ENORMOUSLY CATCHY AND UNBELIEVABLY SUPERFICIAL: What else do you need to know?
Avril Lavigne doesn’t always act like a spoiled bitch. I saw her on Oprah once when she was promoting her multi-platinum debut, Let Go. At that point, the mallpunk darling was already being criticized for what some consider a poseur wardrobe of Dickies pants and Sex Pistols T’s. Then there was “Sk8er Boi,” a punk paean not to fighting the power but to Instant Messenger shorthand. Oprah had the presence of mind to ask Avril whether she thought she was a punk musician. “No,” Avril squeaked, in a shy almost-whisper. She smiled, pleased at the opportunity to explain herself. “I sing pop,” she said quietly. How unsettling. In the tabloids as well as in her lyrics, Avril usually has a lame ax to grind. Here I had caught her seemingly unaware, in a brief state of vulnerability. On the pop-star mortification scale, this, to Avril, is probably the equivalent of several unplanned nip slips or one drunken, pantyless crotch flash.
Avril has built her particular pop formula on the strength of her naive brattiness, and she should know better than to behave in a manner that’s ostensibly approachable, even for a moment. For the most part she puts little or no effort into cultivating a refined public persona — her music would lose much of its pleasure and momentum if the girl clutching the mic was a sweet-faced princess instead of a scowling, self-entitled sassypants. Because despite the perpetual chip on her shoulder and a ’tude bigger than her own ballooning bank account, when Avril sits down to write a piece of ear candy, she succeeds. It’s bizarre to think of her as a consummate professional. And yet her feeble-minded hysterics and dramatized public tantrums are the touchstones for her delicious sonic kiss-offs. Hate her or love her, she’s wrapped you around her vain little finger.
Many find this skill infuriating. A commenter on the music blog Stereogum.com wrote, “I think Avril Lavigne could possibly be my least favorite person on earth. This includes evil dictators and Conservative Republicans. She tops the list.” The smug 22-year-old grew livid when chain stores started co-opting her skinny-tie trend, and she stopped sporting them herself — she told Entertainment Weekly it made her feel as if she were wearing a costume: “I’m over it. I get sick of things quick.” Avril also adores bragging about her vices in a manner that reduces them to awkward items of scenester currency, though she claims to despise scenes of any kind. They range from her drinking habits to her ability to beat guys up — which seems laughable in light of her tiny five-foot-two frame.
On The Best Damn Thing (RCA), she’s still showing off. Her third album seeks to impress upon listeners a scorn for disloyal sluts even as she’s stealing someone else’s boyfriend. But just as Avril chooses to hide her ice-queen beauty behind pounds of black eyeliner, so her soprano siren calls and the prime-cut brawny guitars she commissioned for The Best Damn Thing distract you from her shitty personality. Enormously catchy and unbelievably superficial, The Best Damn Thing is from Avril’s perspective clearly the greatest record ever put out. Pretend you can’t speak English and don’t understand what she’s singing about and you might make it through the most exuberant tracks without feeling sorry for her.
Unless you also happen to speak Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, or Spanish. Avril’s foreign fans can now process the call-and-response chorus to her first single, “Girlfriend” — the multi-lingual versions were created to boost her ringtone sales outside the US. Plus, she nails the literary cross-promotion better than Madonna’s stuffy children’s books ever could. Avril stars in a new anime called Make 5 Wishes that’s published by Del Rey Manga, a Random House imprint. Avril served as creative consultant on the two-book series, which is drawn and written, respectively, by Camilla D’Errico and Joshua Dysart. The story features the singer as fairy-godmother type to the introverted Hana, a “rebel rocker” who’s there to help realize one girl’s dreams.
These gimmicks help, though The Best Damn Thing didn’t need any assistance to fling itself straight to #1 on the Billboard 200 chart in the first week of its release. “She’s, like, so whatever,” Avril sneers of her crush’s significant other on the addictively bouncy “Girlfriend.” Isn’t it fitting that Avril — who has never come across as very bright — would also be “so whatever” if not for the intense songwriting chemistry between her and her numerous collaborators?
On Let Go, Avril’s cohort was super songwriting team the Matrix. For the follow up Under My Skin, it was singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk and Butch Walker (formerly of Marvelous 3, now a producer/solo artist). This go-round, she elected to work alongside professional hit maker Dr. Luke, the man responsible for Kelly Clarkson’s genre-skipping “Since U Been Gone.” Walker, Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance), and Serban Ghenea take additional production credits. The Best Damn Thing is Avril’s — and her management’s — attempt at crafting a happy medium out of the slickness of Let Go and the slow, bitter ballads that dominated Under My Skin. What we’re left with is pure teenage venom.