Nickelback: From Popular Band to Popular Meme

“Look at this graaaaaph.”

There’s a man in the picture. Shaggy blonde hair hangs to his jaw. A short goatee wipes across his chin. Eyes are squinted toward the imaginary sun. A white t-shirt with a hypothetical modern alien village. His knuckles reach toward the screen carrying a framed graph. 

This is Nickelback lead singer Chad Kroeger. And yet, the image is more noticeably a popular meme. It’s a snippet from their song “Photograph.” It racked up more than a million digital downloads back in 2005, with recent boosts within the Trump Biden square off back in October. 

It’s no coincidence that Nickelback has become one of the biggest jokes of the music industry, with memes mocking its videos and comedians trashing its sound. In fact, in 2011, more than 50 thousand people signed an online petition to ban Nickelback from the Detroit Lions’ Thanksgiving they were supposed to headline. They went on to play anyway, but the question continues: how did one of the most popular bands in the world become the most popular punch-line?

The band all started as a cover band with three brothers and Ryan Peake in the mid-90s in Alberta, Canada. That might be the reason why their sound has been criticized throughout the years for mirroring famous rock albums and their songs too closely. Present-day lead singer Chad Kroeger recorded their first album, “Curb,” under the name Nickelback with his two brothers Mike (bass) and Brandon (drums) Kroeger. Peake played guitar. 

It was an easy band to market. It had a bit of everything that was doing well on the radio. Pop-rock roots with grungy young guys playing guitar, sexual innuendos hidden under metal-esque swag, and the signature raspy voice of Kroeger. The album wasn’t their best, but it gave them enough momentum to write their next one. 

Brandon left the band after their first, but current-drummer Daniel Adair joined them for the album “The State” that was independently released. It must have worked because in 1999 they landed a major label deal with Roadrunner Records. The only problem? The label was known for promoting heavy metal bands, and Nickelback seemed like a chump by comparison. Many fans from the heavy metal scene trashed the band from the minute it hit the radio.

But Nickelback’s big break wasn’t really until Sept. 11, 2001—yup, that one. The band released its album “Silver Slide Up” on possibly the worst release date ever and still had success. The album was okay, but it was its feature single “How You Remind Me” that made it. The radio couldn’t get enough. It honestly still can’t. 

The song continues to play in family-friendly local chain restaurants to this day. They sold 6 million copies in the US, a million in the UK, and over 800,000 in their native Canada. In 2002, it was crowned song of the year. Billboard even ranked it and their equally-accredited hit “Photograph” as the most popular singles of the decade, in any genre.

camcorder on blue background Photo by Thomas William on Unsplash And yet, because of their reputation as a fake rock-metal band and a string of songs that all repeated the same formula as their coveted hit, the band still received a lot of hate. Some may argue that today they are the most hated band in the world, a big bounce back from their 2002 peak. The first meme created against the band occurred in 2005 by Mikey Smith called “How You Remind Me of Someday,” mocking the repetitive nature of their songs. 

“Rock and roll is dying because people became O.K. with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world,” Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney famously said.

It became so popular because it was the perfect background noise for people’s lives. And yet, it also suggested that rock fans didn’t have any respect for the purity of the genre. Accepting the marketed sell-outs as even “okay” was a betrayal. 

Even Kroeger embraced the band’s hatred, back in 2014 saying that, “If they [haters] had stopped writing all this stuff about us, there would be no controversy left in the band and we probably would have died out years ago.”

The iconic meme itself started in 2008 with a parody music video posted on YouTube in 2008 where the pair held up photographs of their hometown and high school. It’s been viewed more than a million times. 

Only a few years later, another YouTuber uploaded an edited clip from the original music video with Kroeger holding up a picture with the Droste effect, so that his image was repeated within the frame infinitely. 

And yet, the final touch was not presented until 2015, when a video titled “Nickelstats” used the same scene feature Kroeger’s framed picture replaced with an actual bar graph, traditionally used for statistics, and saying, “Look at this graph.” The video has been viewed more than 10 million times, but also brought onto other platforms as pictured memes and adaptation.  

Just as Kroeger acknowledged, it is in part because of this hatred and memeing that Nickelback has continued on as a successful band today. The band has been nominated for six Grammy awards and has more than 50 million albums worldwide to date. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.