20
Dec 07

The Trouble With Pop: Avril Lavigne

FT15 comments • 1,142 views

This is my favourite song of 2007:
Youtube link

For those of you unable to view the video above, Avril Lavigne plays herself: the ‘cool’ emo girl narrator with a pointy nose and plenty of er, confidence. Avril also plays the titular ‘Girlfriend’, a tartan-culotted nerd with specs and a side order of twee. Let’s call her Rival (it’s an anagram of AVRIL do you see!). The story is simple: Avril steals Rival’s boyfriend via means of stalking them when they go on dates, manhandling her out of photobooths, nicking her cheese roll and hitting Rival on the head with a golf ball. Finally Avril tricks the undoubtedly concussed Rival into falling into a portaloo that a FAT PERSON has just been in OH NOEZ!!!! Avril then bundles the lad into the loos (non-portable this time) and presumably has her wicked way with him.

The effect is jaw-dropping. Avril employs perfectly co-ordinated shoving and kicking into her choreography, trampling over anything that gets in the way of what she wants. She shakes her head and sneers at the viewer: “I can tell you like me too, and you know I’m right!” Avril is in no doubt about her mastery over the victim and the audience. “Hell yeah, I’m the motherfucking princess!” I hear and obey, O Lavigne! Just please stop hitting me!

If there was any doubt about Avril’s bullying tactics, it is brought to the fore in the middle eight: the chirpy, playful guitar backing vanishes to reveal an army of robot cheerleader Avrils, chanting and taunting the poor boy.

In a second you’ll be wrapped around my fing-gah!
Cos I can, cos I can do it bet-tah!
There’s no other, so when’s it gonna sink in?
She’s so stupid, what the hell were you thinking?

Then she repeats it all over again, but louder! The shrieking Avrils are dancing around him, faster and faster into a frenzy until he can resist no longer – firstly mocking the boy for lowering himself to go out with Rival, and secondly for being weak and susceptible to her ‘charms’. You think I’m good girlfriend material? Ha, sucker! Avril pretty much admits that there’s no emotional reason for wanting this chap to be her sweetheart – she only wants to steal him to show that she *can*, and she’s addicted this power she has over men.

So why on earth do I like this reprehensible take on teenage* covetousness so much? Well, sometimes it takes a large dose of gobsmack to make me sit up and notice an artist – before hearing ‘My Humps’ I had no interest in Fergie or the Black Eyed Peas, I assumed they churned out mediocre R’n’B to an appreciative audience somewhere. However the WTF??? factor with regard to Fergie’s mixture of milky-milk and cocoa-puff couldn’t be ignored, and neither can Avril’s onslaught. I wouldn’t have given her the time of day if this video hadn’t shown how utterly bonkers she can be given half the chance.

What’s more, I think the song is so well-crafted that Avril could almost be forgiven for her nastiness. I mean, it’s not like she’s done anything that terrible, is it? Rival had it coming to her, I’m sure. And the song has given me a large amount of entertainment this year. Oh, but she’s being so horrible! I can feel the conflict within me! By applauding this three-and-a-half minute celebration of selfishness am I necessarily condoning Avril’s actions?

It seems to be much more often the case that a song’s protagonist is the victim – heartbreak, unrequited love and so on. I think it’s a refreshing change to have a song sung from the realistic perspective of the aggressor – stepping into the killer’s shoes, as it were. Compare the intent of ‘Girlfriend’ to that of MIA’s awesome ‘U.R.A.Q.T’: “You fuck my man and wreck my home? I’ll get my bro to rob your phone” This time it’s revenge instead of avarice, but the thought and subsequent action are still base malicious ones, with no apparent consequences. Yet I’m almost cheering MIA on in her fight, despite having been a victim of phone theft myself in the past. Why shouldn’t I rep for Avril too?

Optimistically, ‘Girlfriend’ could perhaps be a subtle warning against stealing men – beware girls, or you will become a hate figure just like Avril here! Alas this pretty, wealthy, supercool rockstar Avril seems to be enjoying herself far too much, and in the video the target of her scheming seems quite nonplussed about the whole business, ignoring his poor bedraggled Rival sitting crying in the portaloo. Avril has succeeded in her dastardly mission without a smidgen of comeuppance. Oh well! I shall have to look elsewhere for my moral compass.

Musically, ‘Girlfriend’ is bouncing and joyful pop that borrows heavily from ‘Hey Mickey’, various Rubinoos songs** and countless other power pop standards. The vocoder effect on the very first “Hey!” makes me instantly grin whenever the song comes on shuffle. But without Avril’s wild-eyed vampire menace this song would fall flat. I need to be convinced that the person singing this song is a determined ego-maniac without a glint of self-awareness, and Avril is just perfect for the job.

*At the time of release, Avril was 22.
**All legal allegations have since been retracted, so don’t go lawyering my ass, Avril!

Comments

  1. 1
    katstevens on 20 Dec 2007 #

    Alan, is there any way of embedding Youtube videos? It obv hasn’t worked above…

  2. 2
    Marcello Carlin on 20 Dec 2007 #

    This record is so bad it already makes me feel nostalgic for the golden age when it were all “Don’t ‘Cha?” around here.

  3. 3
    Alan on 20 Dec 2007 #

    sure you can – there are wordpress cleverness things around that will turn links into embedded videos, but all you actually have to do is paste in the “Embed” code (top right) on the youtube page

    if you are using the WYSIWYG editor to write you have to switch to ‘code’ (i think it is) before you paste in raw HTML obv.

  4. 4
    koganbot on 20 Dec 2007 #

    It seems to be much more often the case that a song’s protagonist is the victim – heartbreak, unrequited love and so on.

    Actually, it’s often the case that a song’s protagonist portrays herself as a victim so that she can then victimize the person who victimized her. (Many country’s foreign policies are justified in exactly this way.)

  5. 5

    i like this song tremendously because it speaks to an assertive and spiteful element in myself that doesn’t get to voice so much — i have zero interest in avril really, but i am secretly excited by the idea of myself manifesting as this character: haha WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING!? i worry that i am a bit passive aggressive when it coms to love, and this persona is VERY not passive aggressive

    (this is a topsyturvy way of saying that my non-secret self is always beyond lovely obv)

  6. 6
    Marcello Carlin on 20 Dec 2007 #

    delayed revenge for mark s being ridiculed in 1988 school playground equivalent: “hyuk hyuk who dun PUSH IT then?” ;-)

  7. 7
    Marc H. on 20 Dec 2007 #

    I thought I hated this song until I heard the remix with Lil Mama:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAoo71VEYhs

    Not sure why one version works for me and not the other.

  8. 8
    Tom on 20 Dec 2007 #

    I now always ALWAYS mentally fill in “Little Mama and Avril La-VEEENE!” when I hear the track but otherwise I can’t even remember what’s in the remix.

    I think I got sick of this song about halfway through the year, but rationing encounters with it since (on dancefloors, on this show) I’ve decided I like it again.

  9. 9

    haha in 1988 i was 28: so being pushed about on the playground was HUMILIATING!

  10. 10
    lex on 20 Dec 2007 #

    “Actually, it’s often the case that a song’s protagonist portrays herself as a victim so that she can then victimize the person who victimized her”

    Beyoncé is queen of this on ‘If’, which is a big emotional ballad about how she has decided to run off with her boyfriend’s best friend, but the fault is all the boyfriend’s – the song takes the moral high ground with no shame whatsoever, points a quivering finger at the guy she is dumping and lays ALL the blame on him. Her tears are the only justifiable tears: “If you let him take me from you, I guess I’ll finally see / If you let him take me from you, oh you never wanted me.” WAY TO TURN SITUATION ROUND, B!

    Um anyway I like ‘Girlfriend’ precisely because it’s mean and bitchy. Nice pop stars singing nice smiley pop songs = BORING. This is why the best bits of Mean Girls are the catty one-liners rather than the cop-out hugglez ending.

  11. 11
    Kat on 20 Dec 2007 #

    Alan – I did enter the embed code in the code section but it just ignored it :(

  12. 12
    fivelongdays on 20 Dec 2007 #

    I was RIDICULOUSLY (sp paranoia o’clock!) disappointed when I found out she wasn’t singing “I know that you like men”.

    “Hmm, Avril” I thought, “maybe that’s why you’re not, y’know, his girlfriend. She’s so totally a Fag-Hag/Beard/Whatever the PC Hipsta term is these days.”

  13. 13

    […] Trouble With Pop: Avril Lavigne, This is my favourite song of 2007 The Trouble With Pop: Avril Lavigne This is my favourite song of 2007: Youtube link For those of you unable to view the video […]

  14. 14
    Sally Kenwaite on 23 Dec 2007 #

    EVEN THOUGH AVRIL ROCKS! SHE IS STILL FOOKING SHIT CRAP BECAUSE SHE IS NOT ENGLISH!!!! BRITPOP IS FOR US BRITS ONLY – YOU AMERICAN GAYS SHOULD FOOOK OFF!!!!

  15. 15
    Hazel on 29 Dec 2007 #

    What I like is that Avril looks really fit with red hair. Also that her evil self has been revealed as being properly evil, whereas in ‘Sk8r Boi’ there was that ambiguity about what sort of noses were evil and what weren’t.

    Evil Avril I can get on board with. It’s quite joyously subversive.

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