Throwback Thursday: “Rockstar” by Nickelback

I debated about writing this, because part of me is often thinking in the Serious Music Blogger persona where I have an “image” to maintain, and listening to Top 40 isn’t necessarily part of that.

The other part of me remembers my common thread about guilty pleasures and how much this song truly is a perfect fit for a Throwback Thursday feature. It captures a certain era of celebrity, where dating a Playboy bunny and/or being on MTV’s Cribs was the height of fame.

Funnily enough, the lyrics actually are something of a rich text. Lead singer Chad Kroeger describes what it takes to be a rockstar – “I’d even cut my hair and change my name” – while at the same illuminating just how vapid that life is, where you “live in hilltop houses driving fifteen cars.” He wants to become a rockstar, no matter the emptiness. There’s an added bonus of irony, too: by the time the song came out, Nickelback already were headliners; “Rockstar” further catapulted them into the spotlight.

The song also explores the tension between the narrator’s dreams and what the other side of the story looks like. There are the “washed up singers” who write their hits, maybe uncredited. There’s the reference to Elvis and what his decline brought him: those tassels and crooning in Vegas. And there are the people who are totally plugged in and can get you anything you want – for a price.

Meanwhile, some parts of the song I don’t really get. Who is the suggestive voice that the narrator is talking to? (“So how you gonna do it?”) Is it his own internal monologue? Why did Nickelback decide to use sound effects when, for example, he talks about getting the “front door key to the Playboy mansion”?

The nature of celebrity remains essentially the same, as does the type of person you’ll encounter in that lifestyle. Ultimately, though, “Rockstar” feels like a time capsule, a relic of bleach-blonde bimboland and the People pages she lived in. It’s surreal somehow to go back and listen to it.

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