POP GRIND #5: What The Hell Happened To Avril Lavigne?

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Something very pink and depressing has happened in the form of culture appropriation, and it has come from one of the least likely pop stars. That’s right, Avril Lavigne is back with a video for her new single ‘Hello Kitty’ and it makes me want to cry.

I am nowhere near ashamed to admit that, in 2002, Avril Lavigne was a personal hero of mine – as I’m sure she was for many thirteen-year-olds who sourced their entire wardrobe from Famous Stars & Straps and scribbled band names over every inch of their school bag. For kids like us, Lavigne was placed in high regard; surrounded by a fashion shrine of tank tops, ties and novelty socks. She didn’t hang out at the mall – she fucking crashed it, dude. She didn’t fuck about with glitter, nails and synchronised dance routines, she rocked the electric guitar, skateboarded (kind of) and got with Deryck Whibley of Sum 41 – thus forming the strongest pop-punk power couple long before Hayley Williams and Chad Gilbert even locked eyes.

In short, she was the perfect role model for anybody who couldn’t quite relate to whatever Christina Aguilera was doing at the time. Not that Xtina isn’t bitchin, but while she was in assless chaps grinding on Redman in a boxing ring, Lavigne was sullenly piling on the jelly bracelets in solidarity with every other teenager in the world. So, what the hell happened?

In her latest video, which first surfaced online this Tuesday, Lavigne is dressed in her iconic Dragged Arse-Backwards Through Hot Topic Apparel (albeit with more cupcakes than usual), but the message is something quite different. That is to say, there isn’t one. Gone are the days where she righteously shamed potential boyfriends in the street hollering “don’t try to tell me what to do“, 2014 Avril is all about pillow fights and prancing around Japanese sweet shops surrounded by robotic backing dancers whose expressions read: “fuck my life”.

I am the first to jump to the defence of ridiculous trashy pop music – I was incredibly down with ‘Girlfriend’ – but this is beyond the realms of justification and not just because there is nothing more existentially upsetting than watching fully grown adults obsess over Hello Kitty. First of all, the song is pretty terrible. Repeatedly shouting the Japanese words for “hello” and “cute” over and over again punctuated by a dubstep breakdown that Billboard described as “so unholy that Keanu Reeves probably battled it in Constantine” does not a good song make. Secondly, what is actually going on in this video? The lyrical content is all sleepovers and pinky swears and “come come kitty kitty” which, coupled with the overall Japanese theme, seems to play right into the age-old stereotype of sexualising Asian women as infantile.

Arguably, it’s no different from Gwen Stefani’s ‘Harajuku Girls’ in regards to culture fetishization, but the worst thing about it isn’t that it’s “racist” (it isn’t) or sonically dubious, it’s that it’s plain fucking stupid. There is absolutely nothing of value happening here other than an OTT proclamation of Lavigne happens to like. It’s an Instagram photo made into a movie – the graphic visualisation of a hashtag. And perhaps that wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t once so good. Given that it dropped twelve years ago, you would be forgiven for forgetting that Let Go was one of the most fierce and defining albums of the naughties. A counter-force to the overwhelming legacy of pop princesses and a strong female presence in a commercial world dominated by Blink 182, American Pie bro-culture and a tidal wave of songs about porn and/or mom’s.

At its best, ‘Hello Kitty’ is a bit of fun, and there’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but Avril Lavigne used to carry some kind of message whether it was about dealing with sucky boyfriends, the feelings of loss and confusion growing up or not taking anybody’s shit, and it sucks to think that someone can regress that much. Perhaps she’s just reflecting the youth of today. In a culture where we are defined by what we #like, why not make an entire video out of it? It still makes me sad, though. Culture appropriation is crime enough when it isn’t completely shattering my teenage dreams at the same time. Can we blame Chad Kroeger? Let’s blame Chad Kroeger.

Fuck you, Chad Kroeger.

Originally published on The 405 here.

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