In 2007, Avril Lavigne sported a streak of hot pink hair on the cover of her third album, The Best Damn Thing; on its first single, “Girlfriend,” she declared, “Hell yeah, I’m the motherfuckin’ princess.” While heavy eyeliner, plaid ties and chain belts played up Lavigne’s outlier appeal following the turn-of-the-century teenybopper era, make no mistake: she was a pop star.
“Girlfriend” is Lavigne’s only single to date to reach the top of the Hot 100, but its bubblegum sneer was a continuation of the angst-filled pop-punk songs Lavigne quickly became known for, tracing back to her smash hit first singles -- “Complicated," “Sk8er Boi" and "I'm With You," all top 10 hits off her 2002 debut Let Go. That year, Let Go was the third-biggest selling album of 2002 in the U.S., and has since sold 6.9 million units to date, according to Nielsen Music.
Lavigne received radio play with her brand of highly-beltable pop hooks and punk-leaning riffs. She appeared in ads for Proactiv, and on magazine covers from Maxim to Seventeen. She covered Green Day on tour, but also performed on TRL regularly.
So, it comes as a little bit of a surprise that two of 2018’s most ascendant indie-rockers -- Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail -- name-check the pop-punk princess as a defining inspiration. Both put a premium on visceral, confessional songwriting, and their respective sounds are far-removed from “Girlfriend."
“You can just put those [first two albums] on in the car and every track — boom. Hit, hit, hit, hit,” 20-year-old Sophie Allison, who performs as Soccer Mommy, recently told Billboard. Allison was 5 years old when Let Go came out, and by the time Lavigne’s 2004 sophomore album Under My Skin arrived, Allison was “in elementary school listening to that shit on my Discman.”
Allison recalls being a fan of Lavigne’s contemporaries too, like Kelly Clarkson and Hilary Duff, who arrived as commercial forces a few years after the release of Let Go. But from the start, Lavigne emerged as an antidote -- and one of few women in a male-dominated punk-pop space -- to the more stylized female pop stars of the early ‘00s, namely Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
“I remember thinking she was the penultimate [alternative] chick,” says Snail Mail, the 18-year-old born Lindsey Jordan, of Lavigne. “And I just wanted to be her so badly.”
Lavigne’s influence on Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail is less surprising when her own deeper cuts are considered. Aside from the shoutable lyrics heard on “Sk8er Boi” and “Girlfriend,” intensely intimate and slow-building gems are tucked within each Avril album. On Let Go’s “Too Much To Ask,” Lavigne muses, ”I thought you'd come around when I ignored you/So I thought you'd have the decency to change/But babe, I guess you didn't take that warning/'Cause I'm not about to look at your face again.” On “Fall To Pieces,” off Under My Skin, she sings of putting up a tough exterior in the face of heartache: “I just want to cry in front of you/ I don't want to talk about it/ 'Cause I'm in love with you.”
“[Avril is a] perfect blend of Elliott Smith meets Evanescence, with some ’90s dark grunge [mixed in],” Allison says, while admitting she had Lavigne on heavy rotation while writing and recording her own debut, Clean, which arrived in March. “That’s the kind of stuff I like that I can do.”
But instead of emulating her sound, Soccer Mommy, who delivers soft-spoken stories over lo-fi production, and Snail Mail, who focuses on more layered and uptempo rock (her debut album Lush is out June 8), both draw upon Lavigne’s power as a songwriter, guitarist and, perhaps most importantly, an outspoken female artist. Above all, Lavigne has always been unapologetic about her approach to pop -- an inspiring stance for these two young artists, even if they aren’t aiming for Top 40 radio.
Allison and Jordan are especially outspoken on matters of gender. “The ruled-by-men genres are lame as fuck,” Allison says, citing how she subconsciously gravitated towards music by women growing up, and still prefers it.
Similarly, Jordan confesses, “I’ve become such an interview hot-head, where whenever I’m asked certain things I just get so pissed off it’s insane. I won’t outwardly express it, but a little piece of me dies every time someone is like, ‘What’s it like to be a girl?’”
Lavigne might have best answered that question years ago by not answering it at all. Her music videos made clear that she could be one of the guys; the intro to “Complicated” shows Lavigne skating up to her circle of male friends and suggesting, “Dude, you wanna crash a mall?” Yet she was still vulnerable to the woes of being a teenage girl, namely feeling crushed by crushes -- best evidenced when she punches a mirror after a breakup in the video for “Don’t Tell Me.”
From the start, Lavigne established herself as a voice of empowerment for teenage girls, proving that you can dress, act, and most importantly feel however you want, and that those instincts are all valid. On “Complicated,” she encourages authenticity by dismissing poserdom: “I see the way you're acting like you're somebody else gets me frustrated.” On Let Go’s “Anything But Ordinary” she admits, “Sometimes I get so weird, I even freak myself out.”
And she hasn’t abandoned her critical message of being yourself, and not apologizing for it, since the start of her career. In 2008, during a concert in Washington D.C., she introduced “Don’t Tell Me” by saying, “[This song] is all about being strong and standing up for yourself.” In 2011, she told Parade that the theme of empowerment in her music was never calculated, but remains a constant: “My message has always been to be yourself and follow your dreams and don’t let anyone push you around.”
In February, Lavigne attended Bebe Rexha’s Women In Harmony dinner that aimed to unite (and potentially spark collaborations) among women artists and songwriters. At the event, Lavigne told Billboard that gatherings of that nature didn’t exist when she first got signed. “It’s just encouraging to be around other women in music in general and songwriters,” she said. “It’s inspiring for everyone.”
While Snail Mail’s lyrics are more clearly shaped by Lavigne’s -- on “Pristine,” she asks, “Don't you like me for me?/Is there any better feeling than coming clean?,” a likely reference to coming out -- Soccer Mommy’s mission to empower seems more about knowing your worth. Her tender vocal delivery nearly conceals her lyrical bite, best heard on “Your Dog,” when she makes it known that “I'm not a prop for you to use/ When you're lonely or confused/ I want a love that lets me breathe/I've been choking on your leash.”
As for Lavigne herself, who hasn’t released an album in nearly five years, the singer has turned to Instagram to spread inspiration. Text-heavy posts are sprinkled throughout her account: “Bitch, you better listen. Sincerely, your intuition,” reads one from January. “Don’t be the same, be better,” reads another from September of last year.
Even with artists like Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail taking Lavigne’s early wisdom to heart, that’s not to say her work is done -- in March of last year she signed to BMG and her sixth full-length is in the works. Lavigne may have emerged nearly two decades ago as a force to be reckoned with, but in the years since, she has fueled a ferocity in a new wave of artists who are carrying the torch. Neckties may be a thing of pop-punk past, but Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail are bringing the lessons Lavigne unknowingly taught them into the future.
“I’m not trying to take over the world,” Jordan insists. Then again, neither was Avril Lavigne.