At Home With Avril Lavigne, Who’s Finally Back (And Totally Ready to Party)
The motherfucking princess is in her motherfucking castle.
The princess is Avril Lavigne, who anointed herself on her 2007 No. 1 single “Girlfriend.” The castle — a Tudor home in an illustriously ZIP-coded L.A. neighborhood — is the only thing Lavigne has presided over since a tour that ended in 2014.
A few weeks before the release of “Head Above Water,” her first single in four-and-a-half years, Lavigne sits under the cathedral-high ceiling of her home studio. It is the room where, over the course of her public absence, she recorded much of the album she plans to release in early 2019.
Lavigne’s many songs about partying — and the Jack Daniel’s lawn jockey who greeted me at the door — suggested that we’d wind up drinking whiskey, or at least the rosé her publicist suggested I bring. (Avril Lavigne drinks rosé?) But Lavigne is sipping Emergen-C-spiked electrolyte water, combating seasonal allergies. From her seat on a massive gray sectional (Avril Lavigne owns a sectional?), she reveals that she painted much of the art displayed in the expansive foyer and shows me the pink devotional journal gifted to her by her mother. Under the daily prayers topping each page are guitar tabs and ambitious to-do lists written in Lavigne’s bubbly handwriting: Complete album. Choose single. Shoot video. Dentist.
It’s all just so… grown-up, a categorization Lavigne had given a hard pass to as recently as her last album, 2013’s Avril Lavigne, where she insisted, in Peter Pan bangers like “Seventeen” and “Rock N Roll,” that we “still love it.” (“It” presumably referring to Lavigne’s penchant for lyrics about spontaneous day drinking.) Between then and the September drop of “Head Above Water,” we heard from Lavigne only a handful of times: when she popped up on Good Morning America in summer 2015 to say that she had been diagnosed with Lyme disease, when she got divorced from Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger later that year and when, in between those dual bummers, Taylor Swift brought her out in San Diego as part of the 1989 World Tour’s parade of admirable women, to perform her then-13-year-old debut single, “Complicated.” Lavigne says that at one point, she thought, Oh, I guess I’m done with making music.
And indeed, the calm 34-year-old woman sitting before me on her suede couch does not exactly seem ready to rock. When Lavigne tells me how excited she is to be doing this story, the words are delivered in her apathetic mall drawl, dragged out of her babydoll mouth like a child frog-marched through a museum tour. Does the motherfucking princess even want the motherfucking crown anymore? Who, exactly, would be her acolytes if she decided to seize it? And why did she disappear four years ago?
The esprit de brat still lives in Lavigne. She soon swaps her Emergen-C for the rosé, mounts a pink skateboard in her pink Vans and zooms down her vaulted hallway. Lavigne’s mom and stepfather, visiting from Canada, lounge in the backyard next to a menagerie of inflatable pool animals. But Lavigne wants it to be known that at her castle, outdoor activities are allowed — encouraged, even! — indoors. She informs me that later in the evening I will be sabering a celebratory bottle of champagne in the house, using a large sword she pulls out of a box and brandishes at me. When Avril Lavigne is excited, her tone retains its say-something-nice-to-your-sister reluctance but adds exclamation points of shrieks and giggles. It appears that she (like me) simply has resting bitch voice.
A framed copy of Lavigne’s last Billboard cover hangs on a wall. It’s more than 10 years old, but aside from some additional tattoos on her forearms, Lavigne looks the same, with Courtney Love-vaping-in-the-bathroom eyeliner smudged around her blue eyes, blond hair somewhere between Rapunzel’s and Sebastian Bach’s in length and a dearth of fucks given. Today, she adds to the look a baggy pink sweatshirt screen-printed with rib bones.
Perched on the kitchen bar under a sign that reads, “Wine! How classy people get wasted,” Lavigne recalls an even earlier phase of her career. “No shit, I sang with Shania Twain when I was 14,” she says from her seat next to a tray of nips. “I won a local radio contest by submitting a tape of me singing.”
Lavigne hops down and bops her cutoff-clad hip, re-enacting the 1999 performance of a lesser-known entry in the Twain canon at the Corel Centre in Ottawa: What made you say that? Was it the moonlight? Was it the starlight in your eyes? Lavigne adds an original verse to convey her 14-year-old inner monologue: Why am I singing this song? What am I doing? What if I got my own concert?
When Antonio “L.A.” Reid signed Lavigne two years later, Arista foisted prefab songs on the teenager. “Part of my growth process was learning to speak up,” says Lavigne of making sure she could continue to write her own music, which she had been doing for years. When I stupidly express surprise that Lavigne now composes music on the piano, she rolls her eyes: “I can play my own shit. The drums, the guitar, the bass and the piano.” No wonder, then, that she was self-advocating to powerful men while she was still young enough to need her brother, Matthew, one year older, to chaperone her.
“I want, like, more rock music,” Lavigne says she told Arista. So she started working with songwriters The Matrix and Lauren Christy, who helped set her very real teenage experiences to music. Take the 2002 Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hit “Sk8er Boi.” “I was like, ‘If I see a guy walking down the street and he’s skateboarding, I automatically will look up and be like, ‘Who’s that?’” Lavigne recalls explaining to her collaborators. This became “He was a boy/She was a girl/Can I make it any more obvious?”
She could not: It was an expression of youthful frustration with a cave-painting level of simplicity. The authentic directness of the feelings, the fact that Lavigne seemed like someone who skateboarded around her house, the tie — it was all irresistible. Nearly 7 million Americans bought Let Go, according to Nielsen Music, and three years after crashing Twain’s show, Lavigne sold out the same stadium on her Let Go Tour, putting 17,000 Canadian asses into seats to be empowered by a tiny girl who didn’t take any shit.