A friend asked me this question in an email:
Why does the Internet seem to hate Nickelback so much? I mean, so what if you don't like them? As far as I know, they're not excessive douchebags or bad people.
I probably ended up giving him four times the amount of information he was looking for as an answer, but I was attempting to be thorough. Here's my lightly edited reply:
It's an interesting question. During the [Canadian federal election] campaign there were photo ops of Chad Krueger [Nickelback's lead singer] posing with [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper, but certainly the hatred has been there for much longer.
That aside, people have written entire dissertations on this type of thing, but I'll try to sum a few key points. First, it's a demonstration of exclusive/inclusive. People's main criticism is that Nickelback's (or any other insanely popular act) music sounds 'generic' 'repetitive' 'manufactured' 'commercial' – all the words rock criticism has spent 50 years turning into short hand for 'Music we don't like and you shouldn't like either if you're cool. If you do like it, you're an idiot.' The speaker is demonstrating that they 'know better' and what 'good music' is and that they clearly have a better understanding of what 'real music' is than you.
Second, that dreaded term 'mainstream.' If you like anything deemed mainstream, you're clearly a mindless drone working for The Man, can't think for yourself, are easily manipulated by the media, and blah blah blah. But, again, it implies that you, as the critic (professional or armchair), are not any of these things and that you know about non- mainstream music and are thus special.
Third, female tastes, especially young female tastes, are quite universally derided. Now, I don't know if Nickelback's fan-base is mostly teen and tween girls or not, but I have a sneaking suspicion it might just be, although it's probably got a more diverse fan-base than, say, Justin Bieber. It goes like this (and remember I'm simplifying quite a bit): rock journalism as a 'profession' was founded mostly by a bunch of 20- and 30-something year old guys who were writing for each other and their guy friends. I'm not saying this was a conscious agenda, but they glorified certain rock bands (Zeppelin, Stones, Troggs) and used stereotypical masculine language to describe them ('aggressive,' 'thundering,' 'beating,' 'pounding'). But musicians who tended to cater towards females were dismissed as 'saccharine,' 'foppish,' 'effeminate,' 'anemic,' etc., etc. (Sinatra before his image makeover, Paul Anka, even early Beatles)
This way of tacitly categorising musicians according to their fan-base filtered down to their readers and has grown like a bad rash ever since. These days, when artists like Bieber get popular, the anonymity of the Internet allows for all sorts of hate speech: he's a faggot, he's a girl, he doesn't have a dick. Seriously? A teenage boy is worthy of this level of vitriol simply because he's popular with MILLIONS of girls? Yeah, I don't care for his music, but you know what? I'm not an 11 year old girl in Saskatchewan either and that 11 year old girl is not 'a fucking moron' because she likes someone who's irresistible to her demographic. I'm sure not all the girls who swooned over New Kids on the Block in the are still swooning. It's a phase. Definitely no young boy has ever gone through a phase they look at later with a bit of embarrassment or awkwardness, or just simply thought 'yeah, I've changed a lot since then.'
Anyway, the funny part in all this is that women and girls have often made up the bulk of the record buying public (and purchasers of digital music). The industry is just giving them what sells. [I've heard this claim about the dominance of female music buyers a few times over the years, but when I went looking for sources today, I found a lot of conflicting info instead. I don't know what to say about it now other than if there is a clear answer, I'll have to keep digging for it.]
Last point: the idea of 'manufactured' music vs some kind of pure 'authentic' music is BS. If people thought more about music history, they would see how unsubstantiated and ridiculous this dichotomy is. Motown, Tin Pan Alley, and Island Records all filtered the musicians they produced in some way or were music assembly lines – and they all have a reputation as being among the music 'greats.' We tend to think of what's going on right now as manufactured because we have no historical perspective on it. But once something is far enough in the past we can conveniently forget or gloss over its ugly side and speak nostalgically about it's 'organic,' 'classic' sound that just isn't done by the kids these days. It doesn't always work out this way, but it happens more often than many people realise.
Yeah, I don't really like Nickelback either, but something has to be mainstream otherwise there wouldn't be a periphery for cool kids to step into and feel like outsiders.