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Music Fan Drops Dime on Nickelback Song Similarity

Can a band plagiarize itself? One listener in Canada has implied as much by taking two songs by the band Nickelback and superimposing them over one another to emphasize the similarity.

Mikey Smith, a 21-year-old college student and musician in Alberta, Canada, heard two of the band’s songs on the radio and immediately noticed something was strange.

“I kind of noticed, well, you can hum the melody of the other one over this one, and I wondered why this is,” Smith says. “So I tried to put them together, one on the left speaker, one on the right speaker. And it was actually ridiculous how similar they were.”

What Smith noticed was that Nickelback’s earlier hit song, “How You Remind Me,” sounded very similar to one of the band’s newest songs, “Someday.” Once the similarity was discovered, the songs started piggybacking around the Internet with the moniker “How You Remind Me of Someday.”

Smith admitted that he tweaked the songs a bit to create his musical Frankenstein, but he says he did so to prove how similar the songs are. He wanted to make a point to his friends and girlfriend, a big Nickelback fan.

Well, she was.

“She pretty much despises Nickelback now,” Smith said.

Smith said he put his remixed Nickelback song on his Web page so his friends could listen to it. But once on the Web, Smith’s creation got loose.

“A lot more people heard it than I was expecting,” he says. “And it’s everywhere. I couldn’t stop it if I tried.”

Responses to Smith’s discovery have been mixed. Some say he’s a genius, while others have been less complimentary.

Nickelback’s publicist has not commented on Smith’s discovery, but bassist Mike Kroeger was asked about it in an interview with the Cleveland Free Times. Kroeger told the newspaper, “I think that’s remarkable for someone to notice that there’s a hit quality. If all hits sound the same, then sorry. When you are a band that has a distinct style, such as us or AC/DC, that happens. When you have a distinct style, you run the risk of sounding similar.”

Smith says that’s grounds for fraud. He claims Nickelback is ripping off its fans, some of whom might not realize it.

This is not the first time a band has been accused of copying itself. In the mid-1980s, John Fogerty was sued by Fantasy Records, which claimed the singer’s “Run Through the Jungle” and “Old Man Down the Road” were the same song. Fogerty won the case with the help of expert witness Gerald Eskelin, a forensic musicologist in California.

Eskelin says that just because the Nickelback songs sound familiar, that doesn't mean they are the same.

“The melodies are different in these two songs,” Eskelin says. “The only thing that’s the same is the bass line or the chord structure.”

He says many songs in the ’60s used similar bass lines or chord structures. To find a musician that copied himself, Eskelin says you have to go back to the 18th century.

“I think of Handel, whose three-and-a-half-hour Messiah epic used music he had used before; he just put Messiah-type words to it,” he says.

People did not complain, Eskelin says, because they liked the music.

Smith is not convinced. He says he has dug further into Nickelback’s catalog of songs and found more common threads. In fact, he discovered striking similarities between Nickelback’s songs and those of fellow Canadian musician Avril Lavigne.

To Smith, Nickleback, Lavigne and many of the other bands on Top 40 radio represent an insidious and increasing homogeneity in the North American songbook. He also realizes that most listeners don't care.

“Realistically, music isn’t that big a deal. To me, it is. I mean, I find different forms of music can be totally emotionally stimulating and make me feel things that normally would be not as easy to feel. So actually, I’d go so far as to say that I learn things about myself just through listening to music.”

Sean Cole reports from member station WBUR.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sean Cole