If I were to speak honestly, I’d say that I was never really a fan of girl artists/female fronted bands that bore its prominence and upbringing during the 2000s. During that time in my life, I was heavily immersed into CCM, in particular, bands and artists like Carman and Delirious?. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with that, upon reflection, I thoroughly enjoy these two artists that I mentioned just then, and I would place them both, in a heartbeat, in my list of favourite artists/bands of all time, because of my early exposure to them and how they shaped my formative years as a teenager into who I am today as a person. Yet nevertheless, this is a post about influential artists, and though I firmly and unwaveringly believe that both Carman and Delirious? are influential in their own right throughout music history, I have found recently and discovered an artist that was indeed heavily impactful during the 2000s (and even now). Though I myself am late to the party in listening to them, I have been impressed with how they have managed stardom at such a very young age, and how they have carried themselves throughout the music industry process, from at the point of stardom till now. Drawing parallels, I reckon, to CCM/crossover artists like Plumb, and the early styles of Rachael Lampa and Stacie Orrico; Avril Lavigne began her fame journey at a tender young age of 17, and now 34, she has dominated the music market over the last 17 years or so. To say that she is an influential artist, not only to other new up and coming ones, but to listeners and those who are impacted by her music over the years, is very much an understatement.
Avril’s heart to convey truths and poignant feelings that would otherwise have been avoided in song, is what initially drew myself to her and her music, even though much of her discography (aside from her brand-new 2019 album Head Above Water) contains plenty of expletive language. Regardless of her choice of words in much of her songs and material post Under My Skin, the message of championing for the underdog, love and loss, hurt and betrayal, revival and renewal of self, not judging people from first glance, asking the question about why things are more complicated than they should be; these are the very issues we as a society need to have answered, and yet, somehow, someway, Avril Lavigne has decided to address these issues herself. Releasing albums steadily during the 2000s and the 2010s, even now she is impacting people, myself included, as she just unveiled her most musically ‘safe’, yet lyrically profound and deeply meaningful Head Above Water in early February 2019!
And so if I am also being completely honest, I don’t think I would’ve been mature, in both a physical and even a spiritual sense, if I were to have listened to Avril and her music when she entered stardom and fame when her debut album dropped in 2002. I firmly believe that there’s always a time and a place for, well, everything, and thus, for me to start listening to Avril’s music now (I’ve basically started listening to her latest album Head Above Water, and afterward, exploring the rest of her discography) instead of back then is maybe a good thing- had I listened to her music as it came out, I may not have been able to handle her choice words in songs throughout the years.
Nevertheless, regardless of the words Avril chooses in creating songs throughout her career that resonate with listeners of all ages, but at the same time, may put off these very same listeners because of these selected words; her music is relatable and reflective of the emotions I’m sure a lot of people have felt during their own teenage years. Though I have never really had much ‘teenage-angst’, nor am I a girl (of which I reckon Avril’s music, especially the earlier albums Let Go and Under My Skin, are directed towards), I have felt recently the raw emotion and heartfelt passion that is present in much of Avril’s music. Though if you look through her discography, her music becomes more refined and polished as the albums progress; there is still nevertheless, enthusiasm and emotion, more so compared to many of the pop contemporaries of today!
Avril started young when she was just a teenager. At 17, she unveiled her debut album to what I reckon is arguably the most critical acclaim a debut album by a female artist has ever had in quite some time. Songs like ‘Complicated’ (well, I’m sure everyone knows ‘Complicated’, even if we don’t know Avril), ‘Losing Grip’, ‘Sk8er Boi’ and ‘I’m With You’ were all chart-topping radio hits, and all of them have something to say about not only the life of Avril, but also society in general. Featured as one of the top 200 Definitive albums for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Let Go gives us a timely and ever-present reminder of how Avril’s songs of old can have meaning and poignancy, not only then when it was written but even now all these years later. ‘Losing Grip’ deals with the falling out of a friendship when a best-friend wasn’t there for the persona when they needed them the most, and thus, the song is in direct relation to such an act that, by society’s standards, can be deemed unforgiveable, while ‘Complicated’ deals with the universal theme of being relaxed and not worried about life, understanding that you don’t have to pretend to be something you’re not, because if that were to happen, complications can arise. ‘Sk8er Boi’ is a song about boys and girls and tells a story of a ‘skater’ that was looked down upon during his high school years because of how he looked and behaved, while fast-forwarding years later, the ‘skater’ was the real success story (implying that we all shouldn’t judge people based upon first impressions). ‘I’m With You’, the last song that was a radio hit on Let Go, is arguably one of Avril’s most popular power ballads throughout her whole music career, and is a gentle and timely reminder of how we can all feel lonely and isolated at times, and that we all need a helping hand to move us along in our times of need. ‘I’m With You’ places all these feelings in a song, and, since hearing a lot of Avril’s music over the last week or so, ‘I’m With You’ is fast becoming one of my favourite songs from her…ever!
‘…the majority of the time in my career, [RCA] want me to write another Girlfriend. They don’t want the ballads… It’s difficult to be a woman and to be heard, and people sometimes don’t take you seriously. I’m highly intuitive and I’ve always got a very strong gut feeling. I’ve always felt that I’ve known what’s best for me to do and I’ve had to fight different people on this journey over those 17 years: ‘You need to do this and it needs to go Top 40.’ You make those songs cos you have to, but then the stuff that’s the best on record is the album tracks. I would get some songs the style I really wanted. I always loved the pop-rock thing and it’s still who I am. I’m still proud of those songs and I wrote them. It wasn’t like people wrote them and gave it to me. It was like: ‘OK, I get it. You guys want singles that are going in this direction. Fine, I’ll work with you but I’d rather be doing something else.’ You can’t be stubborn and just do everything your own way…’ Though this above quote from Avril is a sad way to look at a music industry that is more concerned about sales and money figures rather than the heart of a song and its reach and impact across borders into the lives of people who hear it, what Avril has said is absolutely true. I’m sure there are some songs throughout her career Avril didn’t really want to record, and I’m sure others are so impactful and resonating for Avril that she couldn’t not record it. Whatever the case, Avril’s music has made a big stamp on society and the music industry as a whole. And while for me personally, it has always been Let Go that has had the most cohesive structure, and the most relatable songs, that doesn’t mean that there are no other songs from any of her subsequent albums that are as impactful and momentous in her illustrious and ingenious career in music thus far!
Songs like ‘Keep Holding On’, the theme song from the movie Eragon, encourages us all to be there for our friends and our family if and when they are needing our assistance, and is a reminder for us personally to keep holding on during difficulties and trials, while a song like ‘When You’re Gone’ travels along the line of a relationship song as well as a universally accepted ballad about missing someone who is gone from your life, and voicing exactly what is different and at times, hurtful that they’re not in your life. ‘Smile’, from Avril’s 2011 album Goodbye Lullaby, is a song about gratitude and thanks to the person that makes us smile, the one that has turned our mellow and depressed selves into people that express and release joy. Though ‘Smile’ does contain the ‘f’ and the ‘b’ words, once apiece (only in the first verse- there is a ‘clean’ version of the song on the internet somewhere); the song itself and the message it conveys nevertheless rings true, that we indeed need to be reminded of who it is in our lives that bring out the smile in us, and be grateful for them. Under My Skin channels to us a lot of the emo-inspired music genre, and though in an overall sense, the album was a little mellow for my own liking, there is still a standout song in ‘Nobody’s Home’, portraying a real, broken, home situation where parents are absent from a teenagers life. While the song itself doesn’t really provide a happy ending per se, just a realisation that there is no one home that can help the teenager, and thus, there is a reason for the brokenness she feels. What ‘Nobody’s Home’, and much of Under My Skin has undertaken, is to deliver songs full of raw emotion, no matter how hard or difficult the songs can seem to listeners.
Note: The above video has expletives. The ‘clean’ version of the song is below.
What Avril has indeed done throughout her career is to never shy away from not using expletive words, all in the name of keeping it clean. If the word can be used to portray a message and theme to the listener, then I guess it has served its purpose, regardless of whether the word is expletive or not. I mean, God knows people’s hearts when they create music, and to Him, I’m sure He’d want a truthful song from the heart with a lot of choice words, than to have a song fit and primed for radio without any expletives, and the artist doesn’t mean a thing. But let me just say that from the outset- I’m not necessarily against songs containing ‘explicit’ or perverse language, provided that that’s the most effective and poignant way to convey that particular message to listeners. I guess that as long as the song doesn’t champion or glorify murder, abusive relationships, or even any other thing that is morally questionable or even illegal, and builds up and inspires the listener on their own quest for hope and discovering purpose and meaning in their own lives; then swear words in songs might be necessary if the emotion conveyed with the word is more evident (to the listener) than without. Yet as a Christian, jumping into Avril’s earlier music straight after I listened to and thoroughly enjoyed Head Above Water (for blog series purposes!), presented a bit of a challenge to myself, as a preconception I long held for the majority of my own life was actively examined throughout the listening period of these songs.
Now for a bit of context. Growing up in a Christian home, we only listened to Christian music- our parents were Christians and so by default, so did we listen to Christian music at a young age. Later on during my own teenage years, I made an active and conscious decision to continue to listen to Christian music, on the basis that that ‘style’ of music was edifying and encouraging, drawing me closer to God. At the time, I didn’t think of any rational reason as to why anyone would include swearing in a song, unless it was done for shock value, or to intentionally mock or undermine someone else (not the listener, but whomever the song was written for or about). Then as I listened to Avril’s music this past week, I was at odds a little. Because, on the whole, Avril’s music is very much inspiring, yet, a few songs have choice words throughout. And thus, it was something that I had not even thought about, songs that could uplift and inspire could still be the same songs that used language that on the surface as considered taboo. It was an enigma, that went against everything I thought could’ve been possible. A puzzle that even now I still haven’t sorted out yet, but well on the way. And though I am still in the process of trying to grapple with the fact that inspiring music can coexist with swear words; what I will say is this- in by no way has my faith been shaken, in fact, I am more certain than ever, that God can still speak through music that isn’t necessarily my first choosing (i.e.- Avril’s music). God is God, and through listening to Avril’s music this last week, I am able to come to a well cemented conclusion- do not judge!
Throughout the years, I’ve come to be aware of Avril and her music. Songs like ‘Complicated’ and ‘Keep Holding On’ would pop up on Hope 103.2, my local Christian radio station, and I’d think, ‘yeah that sounds nice’. Then I’d check out the music on iTunes, and as I saw a lot of ‘E’ next to tracks and albums (indicating that various songs on these albums had choice words), I was hesitant to listen to her music…that was until her brand new album Head Above Water released not too long ago, with the title track being unveiled as a single and music video late last year. Upon hearing such a song full of riveting emotion and even a touch of prayerful worship, it was Avril’s most recent album that led me to take the plunge and write about her being an influential artist in a society that shies away from tapping into anything remotely emotional and impactful. Head Above Water paved the way for me to listen to the rest of her discography, and to not judge, regardless of my initial thoughts and assumptions of her explicit material (even without hearing it). Though the songs are still explicit, the message regarding much of them still need to be heard. A song like ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll’ showcases the ‘f’ word and the ‘s’ word, once apiece, and thus, if I didn’t listen to the song based upon that, I wouldn’t have been impacted and, dare I say it, inspired. ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll’ reminds us all that the music genre of rock-n-roll, the anthemic moments we all can feel when faced with an anti-conformity song, is very much alive and ought to be celebrated as such, while ‘Here’s To Never Growing Up’, again another expletive song that showcases the ‘f’ word once and discusses the theme of drinking and getting drunk at length, is a timely and often ironic reminder that there is a time to grow up and a time to stay young. Even the Bible speaks about growing up and staying young- in Mark 10: 13-16, ‘…people were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them…’
Note: The above video has expletives. The ‘clean’ version of the song is below.
‘Here’s To Never Growing Up’ can be read in a way where people don’t want to grow up and take responsibility, but for me, as I listen to the track, I’m reminded that at times, and in certain aspects of my own life, the Lord Himself encourages for me to be like a child- because to be young and like a child is to look at the world in wonder, to have an innocence and joy that is often lost when we do grow up and cynicism and despondency grow on us as the years drag along. To be like a child, and to stay young, is to always look upon things with optimism, to take a chance and a leap on opportunities, because we’re not afraid of the outcome. Kids are more adventurous than adults, we know this. Yet somewhere along the way, we’ve become fearful of…well, everything we can possibly think of, I guess. And had I have gleamed such information and revelation had I assumed and not listened to Avril’s music, especially the expletive ones? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, Avril’s music means a lot of things to a lot of people, and to me, I’ve realised that an artist like Avril, though at times colourful in her language, is as much needed in the music industry as she is needed, full stop, in society as a whole. Her songs and heart and message of standing up for the underdog, not conforming to society’s expectations because it may seem like the ‘in’ thing to do, and to just have an opinion about issues and to voice them, no matter what the consequences, is what I reckon will continue to propel Avril in popularity, both now and into the future.
Note: this song above has expletives ridden through it. A cover version of the song below is ‘clean’.
Avril’s time in the spotlight, from 2002 onward, is enough to drive normal people insane. Yet for Avril, her time out of the spotlight from 2015 onward because of her crippling Lyme Disease has in fact come with a lot of reflection and rehabilitation, of resting and recuperating, of being off the road and taking an extended break, something she has not really had since the start of her career. And out of this disease came ‘Head Above Water’, arguably one of my favourite songs that released in 2018, alongside Lauren Daigle’s ‘You Say’ and Cory Asbury’s ‘Reckless Love’. ‘Head Above Water’, the song, proves to us that Avril wears her heart on her sleeve, as her new album is as poignant and heartfelt, maybe even more so, than her previous music albums. Out of this ordeal and experience is a brand-new album that is very much more mature. We see a woman who has gone through so much, and yet still produces what I reckon will become one of my favourite albums of 2019 come December time. That is a mark of a true artist, who’s impact on music history and the lives of people who experienced teenage live in the 2000s (like myself), is one such pivotal moment, that ought to be carved into history as one that will forever change the landscape of how we as teenage outsiders ought to express themselves in difficult and uncertain situations. Avril has, and will always be, a role model for many who hear her music, and, if we can just get past the expletives, maybe, just maybe, well find pots of gold and gemstones waiting to be mined for what they’re worth. Let us be bold and unashamed, let us take the plunge, because who knows, maybe God can speak through a song we’d never thought He could. That was certainly the case, with songs like ‘Smile’, ‘Here’s to Never Growing Up’ and ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll’.
Standing out at being different isn’t always a bad thing- Avril has done it all of her career. And so as we carry about our weeks, let us be immersed in the music of our lives that challenge the status quo, as we look outside the boxes that society and societal norms try to box us into, and be reminded that often standing up and running one way when everyone else is doing the exact opposite is in fact what we really should be undertaking all along. To stand up and take a stand against things that are blindly accepted is something God Himself has called us to rally up against, and much of Avril’s music speaks to this as well.
Does Avril Lavigne make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song (other than ‘I’m With You’, ‘Sk8er Boi’, ‘Keep Holding On’ and ‘When You’re Gone’) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!