New Criticism of Nickelback Lyrics

I remember a few years ago, The Nu-Metal band Nickelback came out with a song called “Animals”; to the immediate embarrassment-by-proximity and derision of….. everyone. Sadly, I am a hopeful soul, and when nobody is looking and it’s a million degrees outside, and I’m speeding down the expressway with the windows down, I don’t mind trashy radio rock. It sounds as grimy and cheap as I feel. So I listened to this song, and after a semester spent neck-deep in Jstor printouts, the reactionary spirit in me really listened hard.

The narrative opens up,

I, I’m driving black on black

Just got my license back

I got this feeling in my veins this train is coming off the track

I’ll ask polite if the devil needs a ride

Because the angel on my right ain’t hanging out with me tonight

Immediately setting the scene; a young man, his gender denoted by the masculine voice singing the lines, is driving in his car and feels like getting into trouble. It’s standard radio-rock fare, and takes place in a car, where most radio listening occurs. Heightening the connection between song, singer and audience, the experience is delivered in the first person, “I am driving in my car,” relates to you, the listener, who is also likely driving in their car. Further, the car has long been a clandestine meeting place for lovers, and evokes the correlating mood. To note, the upswell of car ownership my working class families is “one of the most important elements in heterosexual deviances. Forty-one percent of Kinsey’s respondent noted the automobile as commonplace for premarital sex relations,” (Mungham, 97), and partly shaped our view of premarital sex today, (Coontz, 194). Not that I know anything about that. *Cough*

The following lines concrete the libidinous ambitions hinted at in the introduction,

I’m driving past your house while you were sneaking out

I got the car door opened up so you can jump in on the run

Your mom don’t know that you were missing

She’d be pissed if she could see the parts of you that I’ve been kissing

This is exciting stuff! His chaperoning angel leaves him, and opens the door, both literally and figuratively, to sexually experiment with a willing partner. Notice the shift in audience, the speaker switches from a general open-letter format to a more specific “you.” He puts emphasis on the female’s perspective, forcing the (speculatively male) audience to bend their perception a little, fighting against the predatory male stereotype endemic to music stars and adventurous young males alike. The speaker is old enough to drive, so sexual activity isn’t unnatural, and is within the legal boundary of consent, though her age isn’t given. With the expectation that the audience is not a morally conservative market to begin with, (given the stations it gets played on, The Fox), the passage puts the audience at direct odds with the mother and the angel, who have come to relate to the protagonist, through his use of overwrought vocal delivery, and first-person perspective. Though the “She” mentioned is the girl’s mother, and not an angel, they do share the expectation of chastity for the couple, pairing the mother and angel both as a glorification of the mother’s impulse to protect her daughter, and also grouping them as the “other.”

After some elaboration, he sings on,

No, we’re never gonna quit

Ain’t nothing wrong with it

Just acting like we’re animals (animals)

What a reflection on human nature, that despite the intervening forces of angels, mothers and the like, the impulse to enjoy ones own sexuality will persist. There is even the element of reciprocity, the inhibiting outside influences make their excursion more enjoyable, not less; and the girls parents must seek more exhaustively to overcome the excitement their search has caused.

And we just started getting busy

When she whispered “what was that?”

The wind, I think ’cause no one else knows where we are

And that was when she started screamin’

“That’s my dad outside the car!”

In the course of the narrative, this is the climax, the rest of the plot revolves around avoiding and then being caught, more so than the sex act. Even the accompanying music is visceral and blatant, like porn. And what a decadent idea that is, and indicative of human nature. That we are on some level just like that. Godless and invested in a search for sensation which both satisfies and desensitizes the palate. Another line supports that idea,

No, no matter where we go

‘Cause everybody knows

We’re just a couple animals (animals)

The search is both universal, and inescapable, “No matter where we go.” Singing in first person to a young, mostly male, Nu-Metal audience, his message is both insidious and honest. The teenage rebellion and sexual exploration theme wasn’t unique to this one song, and seemed to perfectly cradle with my fledgling theory on the possibility of hidden meaning in ALL Nickelback songs. “Animals,” if it held my overblown meaning, would be self-commentary. The whole craptastic, rehashed radio band would become a satire for the base appeal of commerciality. Not only would it comment upon itself, but also upon all bands of the same ilk, a “calling out” within the genre and possible means for cultural enlightenment.

Then, dejectedly, I realized he was just bragging.

Check out the trouble we’re in

We’re just a couple animals

Get in, just get in


Working class youth culture
By Geoff Mungham, Geoffrey Pearson
Contributor Geoff Mungham
Edition: illustrated, reprint
Published by Routledge, 1976
ISBN 0710083742, 9780710083746

The way we never were: American families and the nostalgia trap
By Stephanie Coontz
Contributor Stephanie Coontz
Edition: reprint, illustrated
Published by Basic Books, 2000
ISBN 0465090974, 9780465090976

This entry was posted in artists, humor, literary criticism, music, new criticism, nonfiction, sex, summer, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to New Criticism of Nickelback Lyrics

  1. munkeegurl says:

    Truly the most profound lyrics since Poison’s Unskinny Bop. Soul-stirring, to say the least. Further evidence to support my growing conviction that Chad Kroeger is the reincarnation of Keats.

  2. Kentucky Prophet says:

    Nickleback makes me grind my teeth more than all the coke in Louisville. This has a similar effect.

  3. Gierke says:

    Ha ! Nickelback.

    One time they tricked me into thinking that they weren’t that bad. Kind of like how sometimes the Christian station tricks me into thinking its real music.

    • thrillseekingbehavior says:

      after two years of living in rural, protestant kentucky, with only the christian channel so sustain me, my agnostic little self started to like christian music. not “like,” as much as appreciate. the lyrics were uplifting, i guess. it made the hills go by faster.

  4. Gretta says:

    Nickelback on the other hand makes the hills crowd in around you like you’re suffocating?
    That’s how they make me feel and not just in the popular “It’s hip to think Nickelback is stupid” way. They have the formula worked out, it’s true. Can you imagine the person who actually likes them? I can’t force my brain to create such a person. Maybe someone like Milton from the movie Office Space. The person you absolutely don’t expect. They are so very very bad. I just got a little choked up. Next you should do a commentary on Evanescence!

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