Monday, 9 July 2012

This is how you remind me… of so many belt pouches

Or how Nickelback is the Rob Liefeld of music.

I recently had… the experience of going to a Nickelback concert. In my defence, I was told it was a Bush concert and only later, after tickets had been bought, was it revealed that Nickelback was headlining. Also, I didn’t pay for my ticket. (Please don’t hate me.)

In a moment of profound realization during said concert, it occurred to me that Nickelback, with its brashness and absurdity, is the musical equivalent of Rob Liefeld. Also: Bush is a much better band than Nickelback.

I also realized that both The Rob and Nickelback, as aesthetically unappealing as I find them, deserve to exist because some people seem to really like them and both, occasionally, provide moments of sublime absurdity that transcend their origins.

An in depth comparison follows after the cut:

(A quick google search shows I am not the first person to make the connection between Nickelback and Rob Liefeld, but I did so independently which makes this Scientific. I also feel like writing this out… so if you’re curious stay with me.)

Nickelback is one of the most maligned musical acts of my generation.1 To a certain extent I get that: they are TERRIBLE and deserve ridicule. It frequently seems like NO ONE likes them.  Yet,  somehow Nickelback persists despite the sheer weight of public loathing they attract. At the Nickelback concert I finally figured this out: Nickelback has a passionate niche audience. The concert I went to was packed full of mixed-martial-arts-wearing dudes, and vaguely-trashed-up women all with empty-eyed stares who were LOVING IT. I have been to a few concerts in my lifetime, with performances by genuine rock legends like Neil Young, Roger Waters, John Foggerty, Tom Petty (etc) and modern crtically acclaimed rock acts like The Tragically Hip, The White Stripes, and Muse (etc); but Nickelback’s collection of dull folk were far and away the most enthusiastic concert crowd I have ever seen.2 

Which brings me to my first comparison to the Liefeldian-one. Both he, and Nickelback survive in the face of public hatred by having a dedicated audience who, based on the financial success of Nickelback and Liefeld, have some serious economic power. I mean, Savage Hawkman is still a thing, and that’s a book with a character no one cares about that is drawn AND written by Liefeld.  If he was universally reviled as common sense would seem to indicate Savage Hawkman couldn’t exist, ergo it HAS to have an audience. To possess such an overwhelming amount of general pop culture hatred but still have a strong enough fanbase to be successful (from a financial if not creative sense) is pretty powerful. The fact it is these two, is a bit perplexing, but, you know, that’s life.

Nickelback and Liefeld also have tremendously similar aesthetics. Both are rooted in a gritty, 90s grunge style that is about angst and loudness. In Nickelback’s case this comes across as growling guitars, gravelly vocals, and, well, loudness. In The Rob’s case this aesthetic displays itself in cross-htached shading, grimacing heroes with improbable physiques, giant weapons and eXtreme costumes. Nickelback and Liefeld are both also established in a certain misogynist paradigm of gender roles: Liefeld draws men improbably muscular and women inhumanely thin and impossibly curvy, while Nickelback’s songs are often about men being violent and drunk and women as sex objects or victims. Both the band and artist’s execution of this aesthetic are also ultimately flawed: Nickelback and Liefeld’s take on these tropes is so cheesecake-over-the-top that they are laughable instead of edgey.3

Another thing that links Nickelback and the Rob, and one of the things I genuinely enjoy about them, is their proclivity to produce creatively, ridiculously, hilarious things. I guess what I'm trying to get at is that despite the general terribleness of their output, Nickelback and Liefeld occasionally produce something that is so bad in such interesting ways that it becomes sublime in its ridiculousness.

Several examples of hilarious absurdity were on display during my stint in Nickelback concert. For example, Nickelback’s stage had conveyor belts on the catwalky-projection sections
.4 This led to seeing a lunge-posing chad Kruger zooming along on a converyer while wailing on a bejazzelled guitar with fireballs erupting in the background which, I would argue, is ridiculous and HILARIOUS. During the band’s (horrible) slow/sad song about pictures and saying goodbye they did a slow sideshow of a band member who was still alive and celebrating his birthday.5 Tone deaf, perplexing, and perversely funny. Add in more mundane and trashy moments of comedy: a break for tshirt canons and tossing nerf beer cups to the crowd, pornstars modeling Nickelback merch on a looping commercial set to ACDC music,6 and a hometown encore that was two songs long and featured heavy stage drinking, and I got one of the funniest shows of my life.

Art by Rob Liefeld for Marvel Comics
It's easy to find moments of sublime hilarity in Rob Liefelds work too. Objectively, the bizarre proportions, giant weapons, and many, many pouches of his characters are pretty funny (and problematic). That drawing of Heroes Reborn cap is sublime in its ridiculousness and emblematic of the worst excesses of a decade of comics. This was a genuine thing that was considered artisitically valid at some point and that is HILARIOUS! Modern Liefeldian moments also break into the sublimely hilarious: the extra-phallic Washington monument in Hawk and Dove,7 inking pages while driving, and the sheer! excitement! of! his tweets!!! are all such genuinely amazing good fun. Whether he intends it or not, Rob Liefeld is one of the most consistently funny comics creators ever.

More Rob Liefeld for DC Comics
When I really think about it, as bad as they are, Nickelback and Rob Liefeld have actually provided me with a lot of entertainment... in very similar ways.

Really, after putting some thought into it, I’m pretty glad they both exist. Nickelback and the Rob clearly make their audiences happy, and, while I’m arrogant enough to write about what I like, I’m not so megalomaniacal to presume my preferences should be universally adopted. Other folks enjoy what they enjoy, and that is valid.8  Nickelback and Liefeld, also, have made some decent things despite themselves (Liefeld cocreated a lot of characters including Deadpool,9 and "How You Remind Me" and Rockstar10 are, while not artistic, pleasant enough poprock songs). Even people who don’t like the band or the Rob get something out of them: they are a communal black sheep, someone we can all talk down to and feel intelligent and tasteful for doing so. Terrible is just so much more interesting than mediocre or decent. But the main reason I’m grateful for the existence of Rob Liefeld and Nickelback is that they make me laugh, unintentionally and frequently, and I enjoy that. A lot.

1: Up there with Justin Bieber and Celine Dion… apparently my homeland (Canada) is all about unleashing musical nightmares on the world.
2: Also, these morons were a good bit more polite than hardcore-drug-using-idiots at the Roger Waters concert… people tripping balls on psychedelics are obnoxious as hell.
3: Tracy Lawless from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip's Criminal is a thousand times more gritty than anyone Liefeld has drawn and Smells Like Teen Spirit is grungier and truer and better than anything Nickelback hopes to make. And I don’t even like Nirvana.
4: Apparently they re-purposed this from ZZ top, which is a band who's over the top antics bring me joy.
5: I spent the entire song trying to remember if I heard anything about a death in Nickelback and when the song ended and the last photo slowly faded to black I was surprised to read “Happy Birthday” instead of “We miss you man 1982-2011”.
6: Apparently, the key to selling Nickelback merch, apparently, is to make people associate it with better bands.
7: As if America’s penis wasn’t phallic enough.
8: Well, as long as what they enjoy doesn't infringe on other peoples rights or ability to enjoy what they like. Enjoying racism, for instance, is not okay.
10: I first heard "Rockstar" on Country Music Television and had no idea it was a Nickelback song. The channel and the music video (featuring hick-friendly celebs and everyday looking fans, warts and all, singing along to the song in diverse locations) lured me into thinking it was some cheesy country band. Only when the song was over was it revealed to be Nickelback… and I had this moment. This song, while not good in artistic sense, was quite fun and I had to decide what’s more important liking something for itself or liking something for its perceived acceptability. I opted for liking what I like.

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