Let Go at 20 by Avril Lavigne: reclaiming the complicated legacy of the pop-punk princess

Olivia Rodrigo – the 19-year-old recently crowned Best New Artist at the Grammys – had covered Avril Lavigne’s biggest hit, Complicated, throughout his spring tour. So it was hardly a surprise when Rodrigo asked the sold-out crowd at Massey Hall to “please drop out for Avril Lavigne!” The pride of Napanee, Ontario, came out on top of a single from its 2002 debut single, with a room full of teenage fans – including Rodrigo herself – who weren’t even born when the video dominated. MuchMusic and MTV for the first time.

For a new generation of female artists, from chart-toppers to groundbreaking independent artists, Lavigne is Canada’s northern star. Her appearance at this year’s Juno Awards was one of the standouts of the ceremony the liveliest performances. And she has just completed her first cross-Canada tour since 2011, a celebration of both her endurance (a seventh album, Love Sux) and his lasting legacy: the 20th anniversary of his first album let’s go.

But to hear it from many critics who aren’t women or teenagers, Lavigne’s decades-long influence on pop music comes with an asterisk. Take this scathing 2014 Globe and Mail review of her EDM-tinged song Hello Kitty: “Take a genre that’s past its prime… strip it of its character, write vaguely suggestive lyrics about young love, pull out a hit #1.” It was written by… me. I was wrong, and it’s time to fix the record. Lavigne should be considered one of the most important Canadians of the past 20 years.

A soundtrack to an entire generation’s childhood, it’s gaining a level of cultural relevance that, for most artists, is a dream come true. “THANK YOU FOR MAKING ME WHAT I AM” was Billie Eilish Instagram legend when today’s biggest pop star met Lavigne, who attended one of his shows. On YouTube, dedicated fans compiled a video titled “billie eilish being obsessed with avril lavigne for 10 minutes straight” as if, without blunt visual evidence, disbelievers would never consider the straight line from the often criticized let’s go to the 2020 Grammy Album of the Year winner.

The stars were out for the Juno Awards on May 15, where many discussed the inspiration of beloved Ontario pop-punk singer Avril Lavigne, who performed during the show.

The Canadian Press

Another recognized follower of Lavigne is Grammy-nominated Phoebe Bridgers. While the singer-songwriter is most often associated with largely credible emo artists such as Elliott Smith and Connor Oberst, she admits to Billboard that “I probably wouldn’t have arrived at Elliott Smith without Avril Lavigne.” Soccer Mommy, another critically acclaimed indie rock band, garnered acclaim let’s go and under my skin from 2004, tell Billboard that “You can just put them [first two albums] in the car and on every track – boom. Hit, hit, hit, hit.

Yet there remains an air of disbelief that such acclaimed and serious musicians sing the praises of undeniably catchy – but not serious – hits such as Complicated Where Sk8er Boi. Instead, Lavigne’s songwriting elicits grudging respect and concessions of nostalgia.

Lavigne in July 2002.xavier popy

A vulture review argues that after her first two albums, “Lavigne’s discography has since represented a conscious rejection of the personality and sound that [Soccer Mommy] and [Snail Mail, another female indie rocker] consider near and dear, moreover Girlfriend from retreads and arguably offensive EDM singles to treacly duos. A retrospective look at let’s go of Pitchfork, the Rolling Stone of the digital age, is also dismissive of its trajectory: “Listening to singles later…it’s like chewing on pieces of gum when you’re old enough to make your own dentist appointments.”

There’s actually a certain coolness to Lavigne, who never strayed too far from the pop-punk-princess aesthetic that launched her career 20 years ago. Time has proven that despite his many forays into other genres, his message lyrics and her stable personality are key to her influence with the Olivia Rodrigos of the world. Lavigne does not change form from album to album, as many modern musicians do, to the point of trying different shades of eyeliner and colored highlights. But the artistic immaturity I thought I saw in the past was actually me, his male contemporary born the same year, missing the most important part of his art: his audience.

Teenage girls can spot a fake faster than anyone else, which is no small feat to connect with them for decades. Taylor Swift – who declared himself a “lifelong fan” of Lavigne — has been praised for growing alongside her audience, from teenage crushes to adult romance. Lavigne’s music takes the opposite approach: a consistency of teenage angst that always finds its way to the intended listener. She wants to be taken seriously at the height of her boredom. She doesn’t have to imagine the protagonist asking, “Why did you have to go and make things so complicated?” Lavigne is true to herself youthful concerns, which she wrote in her LiveJournal in 2002 or her Instagram feelings in 2022 (close friends only).

In the long run, Lavigne’s list of detractors pales in comparison to the teenage tastemakers who are finally old enough to claim her as they discover the crisp and cathartic chords of 2000s pop-punk. We also discovered how male-dominated these genres were not too long ago, at a time when Lavigne topped a short list of women (including fellow Canadian Fefe Dobson and Hayley Williams of Paramore) who were able to make room, play guitar and blow off steam on the boys. and breakups. That she didn’t have many contemporaries should make us appreciate her even more, not less.

Today, critical reconsideration is a feature of pop culture (you’ve read this far, haven’t you?). Many of us have spent years deriding the music of artists like Britney Spears. At the time, Lavigne was even positioned as the anti-Spears rocker, a questionable decision that we, yes, reconsidered and called upon to pit women against each other.

We now recognize Spears as a pioneering pop star even though professional listeners still argue that her later output never reached her earliest heights (sound familiar?). We have picked up many artists from the same vintage, from Christina Aguilera to the Backstreet Boys. Why haven’t we agreed on Lavigne’s place in these ranks?

It boils down to positively anachronistic ideas about pop versus rock. By presenting himself first as a singer-songwriter, Lavigne invites stifling criticism of his authenticity. Her first two albums were unnecessarily marred by songwriting controversies with co-writers The Matrix and Chantal Kreviazuk. One wonders how a modest teenager practicing in small town Canada rose to cultural prominence as a fully realized pop-punk idol – questions hardly asked of Stratford’s Justin Bieber.

I ask readers to learn from my mistakes, to revere pop-punk icon Lavigne the same way we do, say, Shania Twain, her own childhood idol. As Lavigne believers like Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish continue to dominate the charts and wear their influences on their sleeves, hopefully more of us will let go of our complicated relationship with her music. It would be a happy ending.

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