Gemma Cockrell’s first memory of music is listening to tracks like Complicated from Avril Lavigne’s debut album Let Go as a young child. As her first introduction to music nearly 20 years ago, it is almost surprising that the album has aged so well that she still loves it to this day. Here are her thoughts, on the record’s 20th anniversary.
Avril Lavigne was truly one-of-a-kind, and it is rare for an artist to have such a clear vision and image at such a young age and at such an early point in their career. Only one or two such artists come around in each generation, and today, the closest comparisons are Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish, two young female solo artists whose debut albums skyrocketed them to instant stardom. Lavigne even joined Olivia Rodrigo onstage to perform Complicated, which the latter has been performing on every night of her SOUR world tour as an ode to her inspiration.
"She didn't even have any clue what Hollywood was - she'd just finished high school and wanted to 'rock out' with a live band"
History has a habit of repeating itself, and back in 2002, exactly the same events that Billie and Olivia experienced in recent years also happened to Avril. In a sea of male-dominated pop-punk bands that were emerging in the late 90s and early 2000s, like blink-182, Green Day, Good Charlotte, and Sum 41, Avril was the only female solo artist at the time adopting this same image and style. In a recent interview, she admitted that at the time, she didn’t even have any clue what Hollywood was – she’d just finished high school and wanted to ‘rock out’ with a live band.
And she definitely did ‘rock out’. Her debut was scattered with energetic pop-punk moments like Sk8er Boi and Losing Grip, alongside acoustic guitar-led rock ballads like Complicated and I’m With You. The beauty of Let Go is that all of the songs on the album have aged just as well as each other. Sometimes references to popular culture or social media apps can make a song age awkwardly because the times move so fast. However, even the references to MTV, which isn’t anywhere near as popular today as it was in 2002, on the track Sk8er Boi don’t cause it to feel outdated or cringey when listening to it now.
Again, the diversity of Let Go lends itself to comparison to Olivia Rodrigo, whose debut album SOUR included punky cuts like good 4 u alongside heartfelt ballads like drivers license. And just take one look at the album cover of Pale Waves’ sophomore album Who Am I? and tell me that you don’t notice the resemblance to the cover of Let Go – and that’s before you even listen to the music and hear that it is drenched in Avril’s influence. It is clear from nuances like this that Lavigne continues to have a staggering influence on modern mainstream and female artists to this day.
Lavigne proved from the starting line that the scope for female artists is much broader than the mainstream industry sometimes paints, and there is no need to stick to only making music of just one sound or one genre. She didn’t let the music industry confine her or place her into a box, even though in the early noughties landscape, the ‘bubblegum pop’ sound dominated, and this may have been an easy path to take to reach instant stardom. But Lavigne paved her own path, and this ultimately and arguably led to more long-standing success for her than following the popular trends of the time would have done.
"Her perseverance and determination to stay true to herself and do something a little bit different were definitely worth it"
Avril has acknowledged in recent interviews that there were challenges associated with going against the grain that she had to face, and that it wasn’t easy to make her voice heard when trying to defy and subvert the expectations of industry professionals. But when you look at the legacy that she has left behind, a legacy that all started with this album 20 years ago, then her perseverance and determination to stay true to herself and do something a little bit different were definitely worth it.
Edited by: Roxann Yus
Featured image courtesy of Avril Lavigne via Facebook.