The Paternal Separation Behind “Too Bad” by Nickelback

Canadian rock icons Nickelback broke big in 2001 with their third album Silver Side Up, which featured the monster hit “How You Remind Me,” a sarcastic breakup song inspired by the personal experience of frontman Chad Kroeger. The next single, “Too Bad,” also drew from his life but much earlier on. It was a somber track that alternated between low-key, melancholic verses and angsty, cathartic choruses as the singer grappled with the issue of childhood abandonment.

Videos by American Songwriter

Back to the Beginning

Despite the reputation they have developed for writing debaucherous anthems, Nickelback have also explored more serious topics in other songs, including domestic violence (“Never Again”), crippling drug addiction (“Just to Get High”), and calling for social change (“Edge of a Revolution”). But “Too Bad” really hit home.

“’Too Bad’ is a story that kind of stemmed from the fact that my father left when I was about 2 and a half, and. … [half-brother and bandmate] Mike was about 4,” Kroeger told CNN in June 2002. “And just not getting to develop a relationship with your father until you’re in your teens.”

He told MTV in December 2001 he wanted to have a father to teach him things. But he had to wait.

“You get old enough to hop in a car and drive a few hours and go see him,” Kroeger told MTV. “Just say, ‘Hey, do you want to go fishing this weekend?’ That’s not always possible when you’re young and you have to have your mother drop everything to coordinate things with your father. When you’re old enough to make your own decisions, it makes it a lot easier.”

“That’s his take on the emotionally disappointing part of our upbringing when Chad’s dad just wasn’t around, and he wasn’t really permitted to be around,” Mike Kroeger, the band’s bassist and Chad’s older half-brother, recently told American Songwriter. “He was sort of persona non grata when we were growing up. He also had his own things that he was doing [but] it’s kind of a tragic situation when a parent is kept away from a child. My mom and him split up when they were quite young. There were times when he wanted to be around us, and that wasn’t going to get approved.”

A Mini-Movie

Directed by Nigel Dick, the four-minute video for “Too Bad” encapsulates the story of the song succinctly and effectively. In the clip, a blue-collar dad abandons his wife and young child when mounting debts and a home foreclosure scare him away. It flashes forward to the boy’s teen years when tension builds with his mother because she keeps his father away. After a major argument, the son storms off from the diner they work at, then accidentally flips his car over while on the road. After he gets out of the hospital with a broken leg, his mother arranges a meeting so he can see his father again.

Fathers hands are lined with guilt / For tearing us apart / Guess it turned out in the end / Just look at where we are / We made it out / We’ve still got clothing on our backs / And now I scream about it / And how it’s so bad, it’s so bad / It’s so bad, it’s so bad. 

A Successful Follow-Up

It must be daunting to follow up the success of the most-played rock song on American radio in the 2000s—“How You Remind Me” amassed over 1.2 million radio spins between 2001 and 2009, according to Billboard. But “Too Bad” performed admirably, boosted by video play on networks like Fuse and MTV2.

While it only hit No. 42 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, “Too Bad” did well on the radio charts, soaring to No. 1 on Mainstream Rock and reaching No. 6 on Alternative Airplay and No. 23 on the Mainstream Top 40. It sold 500,000 copies domestically. On top of that, the Chad Kroeger/Josey Scott song “Hero” from the superhero blockbuster Spider-Man 2, released four months later in March 2002, would reach No. 3 on the Hot 100 singles chart. Thus, three Nickelback songs were competing with each other for airplay at that point. (This situation is explored in the new band documentary, Hate to Love, which is coming to streaming soon.)

Nickelback have produced a number of hit songs and fan favorites over the years, but “Too Bad” is arguably their best because of the potency of the music and the poignancy of the lyrics. One can even see how, in the video, the look on Chad Kroeger’s face and the way he sings the lyrics indicates how much playing the song affected him.

The message has impacted fans too. YouTuber @stephanieroll6114 commented: “Being abandoned by my father this song hits me deep in my soul.”

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Photo by Catherine Powell/Getty Images for CMT

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