Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.

2007-06-28

My Avril affection: It makes things so complicated

In the same way I'm not supposed to watch The Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll or admire Courtney Love or admit that I would rather read Meg Cabot than Moby Dick, I'm not supposed to like Avril Lavigne as much as I do.

When I first moved to New Jersey I was staying temporarily with some relatives of my husband, a couple I shall refer to as Mr. and Mrs. Awesome. Mr. Awesome and I were shopping at Best Buy one afternoon, where I picked up some CDs by bands I've liked for years, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Rolling Stones. Mr. Awesome bought Let Go and said, "You have to listen to this. I think Avril Lavigne is really talented."

"Really?" I asked. I'd heard a few of Avril's songs on the radio and thought they were certainly listenable, but most of my music lust was reserved for bands that had at least one dead member. I like Top 40 music when I'm in the mood to dance or generally need something uplifting, but the percentage of Top 40 artists I'd consider talented is, erm, not a majority. (Some top 40 artists I DO think are talented: Eminem, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Amy Winehouse, Gwen Stefani, Bon Jovi.) At the time Mr. Awesome gave me Let Go, I knew I wasn't supposed to like Avril because educated adults and cynical teens, both of which I am depending on the hour, thought she was "a poser." Whatever that was supposed to mean. Aren't we all posers in one way or the other? The deity of your choice knows that I certainly pose as a responsible adult every day. I think the Avril detractors meant something along the lines of her "posing" as some kind of punk. Okay, so maybe she's not Joey Ramone, but you know what? I don't care.

"Really," Mr. Awesome said. "Take a listen."

So I did.

Mr. Awesome did not fail me. When I listened to Let Go, I heard a girl who could sing (and hit a lot of notes that I struggle with), play the guitar, and who sang about something else OTHER than how much she wanted to get into the pants of the guy standing next to her. Opening the liner notes, I saw black-and-white pictures of a girl with straight dishwater blonde hair, who sometimes wore glasses, who didn't feel the need to wear the trendiest, most low-cut thing. The songs appealed to my inner alternagirl, were fun to sing along to, and didn't try to be anything by Britney Spears.

She was a great musician, and I was a girl. Could I make it any more obvious?

I kept Let Go in my regular CD rotation for a year or so until Under My Skin came out. UMS was, to me, sort of a less polished version of LG. (If you're into mashups, btw, try putting the lyrics of "Sugar, We're Goin' Down Swinging" by Fall Out Boy over the instrumentals of "Freak Out." Fun times.) I liked it, but not as much as LG. Still, I admired Avril for her actual-girl-power, as opposed to girl-power-comes-from-wearing-really-low-rise-jeans lyrics and her writing her own music and lyrics. I didn't make an effort to go see her in concert, but I didn't change the radio station if one of her songs came on, either.

Recently, Del Rey Manga came out with Avril Lavigne's Make 5 Wishes, which I have not yet had the chance to read beyond the previews on Del Rey's site, and its companion site, Make 5 Wishes. The gist of the series is that a lonely girl named Hana, who idolizes Avril, is granted 5 wishes either by visiting a website or by a Stitch-esque magical being granting them to her. The first book in the series was reviewed favorably in Publishers Weekly, although no one in my library system has it yet. Previews and videos are available on the Del Rey and Make 5 Wishes sites. The manga looks to be appealing, with color pictures and Japanese-style characters, and not entirely fluffy. The problem that follows the manga, though, is the same problem that follows Avril's music: Loyal fans will clamor for it and those opposed to her image/music/being married to Deryck Whibley will reject it without so much as picking it up. But such is the right of any reader.

After Make 5 Wishes, there was The Best Damn Thing, which unfortunately isn't.

The media has been pretty harsh on Avril since the release of TBDT and her updated punk-cheerleader image. Gone are her melodic lyrics about an unstable life and being the dishwater blonde in black in a world of platinum blondes wearing pink. Instead, much of TBDT sounds like a tribute to Toni Basil and features a platinum-blonde Avril with pink streaks in her hair on the cover. Most of the lyrics are either about guys that completely suck or guys that are totally great, sung over pep band drums and hand claps.

But you know what? I still like it. I still think Avril is a great singer and sings about things that girls really feel, albeit it a small range of those real feelings. She's taken a lot of criticism, some of it a little silly, for TBDT, including:

"She's married now, so how does she know about wanting to break up or breaking up with a guy, or other teenage feelings?"

(Um, she hasn't been married all her life! By this logic, no one of the age of 19 should write a YA novel.)

"She's sold out!"

(Someday I'm going to figure out where the line gets crossed between making music people want to listen to and buy, thus sustaining your living, and selling out. This from someone who thought the Black Album was the best thing Metallica ever did.)

"She's become a Heather!"

(Technically I know it's wrong to want to be a Heather, but I always looked good in red and I envied them. Oh the humanity.)

In general, my response to all of this is: So what? So what if Avril's blonde now, and favors pink t-shirts with skulls and hearts printed on them? So what if she likes her shout choruses and has abandoned her angst? So what if she hates the girl her ex is with now? She's still a talented musician. She's still doing what she wants and if she wants to wear pink while doing it, that's her prerogative. And her management's. I don't follow Avril's career closely enough to know how much of this morph from sk8er grrl to pep rally leader is her idea versus how much of it is her record label's, but I'd be interested to know. Is it a case where the record label is selling an older, more mature act to the same audience it was selling to when LG came out? Or maybe Avril said, "Hey, I missed some of the fun silly stuff that teenagers do and say, so I'll try to make an album about that?" Either way, she (and her record company) knows what she's doing, because her songs continue to be smash hits and TBDT spent some time at #1 on the Billboard charts. And frankly, I don't know anyone who hasn't wanted to say at least once in their lives, in any capacity, "Hey, you, I don't like your girlfriend."

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