Avril Lavigne appeared to baffle music writers in 2002 when she launched her first single, the infectious mid-tempo banger “Complicated.” Rolling Stone dubbed her a “tiny terror” with a “nouveau-punk” sound who may very well be, of all issues, “a fine country singer in the making.” Entertainment Weekly breathlessly questioned whether or not she was “the teen Bob Dylan.” Eventually, critics settled on evaluating her to each different main feminine artist on the time, calling her “the anti-Britney” time and again, and framing her because the singer who’d burst the artifice of bubblegum pop just by not being overtly bubblegum-pop-y. Rolling Stone, in a prolonged profile after Lavigne’s debut album, Let Go, turned a blockbuster hit, known as her “an icon … who wears baggy pants, plastic bracelets and a scowl—not the skimpy threads and Ultra brite smiles of Britney and Mandy and Beyoncé and pre-‘Dirrty’ Christina.”
Maybe everybody ought to have taken the recommendation Lavigne doled out with indelible spunk within the opening strains of “Complicated”: Chill out. Whatcha yellin’ for? A 17-year-old from a small city in Canada who’d been plucked out of obscurity by the mega-producer L. A. Reid, Lavigne was maybe by design arduous to outline. She sounded nothing just like the R&B artists topping the charts on the time, however “Complicated” by some means sliced upward by the Billboard Hot 100, sandwiching itself comfortably between a pair of Nelly hits. Onstage, she typically stuffed her fingers into her pockets and stored her face half-hidden behind her flat-ironed hair, however in music movies, she boldly wreaked havoc in public areas, together with a mall and a downtown-L.A. intersection. She was a large number of contradictions served in a pint-size package deal—in different phrases, an adolescent.
Let Go was launched 20 years in the past right now. When I first listened to the album, I used to be 11 years outdated—I do know, I know—and opposite to music media’s predictions in regards to the demise of bubblegum pop, I giddily added Avril to my rotation of Britney and Mandy and Beyoncé and Christina. Let Go wasn’t, to me, destroying an period of Top 40 music. If something, its sassy lead singles, “Complicated” and “Sk8er Boi,” obscured the album’s true energy. Lavigne’s chirpy, youthful voice had a refreshingly acquainted high quality to it, as if she had been a buddy’s older sister who’d affixed a Keep Out signal onto her bed room door however who couldn’t assist belting out her ideas from the opposite facet anyway. In Let Go, Lavigne was asserting herself as any teenager would, insisting on being left alone and being heard on the similar time. To focus on the album as merely “anti-Britney” is to overlook the appeal of its adolescent vulnerability, which peeked out from behind each defiant, snarky verse.
Take “Mobile,” the fifth observe. In it, Lavigne ruminates on rising up, equating her angst to being, properly, a cell “hanging from the ceiling … spinnin’ round with mixed feelings.” Such lyrics aren’t significantly subtle or polished to metaphorical perfection, however that’s the purpose. Lavigne is telling it like it’s. “Sometimes, I want to scream out loud,” she wails within the bridge—however simply because the guitars kick in, poised to permit her that catharsis, she reverts to a quieter sound. “Everything’s changin’ everywhere I go,” she sings softly, “all out of my control.” For all her protesting, she doesn’t actually need to scream. She simply desires somebody to lastly pay attention.
Again and once more, Lavigne performs faux on Let Go, claiming to be wiser than her years whereas her voice and her phrases betray her naivete. In “My World,” she describes the time she “got fired by a fried chicken ass”—a lyric that made me giggle each time I heard it again in 2002, as a result of oh wow, she known as her boss an “ass”—however a couple of verses later, she self-consciously shies away from cursing, singing about lounging round “all friggin’ day.” In “Nobody’s Fool,” she speak-raps a number of strains, together with one through which she declares, to somebody making an attempt to mistaken her once more, “I might’ve fallen for that when I was 14 and a little more green, but it’s amazing what a couple of years can mean.” The line is gutsy but additionally hilariously immature, and Lavigne appears to comprehend it. She launches right into a collection of “la-la-la”s within the refrain, as if playfully acknowledging that the distinction between 17 and 14 actually isn’t a lot in any respect.
Of course, at 11, I didn’t choose up on all these nuances. Lavigne simply appeared like she meant all the things she sang, and her lyrics sounded just like the stuff I’d scrawled into my very own journal, considering I used to be observing one thing profound about capital-L Life. Only after I turned a correct teenager did I perceive, say, the sexual wordplay of “Things I’ll Never Say”; what to name the poisonous relationship Lavigne was describing in “Too Much to Ask”; or how satisfying it will really feel to howl the despondent yeah-ee-yeah’s in “I’m With You,” a yodeling so potent that Rihanna would go on to pattern it for her music “Cheers,” eight years later. As I grew up and Lavigne drifted away from her pop-punk roots, I’d return typically to Let Go, and to the music “Tomorrow,” the observe that arrives precisely in the midst of the album. In it, Lavigne muses in regards to the duty she feels she now holds. The melody is nice, however the lyrics begin out obstinate: “I wanna believe you, when you tell me that it’ll be okay. Yeah, I try to believe you,” Lavigne sings, earlier than she takes a breath and delivers her kicker: “But I don’t.” As the music goes on, nonetheless, she comes round. She pleads with the listener to present her a while to assume, finally constructing to a refrain about how she needs she knew how you can categorical her ideas. “I don’t know what to say,” she admits, earlier than reassuring herself: “Tomorrow is a different day.” The music unfurls hesitantly, line by line, from petulance to acceptance—simply because the expertise of teenagedom, that journey to self-knowledge, evolves from uncertainty to knowledge.
Let Go nonetheless lingers, even when Lavigne isn’t the one performing the album’s hits. Gen Z stars equivalent to Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, and Willow Smith have cited Lavigne as an affect on their pop-punk sound. Rodrigo has even included “Complicated” into her tour, overlaying the music as a part of her set. I caught her present not too long ago, kind of, when she carried out in Los Angeles. Perched in Griffith Park above the Greek Theatre, I may hear her crowd, their voices singing alongside to each lyric so loudly that they typically drowned Rodrigo out. When she started “Complicated,” the viewers quieted down, as in the event that they didn’t know the phrases; lots of them had been in all probability born after “Complicated” dominated the charts, I noticed. I felt a pang as Rodrigo continued to bounce throughout the stage, singing a music that, at greater than 4 minutes, was longer than most of her tracks. But then, as Rodrigo continued, her followers began to chime in, choosing up the lyrics as simply as in the event that they’d been listening to Lavigne all alongside. “You fall, and you crawl, and you break, and you take what you get,” they sang. It sounded imperfect—however then once more, so is rising up. And as Lavigne as soon as put it so succinctly: Uh-huh. That’s the best way it’s.