Nickelback Doc ‘Hate to Love’ Is the Nickelback of Rock Docs

Photo of NICKELBACK - Credit: Paul Bergen/Redferns/Getty

It is easy to shit on Nickelback. Too easy, some might say. The question is really: Why? What, exactly, is it about this Canadian group that inspires such ill will? Their overwhelming success? Lots of bands are successful, for all of the right and wrong reasons. Their hits? No one’s accusing them of being the Beatles, or even the Bay City Rollers in terms of songwriting. “How You Remind Me” remains an earworm, a karaoke staple, a classic rock song that felt like very old classic rock before the last chord even finished ringing out. The rest of their catalog feels like some early AI program was fed hours of Seventies arena rock and 21st century bro-country, then told to write albums based on that Frankenstein-ed formula, only bigger. The alpha-dude arrogance of their singer-songwriter, Chad Kroeger? He is a frontman for a rock band. Swagger is a job requirement. Their mystifying popularity? This is a group that makes music designed to soundtrack drinking beer by a river. Some itch is clearly being scratched here.

We come not to bury Nickelback nor to praise them, simply to look for answers. Hate to Love: Nickelback is a rock documentary with a title that suggests some of those questions might be addressed, cleared up, settled once and for all. “An intimate portrait of the Canadian stadium rockers’ rollercoaster career,” per the IMDb page. You’ll really get to know these guys, the producer Ben Jones told the crowd at the film’s Toronto International Film Festival premiere. No one was promising the Truth or Dare of butt rock here. But the hope, misguided or not, was that any deep dive into what these guys do and how they’ve become rich, famous, and both beloved and reviled to the gajillionth degree in the process of doing it, would unpack all of it. Let’s get into this, people.

More from Rolling Stone

Here are a handful of things you will learn watching Hate to Love: Nickelback is a Canadian rock group. Chad Kroeger is one of the guitar players, and he also sings. His brother, Mike, plays bass. Another guy, Ryan Peake, also plays guitar. They come from Hanna, a small town in Alberta that could be any small town in North America. Music gave them an outlet for restlessness and the feelings that accompany growing up. They were part of a cover band named Village Idiot, then they split off and formed another band. At first, they struggled, played to small audiences in clubs, borrowed a lot of money to keep the dream alive. They made an EP. They went through some drummers until they recruited Ryan Vikedal. They got signed to a metal label, even though they were not a metal group.

A few more things: One day, Chad comes to practice with a tune. It’s “How You Remind Me.” The song blows up. It is everywhere. The album, Silver Side Up, rises up the charts on the strength of it. They switch from playing theaters to arenas. A few more of their songs, notably “Hero” from the Spider-Man soundtrack, also start getting a lot of radio play. More touring. More songwriting.

They make another album, but the follow-up only sells half as much, so everyone is like, well, that must mean we’re on the way down. Vikedal starts to burn out. He’s replaced by Daniel Adair from 3 Doors Down. By the way, it was tough to let Vikedal go, some feelings were hurt, but now everything is totes great. OK, back to the story.

Nickelback makes yet another album, and this one, All the Right Reasons — it’s even huger than that one that originally made them a big deal. They are rock stars who sing a song called “Rockstar,” all about being a rock star. Lots more touring. Some awards. Zzzz….

Sorry, where were we? Right, it’s around this time that people start to express some strong feelings about the band. Hatred is too mild a word. It’s the mid-aughts, and social media and memes and an internet culture at large that’s becoming more aggressive by the nanosecond is fueling an overblown reaction to what’s essentially generic, big-swing rock and roll. Suddenly, Nickelback is everything that’s ever been wrong about anything, everywhere. It’s like the equivalent of picking up a white beer can, which simply has the word “Beer” on it, and comparing it to genocide.

Alright, now we’re getting somewhere! This is the point where Nickelback becomes something more than just four guys from a small town making music for people in equally small towns to enjoy or not enjoy. They have become the tip of the spear for a toxic culture that operates in Jesus-or-Hitler absolutes. And while this is a documentary about Nickelback, a Canadian rock band, and not Everything That’s Wrong With Our Fucked-Up Always-Online Mindset, it’s a key part of their legacy. Especially for Chad Kroeger, who is the recognizable face and long flowing locks of the group and thus can’t escape being The Guy From Nickelback, which means he gets a lot of unsolicited shouts of “You guys suck!” when he walks down the street. “You don’t pick up a guitar to be in the most hated band ever,” Peake says, and clearly, this tsunami of negativity that keeps rolling over them takes a toll. People even start taking it out on the group’s loved ones and children, which is not cool. Not cool at all.

Anyway, so they make more albums, and keep hitting the road, and….

Wait, that’s it?! There’s a montage of snarky memes, and a few “yeah, it got bad” statements from the guys, and we just move on? It’s understandable that when you’re part of a successful band, you maybe don’t want all of your accomplishments and hard work and fame and fortune to be overshadowed by the haterade brewed by millions of anonymous trolls. But this is where Hate to Love officially becomes the thing that you were hoping it wouldn’t be, which is an unquestioning hagiography — a strictly-for-the-die-hards affair, a box-set or reissue extra blown up to arena-rock size. No one is asking for Metallica’s therapist to come in or some sort of Altamont-level tragedy to liven things up. We’re just curious about why people would hate them so much, a question that the doc parries by replying: How could you not love this band?! And even that is never fully explored, either.

So, yeah, they admit that a song like “Something In Your Mouth” is pretty crass. There are substance abuse issues, and then apparently those are no longer issues. Or maybe they still are. Chad Kroeger marries Avril Lavigne, making them a sort of first couple of Canadian-rock-royalty until they split up. (The amount of time it took me to type that sentence is twice as long as this subject is addressed, or even mentioned, in the film.) Several members face some health issues, and then they get better. Touring is hard. The fanbase is loyal. O.G. Nickelbackers come to shows, but also new converts, too. The perks are better than the pitfalls. They’ve got each other. People start to re-embrace them once again, which makes you wonder if Hate to Love actually refers to a third-act trajectory and not the guilty pleasure one feels when one bellows, in an approximation of Kroeger’s best post-Vedder baritone, Neverrrrrr made it as a wise mannnnn….

“I make Nickelback songs for Nickelback fans,” Kroeger says at one point, and the people behind this have followed his lead and made a Nickelback doc for Nickelback fans. End of story, roll credits. To call Hate to Love a vanity project is giving it too much credit. It is merely something that follows a tried-and-true formula, and uses it to tell the story of a highly divisive band that could really be the story of any band, or every band. This is how it reminds you that Nickelback is a Canadian rock group, and what more do you need to know than that? The movie simply repeats that basic tenet over and over, loudly and without any sense of self-consciousness. Which truly makes this the Nickelback of rock docs. Congratulations?

Best of Rolling Stone

Click here to read the full article.