Who here still listens to Avril Lavigne? You know what they say: Everyone went through an “Avril phase,” at least at some point in their life. (This probably only applies if you’re of a certain age group, to be fair. But anyone between the ages of 15 and 35 can probably admit to this.)
She was hugely popular between 2002 and 2007, but the last 7 years have been quite the opposite for the pop rock singer. Nowadays, it seems like no one listens to Avril except for her remaining loyal fans. Most other people have moved on, for one reason or another. And most of them have one of two specific objections to her music now.
Both complaints seem odd to me. And they contradict each other: One half of people say that “her music never evolves” and she’s “stuck in the past and keeps putting out the same songs.” And the other half? “Avril has changed so much!” and “she doesn’t sound anything like what she used to – I used to like her music, but now it sucks!”
So how do these two contradicting criticisms make sense? They have the same root: There is a disconnect between the albums and their misrepresentative singles, and a disconnect between Avril’s music and her image.
“Avril’s music never evolves”
This is false for the first three albums. Listen to Let Go, a debut full of pop rock songs about teenage life and growing pains. It sounds innocent enough, but with a fair dose of confidence and staying true to yourself. Then listen to Under My Skin. This album is noticeably darker, with new instruments, heavier production, and a bit more anger and hurt. This was more like Evanescence goth rock – partially because Ben Moody played a role in it.
Then go to her 3rd album, 2007’s The Best Damn Thing. If this doesn’t sound like a huge difference to you, you may need your ears checked. Whereas her 2nd album is dark and angry, her 3rd is the opposite: Bright and fun and overall cheery. You can tell just by looking at the album covers: Under My Skin is black and white with a simple red X; The Best Damn Thing is set against a white background and has girly pink and cute hearts and stars everywhere.
That’s quite the mood change. The music is also rather different: The 3rd album is pop punk combined with cheerleader pop. Raw instrumentation, but with high pitched heys and handclaps. See “Girlfriend,” for example:
And this is where the music stopped evolving – according to the argument, at least. This is also where the issue of perception comes up:
The gleeful cheerleader pop of The Best Damn Thing was really just meant for that album. Avril was in a happy stage of her life, and wanted to have fun with her music. But when she was writing for her 4th record, she wanted to go back to a sound more like her earlier work. She had written all of these mellow acoustic songs. It wasn’t upbeat or fun. It was introspective, calm, and showcased vocals against minimal instrumentation. At least, this is what Avril wanted to release.
Her record label didn’t like her new music too much. They wanted to recreate the success of “Girlfriend.” They needed a radio friendly pop hit. At first Avril fought for her album. She didn’t want to repeat “Girlfriend,” and she didn’t want to write fun pop hits. Furthermore, that would ruin the vision she had for her new album. But after a year and a half of delays and label fights, she finally recorded a couple of “pop hits” and Goodbye Lullaby was released.
And of course, those “pop hits” were the singles, and they completely misrepresented the album. The first two singles, “What The Hell” and “Smile,” sound like they could have come from The Best Damn Thing. So of course people thought she was making the same music in 2011 as she did in 2007. That’s where the first claims that she “never evolves” cropped up.
But anyone who listened to the album would tell you that it was completely different from The Best Damn Thing. Most of it was in line with Avril’s original vision for the record – mellow, acoustic, introspective songs. But that’s not what the general public heard.
Compare the lead single “What The Hell” to Avril’s personal favorite song on the album, “Goodbye” –
The same issue arose with her 5th album. Avril had initially written dozens of quality songs, and they sounded more like indie and alternative rock. But after she thought she had finished her album, of course her record label wanted those pop hits again. This time she didn’t fight it as much, perhaps because of the bad experience with Goodbye Lullaby. Instead of arguing for a year and a half and losing the fight, only to have a way delayed album, she went ahead and made those pop songs.
The album was led by singles like “Here’s To Never Growing Up” and “Rock N Roll” – songs that once again sound like something she could have put out in 2007. And once again, more people complained that “she always sounds the same” and “never evolves.” But then if you listened to her full 5th album, Avril Lavigne, you would again hear the disconnect. The first half of the album is comprised of her newer “radio friendly pop songs,” and the second half contains the songs she originally wrote, the indie pop rock and ballads.
Try lead single “Here’s To Never Growing Up” vs. an album highlight called “Give You What You Like” –
It is in the non singles that one can hear Avril’s musical evolution, but no one hears that except her fans.
“Avril changed so much”
The second complaint is more about The Best Damn Thing than anything else. That album was such a huge departure from Avril’s first two that she lost a lot of fans. It was everything her first two albums weren’t: Pop, girly, and fun.
And as you can see, based on what you just read a few paragraphs ago, these “radio friendly pop hits” are the only songs nonfans are hearing from Avril these days. These singles that she is basically forced to release sound like all the bratty pop from 2007. And yet these singles don’t represent the full albums. If you listen to Goodbye Lullaby and Avril Lavigne, you may be surprised to find plenty of songs that sound more like her earlier work. Songs that her original fans might actually enjoy.
And That’s Why Avril’s Music “Sucks”
It’s all about perception and knowing all the music on an album – not just the two singles you heard. If all I heard from Avril was “What The Hell” and “Here’s To Never Growing Up,” I’d be disappointed too.
But luckily, I have heard Avril’s full albums, and found plenty of worthy gems to listen to instead. In my opinion, she has evolved, and she still makes amazing and inspiring music just like she used to in her career prime.
It’s fine if you still don’t like her music. But I only ask that you give her non-singles a chance before writing her off as a has-been that’s stuck in a bratty pop rut.
This Applies To Other Artists Too
Avril Lavigne is absolutely not the only artist to have a problem like this. Essentially every singer or band has problems with the music they want to write, and the music their label wants to put out. This is probably truer of major labels than indie labels, and probably a bigger problem among pop singers than rock bands. But the fact still remains: Many of these artists are stifled creatively, and end up having singles that they never wanted to even record.
The music industry is like that, unfortunately. It’s still a business, and the creativity is secondary to the men in suits that just want to fill up their wallets.
Personally, I think artists should all be allowed to record and release exactly what they want. The music world would be that much more interesting and exciting. Unfortunately, I don’t see this idealistic change happening any time soon. But at least there are good album tracks to listen to when the radio singles all start to sound the same.