For a generation of girls who have spent years exclusively wearing butterfly clips, bright blue eyeshadow and all pale pink, the release of “pop-punk princess” Avril Lavigne’s debut album, Let Go, on June 4 2002 wasn’t just a new sound, it was enlightenment.
At a time when bubblegum pop and “sexy baby” personas ruled, 17-year-old Lavigne became his antithesis. Rarely seen without baggy jeans, thick kohl eyeliner and a loose tie around her neck, she co-wrote her own songs, with lyrics about skateboarding and getting kicked out of a chicken shop. Its first two singles, Complicated and Sk8er Boi, both spent half of the year on the Billboard Hot 100 and Let Go remains one of the 20 best-selling albums of the 21st century.
Lavigne’s sarcastic attitude, grungy look and alternative-inspired sound was a powerful combination that elevated Let Go above the rest of the pop pack. Almost overnight, girls everywhere started swapping chokers for men’s ties, body sequins for leather bracelets, and denim for cargo pants. His videos, featuring Lavigne trashing malls and skating with groups of boys, have been obsessively watched. Let Go unleashed an army of bored seven to 15-year-olds, desperate to remake themselves in Lavigne’s image.
“I was coming out of high school and just wanted to rock,” Lavigne says today, speaking from her home in Malibu ahead of the album’s 20th anniversary. “I want loud guitars, I want live percussion… I want to write about the crazy stuff, the crazy emotions, the good and the bad.”
All of this, Lavigne says, was a true reflection of her teenage experience. Born in Ontario, Canada in 1984, she spent most of her childhood in Napanee, a small town of around 5,000, where she wrote poems, learned to play the guitar and hung out with the kids. grungy. She first made a name for herself in the country music world, an influence that can be heard in some of the nasal cadences and storytelling on Let Go. She even performed onstage with Shania Twain after won a radio contest in his early teens, before signing to Arista Records and moving to California at age 16.
Even back then, Lavigne felt acutely aware of her innocence within the music industry. “I didn’t even know what Hollywood was or what record deals were,” she says. The process of finding co-writers and producers who matched his artistic style involved an endless series of uncomfortable meetings in corporate boardrooms; his age coupled with his lack of understanding of the mechanics of production led to a struggle to get his sound across. “They didn’t care what I had to say; they had their own style and didn’t bother to look at me and try to let me lead,” she says.
However, Lavigne’s instinct was strong: “I was very clear about what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do. I wanted to be anxious and more like a band; I didn’t want to be all bubblegum pop. I wanted to turn my emotions into words. Honestly, I was just very, very pure.
She eventually settled on a songwriting and music production trio known as The Matrix, consisting of Lauren Christy, Graham Edwards and Scott Spock. The moment things started to click for the band was when they wrote their first track together, the song that became Lavigne’s hit, Complicated. “I didn’t know what the hits were, but my body and my intuition knew it was a hit song,” she says. “I was like, ‘That’s fucking cool, that sounds cool to me.'”
Over the next year, Lavigne and Matrix would meet in Southern California studios and hotel rooms to build the 13-track album. The themes were heavily influenced by Lavigne’s life, which at the time, she says, mostly involved wearing “big skate shoes” and finding sexy skaters. But while many of his songs were fun and frivolous, like Sk8er Boi, or lighthearted and melodic, like Mobile and Anything But Ordinary, darker emotions ran through Losing Grip elsewhere and the album’s only ballad, I’m With You. , which Lavigne says is always a highlight of her live performances.
The combination of these different themes and attitudes made for an album that could be played over and over without becoming repetitive. “I wrote this album right out of high school and now I hear these lyrics from me about my small town and my obsession with skateboarders,” she says. “Even things like in My World, I literally talk about how I got fired by some ‘fried chicken ass’ who I worked for at a fried chicken chain. It’s hilarious. I think back to those lyrics and I’m like, “I can’t believe I said that in a song.”
The naivety and simplicity of his lyrics proved to be the key to his success. Targeting a young audience, Let Go propelled Lavigne beyond two-hit wonder status. But even with the album’s success, she couldn’t quite fathom how big it had become. “I remember my manager saying to me, ‘Do you realize you’re No. 1? And still No. 1 this week and No. 1 this week and then this week?'”
Lavigne’s assertiveness obscured how young she was when she rose to fame — and that she did so at a time when young celebrities faced extreme sexualization and horrific invasions of life private. However, Lavigne stood out from other female pop stars of the time with her “tomboyish” look and her active criticism of her contemporaries. (In an interview, she mocked Britney Spears for “dressing like a showgirl.”)
Thinking back to her treatment in the early 2000s, would she have wished it had been different? Unusually, Lavigne feels gratitude for being a teenager when Let Go debuted. “I remember being home, being 14 and thinking, ‘I have to hurry up and get this music going!'” She laughs, “I was like, ‘I want to do this for how YOUNG I am!’
“I left my parents’ house and straight into a tour bus, without any rules,” she adds. “I was like, ‘I can drink beer now and eat pizza every day’ and I just have to hang out with my band and travel the world. It was crazy, but it was pretty special.
Let Go’s 20th anniversary comes with a reassessment of Y2K culture by a generation too young to remember. Several of his tracks have gone viral on TikTok, and Lavigne has been cited as an influence by Gen Z artists such as Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo (who brought Lavigne to the stage at a recent concert for a duo of Complicated ). Alongside this, there has also been an increase in emo nostalgia among older music fans. Lavigne plays a fall festival, When We Were Young in Las Vegas, which went viral earlier this year for featuring so many popular ’00s emo and pop-punk artists, including My Chemical Romance, Jimmy Eat World and Paramore.
Lavigne finds the whole experience surreal. “That the younger generations discover my stuff and that Billie, Olivia and Willow [Smith] to go out into the world and continue to break the mold like I did 20 years ago is super inspiring. She says even the musicians she’s friends with and collaborates with are lifelong fans. “All these people around me are like, ‘Oh my God, I’m a huge fan, I’ve listened to you grow up, you’ve inspired me!’ It’s really trippy.
Her future plans include working with two other superstars: Blink-182’s Travis Barker, whose label, DTA Records, released Lavigne’s recent album, Love Sux, and Machine Gun Kelly, who is featured on the album and with whom Lavigne will go on tour. . Major items on her bucket list include a Christmas scrapbook, makeup line, and cookbook. (“My food is, like, gourmet,” she says, “I can do anything! Pasta, sauce, vegan, salads and soups — I can do all kinds of soups.”) She also recently found a manager to run a film adaptation by Sk8er Boi. “I can’t wait to learn this process of making a movie,” she says. “I think I’m going to want to do more.”
Twenty years later, Lavigne thinks the appeal of Let Go has endured because once people connect with his music “they stay connected.”
“I’ve always had this thing where I am: be as sincere as possible,” she says. “The songs are real and emotional. It’s okey for me.”
Let Go will be reissued this summer.