Avril Lavigne is back, and so is pop-punk
Lavigne helped reinvent what a female popstar looks like, and is partially behind new wave of music
It's 2003, and in an almost painful display of 2000s fashion, an 18-year-old Avril Lavigne is walking to the Junos stage with her signature sweatbands, conch-shell necklace and smudged eyeliner.
Though 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 just her first time at the awards. It had also been less than a year since the Napanee, Ont., teen released her first album, Let Go, nabbed five Grammy nominations and became one of the most popular Canadian musicians ever.
And now, twenty years later and with a comeback album just released, Lavigne is headed back to the Junos — though this time just to perform. And even though she's released five other studio albums since then, and been nominated — and even won — at the Junos as recently as 2020, this is still definitely a comeback.
"I've said that I feel that it's probably the most alternative from front to back," Lavigne said of her new album in an interview with CBC's q with Tom Power. "[It's] the record I've always wanted to make, and it was just like, so easy and effortless."
Love Sux, Lavigne's new album, is a return to the modern pop-punk style she popularized, but subtly strayed away from in subsequent years. It's the route she used 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 the screaming crowd in Corel Centre that night in 2003 and the impossible-to-escape dominance of her songs Complicated and enduring earworm Sk8er Boi, she had an impact on how people lived their lives. So much so that both then — and years afterward — you'd likely see her influence as soon as you walked out the door.
And if looking back at Avril gives flashbacks of early-2000s fashion, it's only because she made it that way — something she noticed way back at one of her very first concerts in Vancouver, even before her trip to the Junos.
"I remember at that show, being in my dressing room and peeking out of the window and seeing a line of people coming into the show," she said. "And they were all dressed like me, in like, neckties and the white tank top and the black eyeliner.... it was just, it was crazy."
Right beside Ashlee Simpson, and fellow Canadians Skye Sweetnam and Fefe Dobson, the "pop-punk princesses" helped to break down what women could look like as pop-stars, and even what kind of music they could make. And beyond the necktie-as-necklace looks and Home Hardware shirt that started selling nationally only because she appeared on SNL wearing one, that influence is showing up again in a big way.
"First of all, I want to thank Avril for coming here today," Olivia Rodrigo announced, seconds after Lavigne presented her with a songwriter of the year award at the Variety Hitmaker's Brunch in December of 2021. "I am such a massive fan of you. I look up to you so much, so, this is so surreal for me."
Then 18, Rodrigo was starting her career at just about the same age as Lavigne, which Lavigne herself said is only one of the parallels between them. And just a few months later, Rodrigo would invite Lavigne onstage with her to play Complicated, a track she listed as a direct inspiration for her breakout song Good 4 U.
'She redefined girlhood'
It's just part of the pop-punk resurgence spilling back into the mainstream. It's been fuelled partly by the emergence of TikTok as musical tastemaker, which has in effect both greatly reduced the premium of new songs over "catalogue music," and prioritized the catchy chorus over all else.
It's also helped younger listeners discover and share that rebellious, pop-inflected sound. And at the same time, it's helped contemporary artists like Willow Smith (who last year recorded a single, G R O W, with Lavigne) and pop-punk band Meet Me @ The Altar (who are partially dedicating their new album to her) co-opt the style, while also using the rebellious and self-confident attitude that the genre, and Lavigne in particular — put on the map.
"Us writing our own songs, we've really been taking inspiration from [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 in a certain period, you could not escape how she redefined girlhood," said Melissa Vincent, a Canadian music journalist, meanwhile. "How she redefined what it meant to be a teenager and I think gave a lot of young people, young women in particular, permission to explore sides of their sexuality, elements of their gender — ways of relating to the patriarchy."
That's because it's not just the style of music of Lavigne and musicians like her that has had a lasting impact, Vincent said. When women fought 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 that point, it was open for men to act as they wanted, while women were expected to fit into a different mould.
To even exist in the world of pop-punk — which was traditionally straight, male, and white — as someone who didn't fit that typecast, it required an attitude rooted in unapologetic self-expression.
Artists like Lizzo celebrating body positivity and defying established beauty standards is punk, Kid Cudi wearing a dress for his performance on SNLsimply to "piss some people off" is punk, Vincent said. And even Billie Eilish (who, though she isn't a pop-punk artist herself, posted a photo of the two together in 2020 with the caption "Thank you for making me what I am") wearing primarily baggy clothes — the antithesis of what a female pop musician might be expected to wear — is punk too.
"Those things have slowly been trickling into mainstream pop," Vincent said. "And now we're at a moment where we're seeing that at its fullest expression."
And even as Lavigne rides the wave back to the spotlight, another pop-punk musician is making a comeback alongside her. Fefe Dobson debuted with her first album just a year after Lavigne, and this year released her first single in eight years: Fckn in Love.
Dobson had a similar journey as Lavigne, though says their music is different enough that the frequent comparisons made between the two is nothing more than a surface level connection: they're both just women in a space that was generally not accepting of them.
And as a Black woman in pop-punk, Dobson said she was frequently questioned — she was branded "Brandy Spears" and even had an early label try to push her into R&B.
But still, if the music wasn't exactly the same, she says the struggle was similar for both of them.
"We were all tired of being cute and wearing certain clothes or having to be the, quote unquote, 'pretty girl,'" she said. "We wanted to hang with the dudes, you know? We wanted to be better than the dudes. I think it was important time for girls to have someone to look up to like Avril."
Times are a bit different now, she said. But while Meet Me @ The Altar, all three of whom are women of colour, said they dedicated their musical taste and success to Dobson and Lavigne (a message which made Dobson choke up somewhat, as she'd never considered fans looking up to her in that way) she believes that rebellious streak is still needed.
That could be part of the reason why she's back. Though Dobson said she finished the single in 2012, it was only now that it felt like the right time to release it. Because after years of living inside and a mental health crisis that just keeps getting worse she said, young people are using pop-punk once again to be vocal, and just "yell at the top of their lungs."
"I think the genre has been 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."