Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Florida Georgia Line and the "Nickelback" Effect in American Music

There are a lot of bands or musical groups out there that have been accused of being talentless hacks. Their soulless music, people cry, preys on an ignorant musical public and drags us all just a little bit further down into the pits of hell. You know who they are:
Pussycat Dolls. 
One Direction. 
Limp Bizkit. 
Black Eyed Peas.
 Smash Mouth.
Have I made your blood boil yet? Are you getting so outraged by the mentioning of these groups that you want to flip a coffee table over and roar like a lion with rage? 

For some reason, these musical groups drive us crazy (and I'd love to hear from you as to why that is!). But as much as we hate these groups, there's one more band out there who inspires such vitriol that their name has now become synonymous with "inhumanity": Nickelback.
It seems like we can tolerate a Jessie J hit every once in a while and we're willing to put up with whatever Gwen Stefani's trying to do these days (dancehall?), but Nickelback, you say? NICKELBACK? ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING? It happens rarely, but every so often, once in a blue moon, a band comes along that inspires such deep hatred that it leaves American listeners breathless. Before it was Nickelback, I'm pretty certain Creed was the band that caused people to shred their garments, rip out their hair, and gnash their teeth.

Why is this? I'm not entirely sure. I can give you my theory but I'd like to crowdsource for some more. As my friend and music listener extraordinaire Rich put it, it seems like people choose a band to embody all of their anxieties about modern American music. The more the fans feel the need to protect their musical world, the more, I suspect, they're likely to have a meltdown over a musician who they think represents a debasement of their music's values. To the true believers, a band like Nickelback represents a slap in the face to rock music, to rock's contributions to American culture, and to rock music's fans. They represent the ultimate betrayal to the listener: they have made their music kitsch when it could have been transformative, they settled for cheap, quick, and dirty satisfaction instead of bringing us joy. They are the musical equivalent of the lowest common denominator.

What made me think about this recently is a band called Florida Georgia Line, which I think is attracting the same kind of vitriol that Nickelback faced/faces. In fact, I'm ready to argue that not since Nickelback has such a commercially successful group attracted such loathing and disgust from critics and listeners.

If you're not familiar with Florida Georgia Line, here are a few of their songs for you to listen to. Listen at your own risk:
"This Is How We Roll"
Here's the thing. I don't think their music is amazing. But I'm not convinced it's the worst thing to have happened to humanity, either. Am I uncomfortable with the weird "we're not going to acknowledge that this is rapping but this is basically rapping" aspect to "This Is How We Roll"? Of course. Maybe I should blame Kid Rock for this, come to think of it. And are most of these songs sexist/misogynistic in some way? You betcha. But so are a lot of other songs and a lot of other bands.

Yet critics have been practically tripping over themselves to find the cleverest and most eloquent ways possible to express their outrage over this band's existence. Going back to my blog post about the aesthetics of hate, I think there's something fascinating about the relationship between beauty and hatred that draws us in again and again. In this case, I've noticed that the more beautifully written the review, the more eloquent its turns of phrases, the more venomous and deadly the attack against its enemy.

Check out this review from the blog site, Saving Country Music:
"In a word, this album is bullshit. Never before has such a refined collection of strident clichés been concentrated in one insidious mass. Never before have the lyrics to an album evidenced such narrowcasted pseudo-mindless incoherent drivel. Never before have such disparate and diseased influences been married so haphazardly in a profound vacuum of taste, and never have all of these atrocities been platooned together to be proffered to the public without someone, anyone with any bit of conscience and in a position of power putting a stop to this poisoning of the listening public."

And here's how my friend, Douglas, put it: "They have essentially taken every form of popular music from the past 25 years and vomited a parody-like interpretation of them all into one bag and tossed it at us." Ouch.

The Dallas Observer not only excoriated Florida Georgia Line but also, in a virtually biblical sense, condemned its fans to hell for all eternity as well: "I approached Saturday night's show with an open mind, but one glance at the insanely packed parking lot and I realized maybe the stereotype of the modern country music fan (privileged, a little slow, boisterous and in love with terrible music and terrible beer) was completely dead on." At the concert, chaos reigns, the concert attendees are degenerates, and much like the biblical character Noah, the critic has to extricate himself out of this debauched land of sin and vice to save himself. The few, the brave, the musically literate, he warns: get on the boat and leave this terrible place, never to return!

Does Florida Georgia Line deserve such scorn? Such delightful, witty, acerbic scorn? Do they deserve to be held up as an example of humanity's downfall more so than any other country-pop band? I'm not sure. But watching the storm build up against them has been a fascinating experience, akin to documenting the formation of a trashy country-pop tornado fueled by Bud Light, $1 dollar tequila shots, and Axe body spray.

I honestly can't decide what to make of the band quite yet. But in the meantime, I'd like to suggest that we create our own warning system (complete with color coding?) to alert us all when a band is reaching near Nickelback levels of unpopularity. Again: I think such occurrences are actually quite rare. But nonetheless, they're worthy of study.

What would such a warning system look like? I have a couple of suggestions:
1. The ratio between commercial success and critics' dislike has to be just right. Because it's the bands who sell records in spite of critics' decries that seem to garner the most denunciations.
2. The more the band relies on musical editing and post-production fiddling (I'm looking at you, Black Eyed Peas), the more listeners are going to attack the group for its inauthenticity. I wonder if one of the reasons why people dislike Florida-Georgia Line so much is because of how auto-tuned the vocal arrangements sound.
3. The text, of course, has to be heavily weighed down by cliches and barely passable rhymes.
4. The members of the band have to strike us as insincere. They must appear as if they're in on this joke that producers came up with to hoodwink us and take our money.

I doubt I'll be listening to "This Is How We Roll" on the radio anytime soon. But I'll definitely be reading the song's reviews.

No comments:

Post a Comment