Avril Lavigne is back, pop-punk too
It’s 2003, and in an almost painful display of 2000s fashion, 18-year-old Avril Lavigne heads to the Junos stage in her sweatbands, seashell necklace and smudged eyeliner.
Although she was up for six trophies that night (four of which she would take home, including album and new artist of the year), it was only her first time at the awards. It had also been less than a year since the teenager from Napanee, Ontario, released her debut album, let’s goearned five Grammy nominations and became one of the most popular Canadian musicians of all time.
And now, twenty years later and with a comeback album just released, Lavigne is returning to the Junos — albeit this time just to perform. And while she’s released five more studio albums since then, and was nominated for — and even won — the Junos as recently as 2020, it’s still definitely a comeback.
“I said I think it’s probably the most alternative front-to-back,” Lavigne said of her new album in an interview with CBC. q with Tom Power. “[It’s] the record that I always wanted to do, and it was so easy and effortless.”
Love Sux, Lavigne’s new album, is a throwback to the modern pop-punk style she popularized but subtly moved away from in later years. It’s the path she’s taken to help bring the pop-punk genre into the mainstream, especially as a space for women and girls.
The pop punk princess
Because, even outside of the screaming Corel Center crowd that night in 2003 and the impossible-to-escape dominance of his songs Complicated and enduring earworm Sk8er Boi, she had an impact on the way people lived their lives. So much so that back then – and years later – you’d probably see his influence as soon as you walked through the door.
And if looking back at Avril gives flashbacks to early 2000s fashion, it’s only because she did it that way — something she noticed from one of her very first gigs. in Vancouver, even before his trip to the Junos.
“I remember at that show, being in my dressing room and peeking out the window and seeing a line of people walk into the show,” she said. “And they were all dressed like me, with the ties, the white tank top and the black eyeliner…it was just, it was crazy.”
Alongside Ashlee Simpson and fellow Canadians Skye Sweetnam and Fefe Dobson, the “pop-punk princesses” helped break down what women might look like as pop stars, and even what kind of music they could do. And beyond the necklace-like tie looks and the Home Hardware shirt that started selling nationally just because it appeared on SNL by wearing one, this influence manifests itself again in a considerable way.
“First of all, I want to thank Avril for being here today,” Olivia Rodrigo announced, seconds after Lavigne presented her with the Songwriter of the Year award. at Variety Hitmaker’s Brunch in December 2021. “I’m such a fan of you. I admire you so much, so it’s so surreal to me.”
Then 18, Rodrigo was starting her career around the same age as Lavigne, which Lavigne herself says is just one of the parallels between them. And a few months later, Rodrigo would invite Lavigne on stage with her to play Complicateda track she listed as a direct inspiration for her breakout song Good 4 U.
“She redefined femininity”
It’s just part of the resurgence of pop-punk coming back into the mainstream. This has been fueled in part by the emergence of TikTok as a musical tastemaker, which has indeed both dramatically reduced the premium of new songs over “catalog music” and prioritized the catchy chorus. on everything else.
He also helped young listeners discover and share this rebellious pop-influenced sound. And at the same time, it has helped contemporary artists like Willow Smith (who last year recorded a single, GROWwith Lavigne) and the pop-punk band Meet Me @ The Altar (who are partially dedicating their new album to him) co-opting the style, while utilizing the rebellious, confident attitude that the genre, and Lavigne in particular, has put on the map.
“We write our own songs, we were really inspired by [Avril]and trying to be unique too,” Meet Me @ The Altar guitarist Téa Campbell said in an interview with CBC. “We want to bring something new to the table, just like she did.”
“If you came of age at a certain period, you couldn’t escape the way it redefined femininity,” said Melissa Vincent, a Canadian music journalist. “How she redefined what it meant to be a teenager and I think she gave a lot of young people, young women in particular, permission to explore aspects of their sexuality, elements of their gender – ways of relate to the patriarchy.”
That’s because it’s not just the style of music from Lavigne and musicians like her that has had a lasting impact, Vincent said. When women made their way into the pop-punk space in the early 2000s, they challenged what women could wear and how they could act as musicians. Until then, men were free to act as they pleased, while women had to fit into a different mold.
Even to exist in the world of pop-punk — which was traditionally straight, male, and white — as someone who didn’t fit that type, required an attitude rooted in unapologetic self-expression.
Artists like Lizzo celebrate body positivity and challenge established beauty standards, it’s punk, Kid Cudi wearing a dress for his performance on SNL just to “annoy some people” is punk, says Vincent. And even Billie Eilish (who, although not a pop-punk artist herself, posted a photo of the two together in 2020 with the caption “Thank you for making me who I am”) wearing mostly loose clothing – the antithesis of what you’d expect a female pop musician to wear – it’s also punk.
“Those things slowly caught on in mainstream pop,” Vincent said. “And now we’re at a time where we see that in its fullest expression.”
And even as Lavigne rides the wave back into the spotlight, another pop-punk musician is making a comeback alongside her. Fefe Dobson debuted her debut album just a year after Lavigne, and this year released her first single in eight years: Fckn in love.
Dobson had a similar background to Lavigne, but says their music is different enough that the frequent comparisons made between the two are nothing more than a surface-level connection: They’re just women in a space that generally did not accept them.
And as a black woman in pop-punk, Dobson said she was frequently questioned — she wore the brand “Brandy Spears” and even had a label debut trying to push her into R&B.
But still, if the music wasn’t exactly the same, she says the struggle was similar for both.
“We were all tired of being cute and wearing certain clothes or having to be, in quotes, ‘pretty girl,'” she said. “We wanted to hang out with the guys, you know? We wanted to be better than the guys. I think it was a big moment for the girls to have someone to look up to like Avril.“
Times are a little different now, she said. But while Meet Me @ The Altar, all three of whom are women of color, said they dedicated their musical taste and success to Dobson and Lavigne (a post that stifled Dobson somewhat, as she had never considered fans look at it that way), she thinks the rebel streak is still needed.
That could be part of the reason she’s back. Although Dobson said he finished the single in 2012, it was only now that the time was right to release it. Because after years of living indoors and an ever-worsening mental health crisis, she said, young people are again using pop-punk to express themselves and just “shout out to kill your head”.
“I think the genre was taken seriously…that’s the point of the genre: to be taken seriously,” she explained, before stopping and correcting herself. “Not to be taken seriously, but to be heard, you know? To be seen.
Watch the 2022 Juno Awards at 8 p.m. ET on May 15 at CBCmusic.ca/junos, Radio-Canada Music Facebook, Radio-Canada Music Twitter, Radio-Canada Music YouTube, Radio-Canada Music TikTok and Gem of Radio-Canada.