The Curious Case of Avril Lavigne: the Alt Queen’s Internalized Misogyny

Disclaimer: There is no clear thesis here. I just enjoy reminiscing about the early-to-mid aughts. And I like the sound of my own keyboard when I type really quickly without looking at the keys. Touch typing. Are you impressed?

I’m a little late to the game, but as you may have heard, Avril Lavigne was replaced by an impostor around the release of her second album, Under My Skin, in 2004. At first I was skeptical, and immediately turned to the music video for “Girlfriend” (2006), New Avril’s possible first single, for answers.

The music video in question shows A Whole New Avril, one that we hadn’t seen before. This Avril is Sexy and Mischievous. She wears fishnets and has blond hair with pink streaks, and icy blue eyes like limpid tears. She’s clearly Not Like Other Avrils, even the other two in the music video: Blavril (black-haired Avril) and Ravril (Avril if she were a Scooby Doo character). Blavril and Ravril pretty much embody the archetypes seen on Quizilla circa 2006, with Blavril in particular scoring a homerun in emo thanks to her pyramid studded belt and black t-shirt layered over a long-sleeved white t-shirt.

blavril

It seems like throughout the video we’re supposed to be rooting for Blavril on her mission to “steal” Ravril’s boyfriend. So Blavril is committing all of these heinous acts which really only succeed in making her look like a total bitch. Over the course of the video, our redheaded ‘antagonist’ has some giant American pastry swatted out of her hand, is physically dragged out of a photo booth, and is hit in the head by a golfball, possibly suffering a concussion, which causes her to tumble into a nasty lagoon of mini-golf pond water. Go Blavril! Ruin that girl’s wool skirt. Ruin her life.

She wears plaid skirts, I wear t-shirts.

She wears plaid skirts, I wear t-shirts.

“Girlfriend” is a symptom of the anti-feminist cancer that overtook the even-darker underbelly of the emo/scene movement in its heyday (2005-2011ish). The Emo Girl is Not Like Other Girls, and rejects all symbols of traditional femininity, or any attitudes that one might consider girly. Blavril may seem to be too upbeat to be a pureblood emo of this era, but I think she’s more of the “rawr I’m a dinosaur” type, rather than the “wrap me in baker’s twine and drink my tears” type. However, I still had trouble reconciling this discrepancy so I consulted this litmus test, which helped me conclude that Blavril is the Punk Girl.

punk girl

But you guys! Labels don’t matter! Just be yourselves! Take it from Shiloh, another alternative Canadian songstress, who managed to get her single “Operator (A Girl Like Me)” on the Family Channel back when I was too old to watch the Family Channel but still sometimes watched the Family Channel. So around 2008.

“Operator (A Girl Like Me)” is an ode to being yourself, with lyrics like “Why would I want to be anybody else but me/ I’m never gonna fake it” and a melody imbued with punchy girl-power confidence. After my initial confusion from hearing an emo girl sing an upbeat ska-influenced pop-rock anthem, and my further confusion regarding Shiloh’s discount Harajuku girls (my favourite trope in music videos forever, and Avril did it too), I finally confronted the be-all-and-end-all of my confusion: the conceit of the music video itself. The idea is that on one half of the screen we have Shiloh doin’ her thang, juxtaposed against some girl in a blond wig on the other half of the screen. So let’s roll with that! Let’s compare and contrast.

They’re so totally different, you guys. But what I’m struggling to understand is why we’re supposed to gleefully watch as a girl in a cheap blond wig has a myriad of horrible things happen to her. Throughout this video, her phone is stolen (and she wasn’t even texting), she spills scalding hot pumpkin spice on herself and ruins her ill-fitting yellow dress, she somehow loses her little dog, the heel of her shoe breaks, she gets her sunglasses caught in her wig, and then, like my personal favourite scene in “Girlfriend”, is drenched with a foul liquid in the form of brown garbage water.

I don’t take any pleasure in seeing this girl be punished for being stereotypically girly, but maybe I’m biased because I also love oversized coffee drinks and li’l puppy dogs. I guess we’re supposed to assume that Girl in Blond Wig is, in Shiloh’s words, a “drastic, spastic, superficial plastic clone” and is not being herself, but Shiloh’s a total hypocrite because she is wearing the alt girl uniform that we’ve seen three times already (the Boyfriend in “Girlfriend” is the second offender): the black t-shirt layered over a long-sleeved white t-shirt. It’s her third outfit in the video, but her other two ensembles are just colour-swapped versions of the same thing, so you can tell she’s a real individual. Girl in Blond Wig may look like other girls, but so does our elusive chanteuse.

prepvsemo

Above: helpful diagram.

Are we then supposed to assume that Girl in Blond Wig is a bad person? Is she the pretty girl who is vapid, conceited, judgemental and mean? Maybe we’re supposed to make the large leap to that conclusion. The music video for “Misery Business” (2007) by Paramore also features a “pretty” girl in a bad wig, and she does some very rude things, so maybe we’re supposed to feel the same way as we do when Ms. Biz gets her comeuppance at the hands of alt queen Hayley Williams. But we don’t see Girl in Blond Wig do anything remotely cruel, and we’re expected to judge her solely based on how she looks, which does not fly with me. You don’t know her story! She got Tinkerbell from a rescue shelter! Also, alt girls should know a thing or two about how it feels to be judged on your appearance. That’s what I was trying to get at.

So we’re just supposed to hate her for being conventionally girly, like we’re supposed to hate everyone who’s conventionally girly. Which brings me, somehow, to the film Mean Girls 2 (2011), basically a crusty barnacle that I scraped off of the HMS Mean Girls the First to present to you almost entirely out of context. Because in this iteration of the cult classic, our protagonist is, from the very beginning, Not Like Other Girls. She’s pretty, because she has to be, but she also touches the inside of cars and wears a black leather jacket. The leader of this generation of the Plastics (the mean girl clique), Mandi, is jealous of cool blonde protagonist Jo, because Jo is a total hottie and some other reasons. So instead of Jo being welcomed into the Plastics, she creates her own clique, aptly titled the Anti-Plastics.

antiplastics

lol

Now I don’t really remember all the details of this movie, because it was really bad and I was probably drunk when I watched it, but basically the two cliques are mean to each other and the stakes get pretty high, and I’m pretty sure Jo has to grapple with the fact that, by antagonizing the Plastics, she has become just as bad as they are, while also straight up copping looks from Avril’s Abbey Dawn fashion line. But that’s not the point. The point is, look at all of these glorious bits and pieces of pop culture, telling us to hate girls who wear pink. Girls who don’t have unconventional colours in their hair are always bullies, whether it’s explicitly stated or not, and we should always laugh at their misfortune, even if we’re fucking tired of the word schadenfreude.

But bae, you’re probably thinking, What ever happened to Baby Avril? Yes. Of course.

Some of you might remember a little ditty called “Complicated”, released in 2002. The song predates the emo movement by a few years, but features lyrics such as “Take off all your preppy clothes” and “You’re tryin’ to be cool/ You look like a fool to me”. It’s an enchanting piece about staying true to who you are, and how stressful it can be to yourself and those around you when you don’t. It’s a softer version of the themes explored by Shiloh, but more personal, more compassionate. It doesn’t quite have those anti-Plastic sentiments we’ve seen thus far.

Which leads me to “Sk8r Boi”, the follow-up single from Let Go, Baby Avril’s magnum opus. “Sk8r Boi” is a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme, something you and I can all relate to, a true tragic tale. You see, he was a boy, and she was a girl, and all that implies. He was a punk, and she did ballet, but their differences did not stifle their attraction for one another. Nay, indeed, Boy wanted Girl, and secretly she wanted him as well. But they were from two different worlds! Girl’s coterie turned their noses up at Boy, and Girl felt they could never be, and so she said, “See ya later, Boy.”

Well, as we all know, that was a big mistake on Girl’s part, because Avril swooped in and completely beguiled our Boy, and the two fell in love and wrote beautiful music together. And Girl? She gets knocked up and has to take care of the baby all by herself. Again, we’re supposed to feel good that Girl has met such an unfortunate fate. She deserved it: she did ballet and had a pretty face, and succumbed to the expectations of her peers. We are again punishing the girl in pink, just as we did in “Girlfriend”. In fact, “Girlfriend” could be an aggressive AU fanfiction of “Sk8r Boi”, the Fifty Shades of Grey to its Twilight.

But does this mean that Post-2004 Avril is also the Grey to Baby Avril’s Twilight? Or has it always been one Avril, now and forever, continuing to explore the same themes in her later works? Perhaps Avril has always been crowd-surfing that scene girl wave, and chose to change with the tides, intensifying her “not like other girls” internalized misogyny to better suit the ethos of late 00’s emo culture. My friends, we may never know. But all things considered, no longer can I watch the music video for “Girlfriend” and think, “Avril would never do this.” I just don’t know what Avril would do.

One thing is clear, however: I miss Quizilla.

Breaking free from these memories. Gotta let it go, just let it go.

Breaking free from these memories. Gotta let it go, just let it go.

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