Avril Lavigne Spanned The Worlds Of Pop And Rock, Just Like The Artist Herself

Avril Lavigne Spanned The Worlds Of Pop And Rock, Just Like The Artist Herself

By Aliya Chaudhry

An eponymous album marks a major moment in an artist's career. For females, owning one's work, body, and artistry can be especially powerful, even political. During Women's History Month, MTV News is highlighting some of those iconic statements from some of the largest artists on the globe. This is Self-Titled.

“Singing Radiohead at the best of our lungs,” Avril Lavigne belts at the begin of "Here's to Never Growing Up," the lead single off her self-titled album, expressing both her love of the musical group and her devotion to rock music. The Radiohead song in question, Lavigne revealed to Billboard in 2013, was “Creep.” Later in the same track, she sings, “We live like rock stars / Dance on every bar / This is who we are / I don't think we'll ever change” — a promise to stay young, however also to keep true to Lavigne’s option roots. Ironically, it’s a pop song, accentuated by acoustic guitar strumming and bright percussion, although the evidence shows Lavigne can be both pop artist as well as a rock star. Her eponymous album takes that stance proudly.

Lavigne makes her case on album opener “Rock N Roll,” a love letter to the genre. An energetic pop-rock stomp reminiscent of her early material, it boasts a crunchy electric guitar solo along with a chorus beat calling back to Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” The lines “Don't care about a reputation / Must be living in the incorrect generation” reference Joan Jett, and Lavigne’s cover of “Bad Reputation” appeared on the extended editions of this album and 2011’s Goodbye Lullaby. The music video for “Rock N Roll” shows Lavigne playing her guitar solo in front of a church in the desert, the same way Slash did in the music video for Guns N’ Roses’s “November Rain.” These nods place the singer in the lineage of classic rock, which bolsters the collection’s argument that her peers aren’t solely the pop stars of the 2010s or the pop-punk bands of the 2000s, yet the stadium rockers of previous generations, and that her influence may very well stretch for decades to come. Spoiler alert: It certainly did.

Released in November 2013, 11 years soon after her debut and 9 years before her most recent album Love Sux, Avril Lavigne arrived at the midpoint of her right now 20-year career. It took the artist’s name, since Lavigne felt it was so varied that there was no unifying theme or fashion to tie it with each other. “The record is so diverse and it’s all over the map stylistically and lyrically,” she told Rolling Stone around the time of the drop. “I couldn’t really find something to really sum it up. It just felt right with it being a decade and my fifth record. I think it was just time for a self-titled record.”

Avril Lavigne has summery bass-driven pop like “Sippin’ on Sunshine” and electro pop-rock like “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” however also contains a surprising assortment of ballads. The piano-led “Hush Hush” and sweeping “Let Me Go” erupt into full-scale orchestral choruses. The latter is one of the album’s most unexpected and compelling tracks, and features Lavigne’s former partner, Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger. Delicate “Falling Fast,” country-tinged “Bitchin’ Summer,” and darker “Give You What You Like” are built around acoustic picking. Even the songs with slower begins build to big pop choruses, like bittersweet “Hello Heartache,” which combines sorrowful lyrics along with a resigned melody with more upbeat, energetic instrumentation. In general, Avril Lavigne strikes the pop-rock balance consistent across Lavigne’s career. Although her self-titled record showed Lavigne investing in her own fashion by combining the sounds of her previous releases with newer ones.

She references her bombastic tongue-in-cheek hit “Girlfriend” on “Rock N Roll” (“I am the motherfuckin' princess”), and the album’s emphasis on slower songs matched Goodbye Lullaby. “Here’s to Never Growing Up” and nostalgic “17” — titled right following the age Lavigne was as soon as she released her debut album — have shades of Let Go (Lavigne even replicates her early skater look in the “Here’s to Never Growing Up” video). It didn’t feel like Lavigne wanted to keep up with contemporary trends, although alternatively, to stick to the brand of pop-rock she pioneered the previous decade, although it had fallen out of fashion. “I don't care if I'm a misfit / I like it better than the hipster bullshit,” she sings on “Rock N Roll.”

“They don't play rock songs on the radio anymore. It's all very, very pop and dance,” Lavigne told Digital Spy in 2013. “For me, my music's routinely been heavy pop-rock... I've routinely experimented nevertheless at the same time remained true to my roots.” Case in point, Lavigne named nostalgia as one of the running themes on the release.

The album’s rock influences are also clear in the collaborators Lavigne chose to work with. Kroeger (a “Rockstar” in his own way) co-produced and co-wrote a couple of songs, including “Here’s to Never Growing Up.” Lavigne in turn covered Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” on the extended edition of this album, which she reimagined as a stripped-back, haunting piano ballad. Gentlemen Like Females frontman Martin Johnson and Evanescence’s David Hodges also worked alongside Lavigne on the project. Marilyn Manson contributed vocals to the track “Bad Girl,” a team-up place on Earth out of their friendship at the time — and one that doesn’t play well right now, given that in the past year, a number of ladies, including actress Evan Rachel Wood, have come forward against Manson with allegations of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse, and also physical assault.

Avril Lavigne’s release was indeed marked by controversy, however not about Manson. “Hello Kitty” and its accompanying music video were criticized for fetishizing and objectifying Japanese culture, and for perpetuating racist stereotypes of the nation and its people, particularly once it came to the backup dancers. Outlets and Twitter commentators called Lavigne out for using females of color “as props.” Lavigne’s response was underwhelming. She tweeted, “RACIST??? LOLOLOL!!! I love Japanese culture and I spend half of my time in Japan. I flew to Tokyo to shoot this video specifically for my Japanese fans, WITH my Japanese label, Japanese choreographers plus a Japanese director IN Japan.”

This incident tends to jump out any time fans think of this album, which hasn’t made the same impact as her other records. It also happened at a time any time conversations around cultural misappropriation were particularly mobile, as other pop stars including Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, and Selena Gomez equally faced backlash for taking from other cultures and objectifying people of color, acts of which several artists across genres remain guilty today.

Despite the controversy, Lavigne continued to perform the song, even as recently as 2019. She keeps it up and continues to live the brand, which was the inspiration beyond the track. “Obviously it's flirtatious and somewhat sexual, however it's genuinely about my love for Hello Kitty!” She told Digital Spy ahead of Avril Lavigne’s release. This year, she told Vogue one entire bedroom in her residence is serious about Hello Kitty merch. “​​I have this huge pink couch that has all these Hello Kitty stuffed animals on it, from tours and from fans as gifts,” she said.

Nearly a decade later, Avril Lavigne’s core thesis has become fact: she's a rock icon. While her influence spans genres, she is known for perfecting the brand of pop-rock that proved foundational to generations of artists including Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, Snail Mail, Willow, and Rina Sawayama. She has been especially essential for the recent pop-punk revival, which she is both an influence on plus a segment of. Love Sux, which was released last month, sees Lavigne not only sticking to the commitment to rock music she expressed on her self-titled album, however going further into it than ever before.

“I was just like, ‘Let's make a pop-punk record,’” she told Entertainment Weekly. “We used live guitars and live drums and didn't hold back, and just got to do exactly what I wanted and what I feel like I've probably wanted to do for a long time. It's fast. It's fun. It's just pure rock and roll from front to back.”

As this year’s Grammy nominations attest, rock music is still often seen as a stereotypically masucline enterprise — even amid breakout stars riding waves of big guitar sounds. Females like Lavigne, who deftly strike a balance between pop and rock, are readily sorted into the former category more with little effort than the second. Nevertheless with her self-titled album, she proved once and for all she can be a segment of both worlds. Right now, decades since she was crowned a pop princess, she’s still a rock star.

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