The story behind that viral Nickelback review in the Boise Weekly
Music critic Josh Gross has written hundreds of stories about bands, but none has brought him as much attention as the brief he wrote this week about Nickelback's upcoming appearance in Idaho, where Gross writes for the Boise Weekly. He summarizes the response:
In the past day, I have been told that I am a genius, a king amongst men and a hack that could be easily outdone by a one-armed cat. I should alternately win the Pulitzer and forcibly insert 45 pickles into my bum. There has been little middle ground.
Because I had the audacity to point out that seeing Canadian "rock" band Nickelback at the Idaho Center may not be the best use of one's $45.
Gross answered some questions by email about the piece and reaction to it.
Julie Moos: How did you decide to approach the Nickelback piece the way you did? Did you consider other options?
Josh Gross: We have a regular music blurb called "Listen Here." It was a little slow on music this week, so the A&C Editor slotted in Nickelback for the space. But no one wanted to write about them. So she suggested it as a "Don't Listen Here," in a staff meeting. Everyone thought that was a funny idea, so we went with it. I wrote it in 5 minutes and never expected to hear anything about it. One line -- about how much Ramen you could buy to wear on your head and pretend to be Chad Kroger -- got cut for space.
Why Nickelback? Who are they hurting?
Gross: People have asked this a lot, and it's perplexing. Yes, there are perhaps other bands more deserving of criticism. But they are not playing in Boise this week. So the reason why, is that it is what I was assigned. It is like asking a cashier "why" they ring things up at a certain price. That is just what they were told to do by their boss. I was told to write about Nickelback, so I wrote about Nickelback. My suggestion was another search for a band we might have overlooked. Everyone else preferred the "Don't Listen Here" idea.
As for who they are hurting, I may come across grandiose by saying this, but I would say everyone. What makes Nickelback so reprehensible is how boldly bland it is. Art and culture should challenge people to experience new feelings and have new ideas. Nickelback's music is not just cliche, it is an aggressively mediocre cliche. Art that seems to go to great effort to have nothing to say. I call it music for people that hate music. And that begs the question, why are they allowed to dominate the marketplace to the extent that having never owned or deliberately listened to a Nickelback album I can still know enough of the band's music to write about them. Its mediocrity is oppressive in its omnipresence because everyone has limited bandwidth, and everywhere that Nickelback is occupies the space that could be devoted to something more worthwhile.
Can you describe public response? What has surprised you most? Have you heard from the venue? Or the band?
Gross: The public response has been pretty cleanly split between three reactions: 1. "someone finally said it, you are my hero." 2. "you are a jealous hack." 3. "Oh hey Josh, haven't talked to you in awhile. I think you might be on Reddit."
What has surprised me most is that it got such a fierce reaction. Nickelback is so widely reviled that bagging on them is pretty old hat, and even if I do, it doesn't prevent anyone from going to or appreciating the show if that is their thing. It certainly raised awareness of a show for which ticket sales are weak enough that it is offering a deal on Groupon.
And I am hardly the first person to make similar criticisms, so I also don't understand why people were so enthusiastic in their support of what I wrote. If writing that makes me their hero, they might want to set a higher bar for herodom. At this point, the reaction to the article has consumed approximately 20k percent more time than I spent writing or thinking about it.
The venue wrote to one of our sales staff that they work with and asked to relay the message that I am a total asshole. I have not heard from the band.
Have you received more attaboys from people with your high level of taste or criticism from people who think rock critics should be able to understand the appeal of bands that can fill stadiums?
Gross: There have been far more attaboys. But I don't know that they are from people who share my music taste, especially as, like I said above, my issue with Nickelback is not stylistic. I love rock music, and even arena shows. I play drums in a power trio. My issue is the banality. Some of the responses insinuated that I should appreciate other styles, but like I said, those people have not read much of my work or perused my record collection, and I love arena rock, so I mostly ignored them as uninformed rants.
Fill me in a bit on your history. How long have you been writing for the Boise Weekly, how many briefs & reviews have you written in your career so far? How does reaction to this compare to others you've written?
Gross: I have been on staff at Boise Weekly for just over two years. I have no idea how many briefs I have written in that time, hundreds I am sure. Every so often one of them -- usually a music review -- causes some sort of absurd reaction on the comment thread.
A band that I wrote about once commented to ask how many times I had jacked off into the mirror while writing the piece. People have written letters demanding I be fired and encouraged commenters to troll my social networks and said that bands I review should be granted equal space in the paper to talk shit about me, my book, or the four bands that I am in. Once, a group threatened to picket our office. Sadly, they never showed.
For those that pay attention to such things, I have a reputation here as a tough but fair critic. But also as one that has gone out of his way to document the local music scene.
People have pretty much always loved or hated what I have to say with little middle ground. The only real difference with this article was the magnitude of the reaction.
Any idea the path the story traveled on its road to national attention?
Gross: So far as I know, someone in Boise took a picture of it with their phone and posted it to Facebook. Not sure who, but I saw it going around for a day or so before someone put it on Reddit. That was where things started picking up and people started contacting me. Then I think it went up on Laughing Squid and Romenesko and someone sent me a link to the piece being on Know Your Meme. The one disappointing thing was that it is a photo of the article that went viral, not the article on our website.
Andrew Beaujon contributed questions to this interview.
Earlier: Chuck Klosterman reviews a night with "the world's most hated bands" -- Nickelback and Creed (Grantland) | When mom's restaurant review goes viral (Poynter).