the visiting team who gets booed during the introductions. No one boos the guy off the bench, but you always boo the star of the other team. You know, it is a tribute to their success.”
Sales can’t buy love for some top bands