Why pop-punk princess Avril Lavigne is still the real deal — and grateful to be alive

Sep 25, 2019 at 1:00 am

Despite internet-bred conspiracy theories, Avril Lavigne is not dead.

She's not a fan-turned-Avril-replacement clone, either. Sure, a side-by-side comparison of Lavigne circa 2002 on the heels of her star-making debut release, Let Go, and Lavigne in 2019, who has returned to music after a five-year absence, might reveal that she hasn't aged much, if at all. (No, really. It's actually kind of weird.) But the truth is, the "motherfucking princess" has lived lifetimes (and survived them, too).

"It's so weird," Lavigne says. "I don't even know why people talk about it. That thing where they think I'm dead or whatever — it went on before I even got sick. They think I'm not me. Like, how weird is that? That someone would even start that and that people still talk about it. I actually, like, never talk about it. On the other hand, everyone's like, 'She looks the same, she doesn't age' and then compares pictures of me when I was younger. I'm like, you guys are so weird."

When it comes to Lavigne's 17-year career, one has to fight the urge to compare the skateboarding, mall-crashing, tie-wearing 17-year-old that made it possible for someone like Billie Eilish to exist (in Eilish's exact words, "Thank you [Avril] for making me what I am") against the poised, thankful-to-be-alive, 34-year-old woman who put her life on hold to battle Lyme Disease, has navigated marriage and divorce, and whose musical focus has shifted from disrupting the status quo to lush balladry aimed to inspire confidence and self-worth. In other words, Lavigne's world is still very much complicated.

This year, Lavigne returned with Head Above Water, the Canadian singer's first record in six years, following 2013's self-titled release written alongside producer and then-husband, Nickelback's Chad Kroeger (on which she somehow makes Nickelback's "How You Remind Me" into a sultry, non-cringy banger). Her latest, which she describes as being a "mini-movie of her life," takes an emotional detour and finds Lavigne consciously tapping into her raw vocal power, something we've only caught glimpses of through the years (2002's anthemic "I'm With You" comes to mind as a standout vocal moment). She says that Head Above Water is a return to her preteen, pre-fame "roots" — singing in the church choir and performing country music at local fairs.

"I wanted to really make this album about vocal performance so you really feel the emotion,"she says. "I got to spend three years making this album, and I went through a lot in my life. So, like, I know it sounds cliche, but it was totally healing and therapeutic to be able to write about it and get it out and express myself, blah, blah blah. But also just to have my music career, it kept me strong. It gave me something to work towards. I would get lost in it. I really realized through this process how much I love music and how alive it is in me. There was one point I didn't even know if I could work ever again. And then I just started writing."

When Lavigne says she didn't know if she would be able to ever work again, the "Sk8er Boi" singer is not exaggerating. In 2014, shortly after her 30th birthday, Lavigne was diagnosed with Lyme Disease, a tick-borne bacterial illness that kept her bedridden and scared for two years. At one point, she accepted death. Four years before she was diagnosed with Lyme, Lavigne launched the Avril Lavigne Foundation, a nonprofit that supports children and youth with disabilities and serious illnesses through education and grant-funded treatment. The foundation is now aligned with two organizations, the LymeLight Foundation and Global Lyme Alliance, which Lavigne contributes to as a board member. She has also partnered with Make-a-Wish Foundation, Race to Erase MS, and the Special Olympics. From bed to the tour bus, Lavigne says the past year has been about balance and trusting herself.

"You have to sleep well, eat well, and work out," she says. "I'm gluten-free, all-organic juice every day. I try to exercise a little every day. I just go with my body. I don't push it too hard. But there's a fine line where you don't want to rest too much, either. I swear to god, my music — it's, like, literally healing, I don't know how I got through the stuff I got through. Like, I can't believe I'm on tour," she says. "For the 'I Fell in Love With the Devil' music video, I shot that for like 14 hours. Like, how did I do that?"

Of the things that appear to have changed in Lavigne's life, she remains loyal to the power of creative duality, especially on Head Above Water. Lavigne, who teamed up with Nicki Minaj for the record's energetic centerpiece, "Dumb Blonde," which finds her declaring, "I'm a babe, I'm a boss, and I'm makin' this money," is the same artist pleading to god and the universe for survival and wellness against lush and swelling piano on the record's title track, which just so happened to peak at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot Christian Song charts. The record's second single and accompanying video, "I Fell in Love With the Devil," however, has caused the most commotion, oddly enough, pissing off Lavigne's Christian fanbase for its use of religious imagery. The video shows a solemn Lavigne driving a hearse, transporting a rose-filled casket, cutting to a cloaked, crucifix-clutching Lavigne in a cemetery. The intention wasn't to court controversy, though. For her, it was a journey of personal catharsis as she describes ridding herself of a toxic relationship and trusting her instincts.

So, really, in the most uncomplicated terms, Lavigne still doesn't give a fuck what we think. Not in the tabloid sense, at least. Her music, though evolved, aims to inspire the same message as when she first emerged in hightop Converse and studded bracelets: "You fall and you crawl and you break/and you take what you get and you turn it into honesty." 

"When I was younger, it was annoying because people would give me a hard time for being edgy, for having colored hair or wearing black eyeliner and dressing like a tomboy. I think that used to bother me a bit, but I was like whatever. I feel like, at this point, enough people know me for the music. I'm in a position where I've been making music now for years, and I get to do it for myself and it's like, I don't really have to try to fit in," she says. "I can be authentic to who I am. I feel like all of my albums and songs are about standing up for yourself, believing in yourself, and following your heart. And that's been my motto and my consistent message."

Avril Lavigne performs at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28 at the Fox Theatre; 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-471-6611; 313presents.com. Tickets are $29.50.

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