Guilty Pleasures, Round One: Nickelback (1) vs. Phish (16)

EW’s Music Mix is searching for the Greatest Guilty Pleasure Musical Act of All Time. With 32 seeded contestants (see all the matchups), this tournament is sure to change hearts, minds, and lives for weeks to come. Read/listen to the following, and then cast your vote in the poll after the jump; reader comments will be used in subsequent rounds, so we encourage you to also explain to the group why you chose the way you did. Note: In case of a tie, please select the artist you feel more ashamed to adore. Thank you.

Nickelback width= Phish

NICKELBACK

The problem here really starts with Chad Kroeger’s hair. Stringy, greasy, of a nondescript color, not even ballsy enough to be a mullet; it is, in a word, inexcusable. And what a coincidence — for many people, so is Nickelback’s music, like a room full of exhausted A&R reps listened to a Creed album and said, “Yes, but can we take the edge off?” The guitars are a power-chord cautionary tale. Kroeger’s voice sounds like a broken In-Sink-Erator. Several of their songs are nightmarishly misogynistic. Nickelback is the soundtrack to monster truck rallies, strip clubs, and all-night parking lot benders, the death of discerning taste, the place where subtlety, irony, and artistic expression go to die. The band has sold 30 million records, but I have yet to meet more than one person who will admit to owning one. That one person did not know how to operate a futon.

Blah, blah, blah. Go cry on a Yo La Tengo album, indie snob. I own Nickelback records, and while I might tell myself they’re for “research purposes,” it might also be because sometimes I just want to beat my brain into submission, and the music of the “Canadian Radiohead” is the quickest way to get that done. It’s been nearly ten years since “How You Remind Me”  distilled soft-loud-soft-REALLY-loud song structure down to its most violently pure form, and I still know every single word. 2005’s All the Right Reasons spent 156 weeks on the Billboard 200 — ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-SIX — because the songs get in your head and will not leave, not even if you beg them to. “Photograph” is not the best song ever by that name, but it is the only one that sends you away wondering what the hell is on Joey’s head. “Animals” captures the specific suburban teenage need to assert one’s independence by driving too fast on the way to contract an STD. I could spend hours trying to determine why/how they managed to channel Seal on “If Everyone Cared”… but I love Seal, too! Everybody cares, everybody wins, nobody dies. If aliens landed on earth and asked us upon penalty of death ray to explain “rock music,” all we’d have to do is turn over the Nickelback greatest hits playlist I’ve secretly got stashed on my iPod, and humanity would be saved. So thanks, Chad Kroeger, and you other dudes whose names I’ve never bothered to learn. Rock on, and don’t ever change. Not that you were going to. — WP

PHISH

Before you send in that death threat, gimme a second. In order for a band to qualify as a guilty pleasure, they must inspire both guilt and pleasure, right? It’s clear this band has the second base covered — besides the Grateful Dead (whose playbook they obviously purchased at a yard sale at some point in the ‘80s), I can think of no other group that elevates its audience to such a state of heightened bliss, especially in a live context. In the field at Bonnaroo this summer, I finally understood why noodle-dancing was invented: the rambling travels of Trey Anastasio’s guitar work, the expressive tinkling of Page McConnell’s keys, the unexpected rhythmic and tonal shifts, and the candy-colored light show all begged for different parts of my body to move in different directions at the same time… and I wasn’t on anything stronger than Advil. It felt like watching dozens of bands collide on stage, then settle into a groove from which one group would occasionally burst and assert their individuality. As Carrie Brownstein put it during her brilliant full-immersion Phish project on NPR’s Monitor Mix blog: “At first listen, Phish comes across as a jazzy, jam-based band with leanings toward folk, funk, freak and frivolity (oh, and prog, but that throws off the alliteration). For non-Phish aficionados, here are some base references: Zappa, Beefheart, ELO, Flying Burrito Brothers and Soft Machine. But it’s just as easy to be surprised by a Phish song and have it sound like none of the aforementioned; to hear hints of classical music, the grandiosity of a Who rock opera, or the melodic prowess of Lennon/McCartney (or maybe Garcia/Lesh). If jamming scares you, then Phish’s music will be harder to take.”

As for the guilt, I can also think of no other group that elevates its audience to such a state of heightened defensiveness. Phish fans are notoriously, aggressively protective of their band and their right to obsessively love their band, and will broach no dissent. So what would a mental health professional say? — WP


Want to vote in a previous matchup? Click here to visit Guilty Pleasure Bracket Central!

Comments (210 total) Add your comment
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  • joshken

    i can’t stand nickelback! i don’t even listen to phish, but am i entitled to a vote for them based on my hatred towards the former?

    • Emily

      that’s why I voted for Phish
      sheer hatred towards nb (won’t even type the name)

      • Lars

        That’s why I voted for Phish, too. Whitney compared Nickelback to CCR without edge, but it’s a big insult to CCR to even put them in the same sentence. She also said, “If aliens landed on earth and asked us upon penalty of death ray to explain “rock music,” all we’d have to do is turn over the Nickelback greatest hits playlist I’ve secretly got stashed on my iPod, and humanity would be saved.” Yeah, because the aliens would all kill themselves. Why is Nickelback even popular?

      • Um, Lars?

        Read it again. I think she compared them to Creed. Not CCR.

    • Cory

      I also voted for Phish purely because of my complete and total hatred of Nickelback.

    • Kaylee

      I too voted for Phish on the same basis.

      • Tim

        I think this is why most will vote for Phish (myself included). In my opinion the only band worse than Nickelback is Brokencyde.

    • Marco E

      bag it tag it

      • Harry Hood

        HAHA!! Hellz yeah… finally a phan and not just someone voting for Phish bc they hate NB. Phish kicks. Nuff said.

      • Drew

        Sell it to the butcher at the STORRRRE

    • dave

      I’m with some of you on this one. I utterly loathe Nickelback. They are, IMO, one of the worst bands of all time. I cannot comprehend how anyone finds pleasure in their “music.” I will never understand why they are popular. How can anyone stand listening to that voice? It’s so grating, like nails on a chalkboard.

    • jason

      i usually don’t condemn anyone in music, to each their own. but i REALLY dislike nickelback. they have every right to record but i feel they try to be legit but they are so damn corny. sorry, just my opinion.

      • Rosy

        I love nickleback I think they are a great band sorry for all those pelpoe who dont think they are!! I go to their concerts all the time and rock a sexy outfit and have the time of my life, and all of the shows I have been to you can’t move because so many pelpoe are there!!

  • Ambee

    Nickelback is my clear favorite guilty pleasure here, and I don’t even feel guilty anymore. I came across an acoustic version of the song “Someday,” and it was absolutely lovely. Even the back up vocals and harmonies were beautiful. I had many friends listen to the acoustic version and most of them now own the Long Road. I don’t see the problem with adoring both my Arcade Fire AND Nickelback CDs – to hell with my indie street cred!

  • Kevin

    How is Phish losing right now? Whether you like Phish or not, there is no denying the fact that they are incredibly talented musicians. Nickelback…not so much; they just plain suck.

    • beb

      Kevin, I think you would WANT Phish to lose. The “guilt” of a “guilty pleasure” is the fear of discovering one’s embarrassing tastes in music.

      • Kevin

        I view “guilty pleasure” as a positive thing. It is something a person should be proud of…you know that you SHOULDN’T like said thing but, gosh darnit, you like it anyway. I don’t really see Phish as a guilty pleasure, but I can understand why a hipster-type might be ashamed to admit that he/she likes Phish. That said, no one should take ANY pleasure in Nickelback. It would just embarassing for our nation if a clearly untalented joke of a band wins even the dubious title of “Best Guilty Pleasure Band”.

      • Rach

        I agree that Nickelback is terrible and am ashamed to admit I can sing along to almost all of their radio hits, but as Beb said, thats pretty much the point…

      • Anthony

        Ilove Phish’s music but I do sometimes feel like I shouldn’t bump it at party’s. Maybe because it alienates others who dumbed their tastes down, maybe they suck I don’t know.

      • Anthony B

        Just play’em Joy. Phish rules and you know it.

  • darthwilson

    Nickelback just might be the worst band to ever walk the planet and Phish is one of the best.

  • ah

    I think Nickleback in winning 1) because a lot of people buy their albums and 2) Phish is not a guilty pleasure.

  • erin

    The members of Phish are such incredibly gifted musicians, they don’t even belong in the same league as Nickelback. How anyone could find the horrifically generic pop/rock songs of Nickelback superior to Phish is beyond me.

  • MsDaisy

    Phish, by default.

  • AK

    I’m a little confused. Is this is a going to be a title of honor or shame (emphasizing the “greatest” aspect or the “guilty pleasure” aspect)? Essentially, are we supposed to be voting on our favorite act who happens to be a guilty pleasure, or the act that we think is the biggest guilty pleasure ever?

    • beb

      It’s emphasizing the guilty pleasure aspect — of Nickelback and Phish, which one would you be more ashamed of owning up to liking, buying records, going to concerts, etc.

    • Whitney Pastorek

      AK, that’s an understandable question. I really do think it’s a matter of personal taste, not an intellectual exercise — go with your gut.

  • Kaitlin Miller

    I chose Nickleback because on paper their combination of unoriginal lyrics, painful vocals and ridiculous over-exposure should make any logical person run for the hills before their eardrums explode. Yet for some unexplainable reason I not only listen when they come on the radio, but of my own free will pay money for their songs. I always die a bit on the inside, but I just can’t stop myself…

  • What?

    Neither of these are guilty pleasures. I like them both.

  • robinepowell

    I’ve never heard of Phish and since I’m Canadian, I like the fact that Nickleback is too. :)

    • Paul

      You never heard of Phish?
      Sounds like you need Awesome Lessons

      • NSL_PHISH_v3

        SLYGSAASISOI

    • Eric

      KYS

    • Natalie

      I’ve never heard of Phish either, and I’m Canadian too. Maybe they didn’t get radio play up here?

      • rules at life

        Phish don’t get radio play and are one fo the biggest touring bands in the US. Check out “A Live One” (live album) and you’ll know why they are the greatest band ever!

  • Staci Gendron

    i have a ton of Nickelback on my ipod and i love their music but i do feel like a dork listening to it.

    • jeff

      You are right to feel that way.
      Shame is your mind’s way of telling you that what you’ve done is wrong.

  • Maddi

    I voted Nickelback solely on the fact that I liked “Rock Star”. Subtle, no. Fun, yes. Any other Nickelback sends me running for the radio dial, though.

  • Dr. J

    I too have a lot of Nickelback on my iTunes and I can’t really say it’s because their music is GOOD, but it’s simple and straightforward and their lyrics aren’t too deep, and sometimes that’s what you are in the mood for. I generally prefer much more involved music, but Phish I just can’t get into no matter how many times I have tried. I prefer a song to feel like it is eventually going somewhere!

  • John

    I don’t think Phish is a guilty pleasure. I think if you actually enjoy the music of Phish (I don’t), then you have no reason to feel guilty. You’re probably pretty cool.

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