While I hate Nickelback and all their cod-grunge ilk, it would be remiss of me not to mention a song that has become something of a cultural sensation in the last few months. That song is obviously called ‘Rockstar’, and it is complete garbage. But then you didn’t need me to tell you that. Peter Robinson in the Guardian’s Guide summed it up pretty well:
…Simply imagine a Nickelback song, but worse. Its most terrifying feature is in its first millisecond, in that Chad’s vocals appear completely without warning. This sound of hell opening up offers the listener no safety zone in which to leap towards their radio’s off switch in a slow-mo “NOOOOOO!!!!!” fashion.
He then goes on to make the mistake of dissing ‘Love Shack’ by the mighty B-52s, but we’ll let that go. For now. He also wonders at length about the precise subject matter of the song, and it is oddly intriguing, I have to admit.
The general theories are that it is either a satire on rock stars or a treatise on how celebs have a certain facade they keep up that is a separate entity to their true selves. He concludes that ‘this song makes literally no sense and is the worst thing of all time’; well it is and it isn’t.
Before we go any further, if you haven’t yet heard the song, do so. Consider it a rite of passage. In terms of subject matter, the song initially inhabits Bruce Springsteen/Jon Bon Jovi terrain in terms of its ‘rich man singing from the perspective of a poor man’ motif (‘This life hasn’t turned out / Quite the way I want it to be’). So does that mean he’s kind of taking the piss out of the working class? Out of the people paying his wages? At least Brucie and Jon sang about wanting to get in cars and escape two-bit towns or pay the rent. Kroeger is banging on about living the lavish lifestyle he claims the average man wants to live but never can. Or is he?
Well I doubt he has the self-awareness to self-parodise, nor do I think he would risk alienating any of his fanbase by attempting such a thing. In fact it’s probably safer to blatantly take the piss, as his audience of drunk fratboys, drunk dock workers and other drunks will only really notice the catchy chorus. And it is catchy, isn’t it? This isn’t meant as a preface to admission that I love the song. More that it’s a bit like heroin: gets into your system disarmingly quickly and might kill you if you are exposed to a sufficient quantity. Besides, it’s no more catchy than something like ‘Cotton Eye Joe’, and the Rednex tune enjoys a definite advantage in the energy stakes.
A couple of things I just touched upon might help to explain why the song has been imbued with such popularity, not that Nickelback aren’t already popular. It seems the pace and tone of the song were calculated techniques with which to leave the confines of the rock market and cross over into other demos. See, the bragging about all the stuff he owns (and really if you do have a drug dealer on speed dial, Chad, it’s perhaps not the greatest idea to sing about it) and can do is not to rub the faces of his blue collar good ol’ boy rock fans in his success: it’s his calling card to the R&B and rap fans out there. They love hearing people banging on about wealth, Kroeger’s thinking goes, so why not market to them. After all, the band does seem to have cornered the post-Bush/Silverchair market quite nicely.
And while I deem the musical arrangement of the song appalling in its vacuity and lack of energy, it has to be said the chorus does have something of a swing about it. That fact only really hit me when I saw how comfortable Twista was in miming to it (although he’s used to rather more rapid lip synching). It’s really not a rock-hit rhythm, and I reckon the Canadian business genius has gone laid back (with his mind on his money and his money on his mind, no less). Could it be that for all the recent business about vaunted indie rock bands being too white nowadays, it is the most mundane of rock bands that has successfully assimilated elements of black music into its fabric, while remaining true to its original sound and maximising revenue?
Perish the thought.