In Defense of Bro Rock

nickelback

I do believe I can see the angry mob approaching my house as I type. Well if anyone finds my body, make sure my burial goes exactly how my will says: lowered into the ground as Nickelback’s “If Today Was Your Last Day” hits the funeral party right in their faces with digital surround sound speakers around the casket. I always knew as a writer I’d go down with one last controversial piece. Tell Scott Stapp I still believe Creed can make a comeback…

OK, in all seriousness here, the following essay is going to be very stream of consciousness. Very. Hell, I just decided that this topic deserved a debated tonight, so I haven’t constructed any arguments with research or anything. In fact, I’m not going to be preaching much of anything to anyone. I’m not going to tell you why you HAVE TO LISTEN TO any mid 2000’s hard rock or post-grunge. Feel free to to take everything I say how you want to take it, as this is just coming from my own life experiences and current thoughts.This is just why I (me, myself, Kristoffer John Kielich) still enjoy and even cherish music that, in my opinion, even trumps modern top 40 or pop country as the most hated genre on earth. Hell it’s even earned itself a little nickname you may have even heard of…

“Butt Rock.” To delve into this deep topic, I should do a very quick introduction of what exactly we’re talking about. Coming out of the grunge rock era of the early 90’s, record labels realized these unsigned Seattle kids in their bedrooms were attracting a lot of attention. By 94/95 the movement was in full force and some of the best grunge records had already shifted the rock spectrum 180 degrees away from the glitz and glamour of the hair metal of the previous decade. It turns out that raw intense anguish sold quite well to the restless youth and so the groups started popping up that, it’s argued, maintained at least some degree of the attitude without a lot of the honesty. It was the image that sold in these “post grunge” bands like Bush, Collective Soul, and Seven Mary Three. I wholeheartedly disagree, but anyways, rock began to gain more metal influences, but strangely enough, some hip hop influence as well. This led to the golden age of “Nu Metal.” Bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Godsmack began to use even more overtly dark themes and became more blunt in tone than the grunge bands of their roots. There were also some new themes that began to creep in that’s what started the hard rock and post grunge revival of the mid 2000’s.

That was themes of masculinity, toughness, and a general sense of “Bro, you better step off and give me some space, because if you don’t , I’ll show you how much of a tough guy I am and I’ll mess you up cuz I like to go hard and mosh because no one gets me so I gotta be strong on my own and wreck some shit.” Phew, that was probably a bit long winded and I apologize, but it’s hard for me to some it up any other way. GRANTED, a lot of this music spoke to a lot of people and the problems they faced, but you can’t help but get the feeling of, oh what’s the word, Testosterone, in the air when this music comes on. This music, by the mid to late 2000’s (my high school days) came to represent a strong sense of male camaraderie and “Bro-ness” if you will. Again, hard to describe at 10:00 at night.

So that’s where we’re at. It’s never really gone away, though it’s gone out of style certainly in many aspects. I certainly don’t see as many Ed Hardy and Tapout t shirts as I used to. It’s still ever present, and apparently it’s left a bad taste in most people’s mouths, to the point where if you even utter the phrase “I kinda like some Nickelback songs,” congratulations, you no longer have friends. Forget about that date you were going on, because if you like Three Days Grace, that’s a turn off. Boss thinking about giving you a promotion? Well kiss your ass goodbye once he finds out your secret love of Disturbed’s “The Sickness.”

But what’s my stance? How can I defend it? After all, “Butt Rock,” which I’m assuming it’s called because…because of…um…because it makes you…think of…farts? I don’t know, but I can already hear the hundred thousand strong jury in U.S. vs Kielich saying “IT’S MAINSTREAM PROCESSED MASS PRODUCED GARBAGE! EVERY NICKELBACK/CREED/BREAKING BENJAMIN/DROWNING POOL/INSERT BAND HERE SONG SOUNDS THE SAME! THERE’S NO IMAGINATION OR CREATIVITY OR ANYTHING GOOD EVER IN ANY OF IT.”

My sentence looks grim. But hear me out. Let’s take a trip back to my high school days.

I was the kind of kid that everyone knew and perhaps even liked, but I had very few close friends. I’m not expecting sympathy, but that’s just how it was. But back then, I cherished the two or three closest friends I had; my best friends. I was pretty naive in the sense that I had a very sheltered experience. I admit that freely. I didn’t care about girls, or fitting in, or most stereotypical high school problems. What I cared about was going home, doing my homework, and playing Call of Duty and Battlefield with my friends. Nothing was more satisfying than blowing the heads off of some Nazi Zombies, or taking down kids online with my best friends. We were young and enraptured by the escape and the false sense of badassery that suburban kids could only get from ramming the barrels of a double barrel shotgun up the nose of an undead war criminal.

My musical taste fell right in line at this time, I had just exited the thrash metal phase and happened to turn on Buffalo’s own 103.3 The Edge, Buffalo’s hard rock one stop shop. I heard this:

Whoa! This is aggressive, and it’s even catchier than Megadeth! I like these melodies! I hate mainstream pop music (at the time I did) but this is basically the same thing but less Justin Timberlake and more BADASS. Granted, I didn’t feel “So angry, so painful, so pissed off,” but my brain sure liked the well crafted melody it was hearing! Turns out my buddies were going through a similar phase as me. One thing we all liked was how kickass we felt while listening to these tunes while absolutely wrecking shop on World at War. It pumped us up, and by God I’d be lying to you if I didn’t feel some Bro-ness between me and my friends sitting in my living room at 8:30 the night of a sleepover.

Me, who had two friends. Best friends. Who everyone knew, but wasn’t exactly friends with. Me, in my sheltered home as an only child. Me and my awkward buddies felt drawn together by this music. We had fun. We laughed. We indulged our fantasies of being all the things we were not. We were our own action heroes, and those were some of my most cherished memories I cling to to this day, in my new found post college age of anxiety, worries of the future, career pressures, and “Oh God I hope they like me, I hope they don’t think I’m weird. Will things ever get better? I hope so.” All that mattered back then when that music was on were the moments. Those stupid, hilarious moments were nothing mattered but who could be the splitscreen champion and crack the best playful insult.

But ladies and gentlemen of the jury, there’s more to my defense than just my own nostalgia! The music should be judged fair and square on it’s merits, and now I can see you all foaming at the mouth, ready to tear me a new one. This is my view of the music. It’s pop metal. That’s really it. But I liked it before I liked pop, which I wholeheartedly enjoy now. Back then, It was a cool loophole. It had all the hooks and singability of a pop song, but the lyrics and musical construction perfect for taking out some pixelated aggression. To be quite honest, I think the hooks in most “Bro metal” or “Butt rock” songs are stellar. Yes, yes I can hear you clamoring about the oh so infamous “rasp” of singers like Chad Kroeger and co. But that’s what part of what adds to the feeling the music gives. It takes a pop melody and roughs it up a little bit. It adds some, ahem, “weathering” if you will. To me, those singers and their voices make those songs as catchy as they are. The aggression, false or not, is gives these songs credence and helps us remember them. Would you imitate Nickelback’s “Photograph” if Josh Groban was singing it? Don’t answer that. The point is the voice is what makes the songs distinct from any other genre. The songs may sound similar I will admit, but they certainly don’t sound like anything else out there. The combination of the hard rock and metal influenced instrumentation mixed with a melodic, yet slightly growling voice are the elements that separate it from modern country, pop, metal, or any other genre. They might all be influences, sure. But bro rock stands alone. Just like Godsmack said it would. In short, it’s just as melodically pleasing as any other pop song, but the vocals and lyrics just pump you up. And despite what people think, I do personally believe that any artist, no matter what genre, puts their emotion and honesty into every song they sing. A lot of the lyrics in this genre that’s been cast off as “shallow garbage” contain some things that did, and still resonate with me. Maybe be not to an extreme degree, but there are a great deal of post-grunge and hard rock songs that pack just as much an emotional gut punch as Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens. Sometimes the most simple superficial things are what we take the most pleasure in at any particular moment and that’s how it is with me and butt rock.

Now it’s time for some admissions that I’ve grown to learn about bro rock. I know that the portrayal of women in some songs and videos in the genre are unsavory and appalling to this generation. I agree, and if I were to take a guess, I could probably guess who this music is targeted for most of the time. But that doesn’t mean most of us don’t have at least one post-grunge or hard rock song we unabashedly love. We love it for the feeling and for the melody, and sometimes the sheer silliness and, well, “Bro-ness” of the lyrics and instrumentation. It’s the same way we can enjoy an occasional cheesy action flick. I enjoy it for the small moments of fantasy. I feel like it’s the soundtrack of my own personal Michael Bay film, and you can lie, but I know every last one of you has seen at least one Transformers movie.

So that’s it. That’s what I got. What’s the verdict? GUILTY? Well Goddammit I don’t care. I say it loud and proud. I DO LISTEN TO BRO ROCK SONGS OCCASIONALLY. EVEN NICKELBACK AND CREED. NOT ALL THE TIME, BUT MAYBE LIKE, ONCE OR TWICE A WEEK FOR A FEW HOURS. UNLESS I GET INTO A NOSTALGIC MOOD IN WHICH CASE FUCK IT, I’M GOING FULL ON NAZI ZOMBIE MODE. And to be honest, I don’t care. I like so many things, that it’s always weird to see this genre singled out so often. Sometimes we all need to be badasses. Sometimes all the skinny suburban kids, yes even the grown up ones, need to pretend to be cheesy action heroes and heroines for a day. And when those modern day problems and anxieties start to walk up to you in a dark alley, you stare them straight in the eye, pull out your mental double barrel shotgun, fully upgraded with rapid fire and explosive rounds, of course, and…

Well, I think you know what to do. I’ll just leave this song here in case you forgot:

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Power in (e)motion – My Favorite Emotional Music Videos Part 1

Now if this were BuzzFeed, I’d be titling this piece “TOP TEN MUSIC VIDZ TO GIVE U DA FEELZ.” Essentially, that’s what we’re going for here. The emotional power of film is something I have always considered to be congruent with music. They both can be extremely effective cathartic outlets for when we can’t or are unable to express how we feel in the moment to someone. We instead look inward, using what’s projected in front of our eyes or into our ears and then draw our conclusions as to how they relate to how we feel. We interpret, and reinterpret. The beauty of music videos, when well crafted, is that they take the magic of film and use that to elevate songs we already love to a new level. When you watch a piece of great film, you can’t help but be moved on some level. This was a fun list for me to make, but I wanted to showcase some of my favorite music video/song combinations and explain why I think they’re elevated above the majority. These are music videos that hopefully will hit you on a gut level like they did with me.

Bedshaped – Keane

This video, directed by Corin Hardy, is certainly one of the most eye catching videos on the list. It’s presented in this Tim Burton-esque style claymation, and at first, certain aspects of it seem almost creepy and unnatural. But that’s the beauty of the whole thing. The song itself deals with feeling lonely, isolated, and yearning to return to times of happiness. The video presents the main character in a way that’s so visceral that you can’t help but get a little choked up. The expressions used in his animation, especially in the darkest moments of sadness, really resonate and activate your sense of empathy. As the character hides from the world and cries all alone, it speaks to struggles with depression and anxiety; something very much in our modern consciousness. The small moments of joy, like the friendship with the cat, adds sympathy and will perhaps draw out a smile among the sadness. To cap it all off, the gorgeous hand drawn animations of the band just add to the energy encased in the video.

Fireflies – Owl City

Directed by Steve Hoover, this video captures the same magic that Disney movies do through it’s whimsy and wonder. It makes you feel like a kid again. The lyrics in the song prove Adam Young’s skill with wordplay AND nostalgia. It’s exudes this sense of innocence, and harkens back to a time when nothing mattered but exploring our own imaginations and having fun. In this world of stresses and bad news, it’s nice to know that sometimes we can still find time to dream again. Young’s performance is earnest and unassuming. He clings to that innocence that so many of us let go of too early. Knowing how the real world works is obviously important, but is it so necessary to surrender some of our wonder and innocence so early? It’s not for the cynical, but it reminds us it’s nice to forget about our own hardships for awhile.

Voices – Saosin

Saosin may fall into that category of bands that emerged from that golden age of emo and alt-punk music, and from that alone you’re probably drawing the conclusion that their videos deal with some “Oh woe is me that girl I like doesn’t like me” stuff, and that the videos themselves could fit any generic emo category. Well, I’d have to disagree. Saosin has consistently made videos that impress me with their tone and feel. Though I couldn’t find who directed the video, one thing is clear: this video gets its message across loud and clear. The shots of each person staring at the camera, silently dealing with the domestic problems they face is perfectly juxtaposed with the frenetic energy of the band performing. It’s heartbreaking when analyzed with the lyrics. “We speak in different voices when fighting with the ones we love…why can’t we say what we’re thinking of?” It’s a cry for help for those who feel unable to speak, and for those who choose to carry on because out of them only comes love, in spite of the hurt. The last shot of the video is haunting, and one you won’t forget anytime soon.

What A Day (2013 remake) – Greg Laswell

This one is a little unique in the sense that it’s not a traditional music video, but a unique take on a lyric video. The power of the words and what little you see of Laswell’s hands make this video powerful. The lyrics are raw and vulnerable, and the manic speed with which Laswell writes makes it seem like he absolutely has to get these feelings off his chest, or else he might break down. When the chorus hits, it’s even more effective, as it’s man looking back at his life and wondering if it was wasted. A powerful motivator. By the gentle and optimistic end, the lingering last words speak to all of us to make the most of every day.

New Morning – Alpha Rev

What’s in a life? Alpha Rev captures that perfectly in this song, which you can read my earlier review of here. This video sweeps you up and doesn’t let go. Images straight out of a Terence Mallick movie fill up this video, but to amazing effect. Everything is symbolic and up to you to interpret according to your own experience. Is it everything sweet, or everything that hurts? Is it beautiful or tragic? It all depends on how you choose to see it, but it captures a lot of the abstract feelings of joy and sadness we’ll experience as we go on the journey. But the journey is right there for you to see here.

That’s all for part one! I had a blast choosing these videos and writing this post, and there’s two more to go. If you liked these, let me know in the comments. What are your most emotional music videos? Be sure to post those as well!