I kinda defend Nickelback

As if it’s not enough that I “defend” “racists” and hunters, I’m now defending the worst of them all… like, ever, totally: Nickelback. Kind of.

I guest-posted on my friend’s Guardian blog about musical taste and shaming (and still snuck in a big of bigotry about better music, I think? Er, oops?).

Anyway, science is fun. Don’t shame people for their music taste and don’t be ashamed, say, for liking pop music.

Related: How horrible my experience was in retail – as I’m sure it is and was for everyone – but at least it means I can sympathise with these (mostly) horrible stories.


  1. Brian E says

    Tauriq, up until this article I’ve been on the same side of the argument (more or less) as you, but defending Nickelback in any kind of way? Next it’ll be Englebert Humperding and Barry Manilow or Dame Edna (OK, S/he’s OK in small doses, like a strong drug).

    Here’s the theory that parsimoniously accounts for the evidence. According to Epicurus (true story), Nickelback’s popularity does not concern us, because as long as Nirvana exist, Nickelback is not here. And when Nickelback does come, we no longer exist.

    Q.E.D. Now let us never speak of this again. Also, for penance, drink copious amounts of something. That is all.

  2. Tauriq Moosa says

    @Brian #1

    I shall sacrifice all the calfs and drink their tears, while flagellating myself with broken twine made of PZ’s beard.

  3. Onamission5 says

    Is here where I confess that I do not understand the hatred for Nickleback or– and I don’t know if this is just a regional thing or if it’s more widespread than that– Bruno Mars? I get where the loathing for Beiber comes from, that’s all about shaming young girls for being young girls who like things that are marketed to young girls (yay sexism), but what the hell is supposed to be wrong with Bruno Mars or Nickleback?

  4. Brian E says

    I shall sacrifice all the calfs and drink their tears, while flagellating myself with broken twine made of PZ’s beard.

    Whatever did the calves do to you? I mean they’re born through no choice of their own, if they’re female, they’re assigned to being milked or used as breeding factories, and if male, most spend the few days of their lives starving, until the truck arrives to take the to the abattoir to be turned into veal. Surely the calves don’t deserve that. In fact, that’s quite biblical (in the punitive slaying of the powerless). And I fail to see how the weaved beard of a Minnesotan old codger, broken or no, would cause much bother. If you must sacrifice, there are plenty of humans who have caused problems, and the tears they spend are stolen from crocodiles.. Won’t someone think of the crocodiles, with their stolen tears?
    And self-flagellation is so catholic (and I don’t mean universal). Are you sure you’re an atheist? Heretic! Stone him!

  5. Brian E says

    Oh, just after posting, it came to me. You’re just throwing out a Herring of the redish variety. ‘Look!, I’m self flaggelating, whilst drinking sacrificed calf tears!’ But still advocating Nickelback. You’ll make a politician at this rate. 🙂

  6. consciousness razor says

    As Neil McLachlan, et al wrote: “Dissonance [a sense of a lack of harmony]

    Stop there. Either this is very badly phrased, or the general theory supporting this research is simply bad…..

    […] was strongly correlated with pitch-matching error for chords, which in turn was reduced by chord familiarity and greater music training.”

    So your chances of calling it “dissonant” are high if you fail to recognize it (in this study, pitting college students vs. the general public). Where do you think this is supposed to lead???

    This meant that the more a listener knew of what goes into a chord (which is three or more notes played at the same time), the more pleasure she got out of the music comprised of those chords.

    No, that is not what that means. You can and probably do enjoy dissonance. It’s virtually impossible to find music with no dissonance. It comes in degrees and is put to many different uses. That is what makes this kind of research (no matter what its merits may be) irrelevant to your point.

    We can therefore learn to appreciate and love all sorts of music.

    That doesn’t follow. Not “all sorts.” Some is just plain bad, no matter how well you understand it. You do of course learn to understand music. And people do tend to like understanding (and learning) things, at least to some extent. That doesn’t mean you “appreciate and love all sorts” of it.

    From The Atlantic:

    The more ambitious implication of the findings, according to lead author Neil McLachlan, is that it “overturns centuries of theories that physical properties of the ear determine what we find appealing.”

    Ambitious bullshit.

    As they explain in their discussion, the basic, 12-tone scale isn’t “naturally” harmonious. Instead, it was first introduced by Pythagoras (yes, he of the theorem), who developed a system of “tuning based on successive 2/3 proportions of string length.” It was a logical, mathematical method that in turn gave us “the simple mathematical relationships [that] can be found between the harmonics of common Western chords” that we’ve since learned to love.

    Yet they apparently tested nothing about other sonorities, nor did they test anyone from another musical culture with any of this. Wait, never mind, that’s already been done a whole lot.

    And they’re spreading misinformation by confusing Pythagorean and Equal temperaments. Wonderful. Mean-tone is totally the same thing too. No one can tell the difference, except when they can. Because they’ve learned that. And they sometimes make use of the word “dissonance.” But what the fuck ever, right?

    Now, I just need to figure out why criticism is apparently equivalent to “shaming.” Or maybe I won’t bother.

  7. Copyleft says

    Liking something popular is only a crime to hipsters… the current incarnation of the old elitist snob.

    Like whatcha like, folks. Don’t apologize for it. I’ve been a fan of mainstream pop my whole life, from Huey Lewis to Katy Perry. You’re a fan of some indie band I’ve never heard of? Great; more power to ya. Different strokes.

  8. Ysanne says

    I still don’t quite get why Nickelback is singled out, seeing how there’s a lot of other mediocre and frankly worse music around… good points on the smug superiority approach though.
    However, this claim of that dissonance study’s author was weird:

    If true, the research “overturns centuries of theories that physical properties of the ear determine what we find appealing.”
    […]However, this and further research indicate that taste isn’t the same as being left-handed. Essentially, we can learn to like better music.

    I thought there was wide agreement about the idea that taste in music is acquired for the most part, and crucially depends on musical education, which in turn has a lot to do with one’s cultural and social background. At least I have never met anyone I discussed music with who thought otherwise — actually I remember learning about this kind of stuff in school, and it makes sense for my experience of how the more complex specimens of prog rock need some getting used to before they become enjoyable.
    But it even works for church music: on an organ-focussed tour of the local cathedral, it was fascinating to watch how different members of the audience reacted to the various genres of organ music, including everyone except my modern-organ nerd friend, myself, one guy in a metal band-shirt, and the guide, literally making a dash for the exit during the last piece (L’ascension by Messiaen — reminiscent of early Pink Floyd).

  9. AnotherAnonymouse says

    I don’t get the Nickelback hatred, either. They’re listenable, moreso than many auto-tuned monstrosities out there. Nirvana, OTOH….to me, that’s just noise from self-absorbed hipsters.

  10. says

    I worked at their record label for many years and never quite understood the hate, either. They aren’t my cup of tea, but the people who go to their shows just love them.