New York

Avril Lavigne Needs Help

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avril.jpg
So much for her happy ending

Meg, my little sister, is 18. She just graduated high school. She doesn’t buy music. She doesn’t really download it either. She’s only ever been to one live show: Sleater-Kinney, when my brother took her to see them a few years ago. She does, however, spend a whole lot of time listening to Hot 99.5, which is basically DC’s equivalent to Z100. (Admittedly, when I’m home, I spend a whole lot of time listening to Hot 99.5 too.) A month or so ago, I was talking to her on the phone, and she asked me what I thought of “all these people from the 90s trying to make comebacks.” I asked her who she meant. “You know, like Avril.” I thought this was awesome.

Avril Lavigne is not actually from the 90s; her first album came out in 2002, and “Complicated,” her world-conquering single, might’ve marked the first moment where I contemplated the possibility that I was getting too old to understand pop music anymore. It took a couple of years for Avril to record a song I actually liked: “My Happy Ending,” which is pretty transcendent as far as petulant power-ballad tantrums go. After “My Happy Ending,” she was absent from the pop landscape for a minute, presumably because she was busy marrying the dickbag from Sum 41, but then she resurfaced late last year with “Keep Holding On,” a pretty good overblown inspirational closing-credits soundtrack-song. I was sort of into the idea of Avril gradually maturing into an adult-contempo ballad-monster; her voice has a nicely vulnerable melting-ice quality when she drops the sneer. But then “Girlfriend” happened. And now it totally makes sense that my sister would confuse Avril with a 90s star trying to make a comeback. Avril is only 22, but she seems way, way too old to be attempting bratty cheerleader-pop. On that song, she seems older than the 36-year-old Gwen Stefani did on “Hollaback Girl” or the 39-year-old Toni Basil did on “Mickey.” Her mallrat whine is so theatrically over-the-top that it ends up sounding blatantly false, like Amy Poehler’s “cool mom” in Mean Girls or something. “Girlfriend” might well by my least favorite single of the year, so it comes as something of a surprise that I like the remix, where Avril’s at least smart enough to let an actual teenager hijack the thing.

Lil Mama is 17, younger than my sister. She’s already responsible for “Lip Gloss,” one of 2007’s most disarming kiddie-rap singles (and there have been a lot of kiddie-rap singles in 2007). Before I interviewed her for this story, I sort of expected that she’d turn out to be a clueless kid being forced into show-business, a victim of relentless stage-parents. From what I could tell, though, she’s got more of a career-plan in place than most rappers ten years her senior. (During that interview, she also became the first rapper ever to offer me half of her sandwich. I took it. It was pretty good.) I like Lil Mama; she’s got a hard, precise delivery and a whole lot of personality. She hasn’t yet developed as a rapper to the point where she can project more than general sassiness, but that actually makes her perfect for “Girlfriend,” a song that has nothing working for it beyond sass. And I like how Mama’s remix pretty much erases the entire song and then rebuilds it around Mama. The unbelievably irritating chorus stays, and Mama unfortunately adds an incessant “Lil Mama and Avril Lavigne” chant that only serves to make it more irritating. But other than that, the only remaining element is the original song’s one saving grace: the big stomping Gary Glitter drums. Mama raps circles around those drums without actually saying anything at all. She talks about chasing paper and hilariously sort-of-compares herself to Biggie and Pee Wee Kirkland, completely ignoring the theme of the song. And she spits a whole lot more than the remix-regulation sixteen bars. The remix and the video are both pretty obviously showcases for her: Avril doesn’t do a whole lot more than mug in the background, which is exactly as it should be. She should really just let Lil Mama do everything for her until further notice.

Voice review: Laura Sinagra on Avril Lavigne’s Under My Skin