New girl on the block


April 18, 2003


Avril Lavigne at age 18 has already had a career that many pop wannabes couldn't even dream about.

Bursting out of the nowheresburg of Napanee, Ontario (population: 5,000), she made her recorded debut last year with a hit single called "Complicated," which has been ubiquitous on MTV, Radio Disney, and shopping mall sound systems ever since.

She's watched her first album, "Let Go," spend nearly a year near the top of the Billboard albums chart, with sales or some 5 million copies. To cap it all off, she was nominated for five Grammys, though she failed to take any home.

It is hard to resist fantasizing about how this pop phenomenon came to be.

THE SCENE: A luxuriously appointed conference room in the Manhattan offices of Arista Records. Label head Antonio "L.A." Reid presides over several nervous lower-level executives.

REID: "Listen, this sugary-sweet teen-pop is feelin' all played out, but we need something new and big for the spring marketing push. What else have you got for me?"

EXEC #1: "A boy band, but the twist is, they're all Eminem clones."

REID: "No!"

EXEC #2: "A weird, ambi-sexual, purple-haired, part-rap, part-pop firebrand who's 'real' and 'tough' and 'from the streets.' You're gonna love her!"

REID: "No! I've already got Pink!"

EXEC #3: "A hot young J-Lo-style diva, but she's not Spanish--she's an Iraqi native, and she sings in Arabic."

REID: "No! No! NO! Here's what I want: A young blonde skate punk with attitude to burn and a closet fulla Hot Topic bondage gear. But she's gotta have a sweet, angelic look so she won't scare the parents. Of course, we'll stick her with our best producers, but we're gonna say that her music is the real deal--a heartfelt expression of teen angst! You know, like that poor Cobain kid or--what's her name, that freak of a wife--oh, yeah, Courtney Morrissette."

EXECS [clapping wildly]: "You're a genius, boss! We're on it!"


Contrived or not, you have to respect a vision of such crystalline commercial clarity. And while Lavigne has embarrassed herself in nearly every magazine story with a musical knowledge that is about 2 inches deep (to the point where her keepers refused to make her available for any interviews to promote her first concert tour), she does have a few things going for her.

For one, any sort of rebellion in these shallow, materialistic times is welcome, even if it's just of the bratty, "But mom, why do I have to have a curfew?!" variety. (Quoth the diva in her record-company bio: "I wouldn't want a normal life or I'd get bored!")

For another, any celebration of individuality seems refreshing after years of cookie-cutter teen-pop, even if said individuality was purchased at a mall chain store. (Avril again: "I'm just coming out and I'm going to clearly be myself--I write what I feel, I never worry what others think. I'm gonna dress what's me, I'm gonna act what's me, and I'm gonna sing what's me.")

Finally, unlike Christina, Britney, et al, this girl can actually sing--at least enough to belt out the insanely catchy if simplistic pop-rock that has been so lovingly crafted for her by the best producers money can buy.

Check the fine print and you'll find that nearly all of the songs on "Let Go" were co-written with veteran producers and arrangers Cliff Magness or the red-hot trio The Matrix. Scott Spock of that group told MTV how the magic happened.

"She came over and we played her some stuff in the Faith Hill vein and she said, 'I don't wanna do that, I wanna rock!'" Spock recalled. "She played us a CD of this screaming punk rock 'I hate you'-type stuff. We said, 'Come back tomorrow.' We wrote 'Complicated' that day. She sang it in, like, two takes, and we had the version you heard on the radio the next day."

The rest, as they say on VH1's "Behind the Music," is history.

Now La Lavigne is coming to the UIC Pavilion for a sold-out show Saturday night to show us what she can do onstage. And reports from the tour opener in Toronto weren't half bad.

Playing for 70 minutes, Lavigne ran through all of the songs on "Let Go," as well as a cover of Green Day's "Basket Case." She didn't move or talk much, but her brassy, booming voice held its own in an arena setting.

She donned an acoustic guitar for a few tunes to make a show of being, you know, a musician, and she proved her solidarity with her following of largely pre-teen, self-described "avrilutionaries" by pulling two kids out of the audience to sing along on "Complicated."

Indulgent parents have paid much more (her tickets were only $30) for much less to see other teen-pop hypes in recent years.

Now if only Avril could learn how to pronounce "David Bowie" and spend five minutes figuring out who the Sex Pistols were.

Avril sings...

"I love writing," Avril Lavigne claims. "When I get upset and really need to get it out of me, I go to my guitar. Sometimes I feel like my guitar is my therapist."

Here is a sampling of Lavigne's lyrical outpourings.

"Anything But Ordinary"

"Sometimes I get so weird/I even freak myself out/I laugh myself to sleep/It's my lullaby/Sometimes I drive so fast/Just to feel the danger/I wanna scream/It makes me feel alive."

"Losing Grip"

"Are you aware of what you make me feel, baby?/Right now I feel invisible to you, like I'm not real/Didn't you feel me lock my arms around you/Why'd you turn away?/Here's what I have to say, I was left to cry there/Waiting outside there, grinning with a lost stare/That's when I decided/Why should I care?"


"Uh-huh, life's like this/Uh-huh, uh-huh, that's the way it is/'Cause life's like this/Uh-huh, uh-huh, that's the way it is."

"Sk8er Boi"

"He was a boy/She was a girl/Can I make it any more obvious/He was a punk/She did ballet/What more can I say?/He wanted her/She'd never tell secretly she wanted him as well/But all of her friends/Stuck up their nose/They had a problem with his baggy clothes."