What's hiding behind the music we love to hate

A CBC radio special looks at music and our brains, and discovers that you have less control over the music you love than you think you do

You have less control over the music you love than you think you do

A woman stands in front of a TV with the song lyrics to Nickelback's Photograph in a crowded bar
CBC’s Clare Bonnyman took to the karaoke stage for the radio special Music We Love to Hate. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

It's a packed night at Rosario's Pub on Edmonton's north side, with dozens of singers putting their names forward for karaoke. Everything from Amy Winehouse to Tina Turner, Moist to the Moody Blues.

"There's literally something for everybody," says host Chris Carter. "It's really anybody's guess as to what gets [sung]."

Carter says there are clear winners and losers in the music library. 

He opens a page that shows the most popular songs. At the top, his personal favourite, Sound of Silence by Disturbed. The second most popular is a duet featuring Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow from 2001: Picture.

"That is one that is loved by the new singer, and hated by virtually everybody else," says Carter. "At one point they had an email for requesting new songs and the email address was"

The exhaustion over hearing Picture on repeat led to its removal from the music library at one point.

Whether overplayed, poorly done or not your style, there is a lot of music people love to loathe. Picture is just one of the many tunes explored on the CBC Radio special Music We Love To Hate.

From hits to hate

Canadian rockers Nickelback have earned both fame and hostility. For more than a decade they were the "whipping boys of the music industry," singer Chad Kroeger told journalists after the 2023 Juno Awards, where the band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

The band's celebrity began with their 2001 album Silver Side Up, with hit single How You Remind Me selling more than eight million copies worldwide.

All five members of Nickelback stand onstage to receive their award.
Hall of Fame inductees Nickelback give their acceptance speech at the 2023 Juno Awards. (CARAS/iPhoto)

It was around that same time that comedian Brian Posehn went on a Comedy Central show and said "No one talks about the studies which show that bad music makes people violent."

"Nickelback makes me want to kill Nickelback." 

What came next was years of insults thrown at the band, declaring their music uncreative and unexciting. But it was still played everywhere — especially on Canadian radio.

A new age of disposable music

That repetition is something Brian Fauteux has seen turn people against songs or artists. He's an associate professor of popular music and media studies at the University of Alberta. 

The music we dislike can come from "being not forced, but in the presence of something repeatedly and it might not be your choice," says Fauteux. 

"I think about working in grocery stores and hearing songs over and over again."

A man flips through records in a music shop
Professor Brian Fauteux searched through the stacks at Freecloud Records in Edmonton. Studying music and media, Fauteux digs into streaming and the impact on the Canadian music industry (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

Nowadays Fauteux thinks this repetition-based dislike is less common with the rise of streaming — where listeners control the playlist; not radio DJs or store managers.

He says streaming has turned music into a service. But this disposability also means people aren't actively exploring or purchasing music the same way, losing a physical side that created connection.

"There's a certain user experience that feels a little uninspiring," says Fauteux.

Could bad music be good for you?

But there is another way to look at so-called bad music. Some think of these tunes as guilty pleasures — songs you won't admit to singing anywhere but the shower. 

"It's something we just enjoy and that's it," says California-based psychologist Pamela Rutledge, who researches the psychological and social impact of media. "That's actually very good."

A woman faces the camera smiling
Pamela Rutledge is a media psychologist, and says that listening to your guilty pleasures can have positive impacts on your health (Submitted by Pamela Rutledge)

Guilty pleasures, she says, release positive emotions and reduce stress. Whether it's boy bands, Twilight or old show tunes, "there's a lot of benefits to feeling good."

The guilt is based on the shedding of social norms, or telling "your idealized self to just step aside for a minute," says Rutledge. 

It comes from a societal obsession with culture and high art, she says. Popular media like reality TV and pop music don't have to be "learned" the same way and are therefore seen as lesser.

Rutledge's advice? Whatever it is, own it guilt-free.

"Admitting to a guilty pleasure is saying "for this moment, I put myself first." This thing that we know as guilty pleasure shouldn't make us feel guilty at all."

Listen to the CBC Radio special Music We Love to Hate, hosted by Clare Bonnyman, to hear more about music, our brains and why we love to loathe certain artists.