Having your debut album take off like a shot entering the albums chart at #8, currently at #5 and almost halfway to gold status after only three weeks in stores can send even the most composed artist into an overly excited frenzy. But not every potential star is as calm, casual and cool as 17-year-old Avril Lavigne.
"I don't get overwhelmed," she said impassively, referring to the success surrounding Let Go. "I feel like I've kind of prepared myself for it. All my life, this is what I've wanted, what I've dreamed about and I knew this would happen. I've been singing ever since I was really young, and I've wanted this so bad, and I told myself I would do it I would have to. I'm really chill about it."
Her laid-back take on her now closely watched career is indicative of the way she handles herself in most situations she's confident, composed, coy and irresistibly charming. When stylists would attempt to goad her into playing dress-up for photo shoots, presenting high heels, tight tops and sequined skirts as wardrobe, she balked and instead wore the rumpled attire she brought with her in her backpack (see "It's Not 'Complicated' 17-Year-Old Avril Lavigne Was Born To Rock").
"Well, [with] anything in life, I won't do it if it doesn't feel right," she said. "I always go with my gut and stand up for what I believe in. I'm a fighter. I fight for what I want."
Unlike some pop singers whose songs speak in metaphors only a seasoned songsmith could craft, Lavigne's carry diary-like admissions streamed directly from the heart. Her hit single, "Complicated," tells the all-too-familiar tale of what happens when things are going great until the boy suddenly gets "all weird."
Lavigne drops sappy relationship knowledge well beyond her years all over songs such as "Losing Grip," "Unwanted" and "Tomorrow." A skateboarding betty who favors baggy streetwear over the close-cropped costumes of her more pop-centric peers, Lavigne is like grrlpower Gwen meets Chris Carrabba's dashboard confessionals, with the result wistfully crooned from a hip-chick perspective. She-mo, if you will.
"When I write a song, I sit down with the guitar and write about what I'm feeling at that time," she said. "It just comes out. I don't decide, 'OK, I'm going to write a song about this.' It's not like that. It's just whatever's bugging me really comes out."
Her songs have all the inherent qualities of a teenager: spontaneity, rambunctiousness, self-assuredness that may lapse into know-it-all territory, and most importantly, immediacy. Like most teens, she's hardly the perfectionist. Instead of compulsively editing her songs until they're terse bundles of melody, she prefers to pour out her thoughts in an emotionally wrought torrent, like a best friend on a rant. And if the result isn't exactly neat around the edges, so be it. Why worry about minor details when the overall package is what ultimately counts.
"I just write songs right away," she explained. "I don't spend five million hours on it dissecting it. I just go ... When I start the lyrics, I just write them all the way through because I feel that way at the moment, so I just get it all out of me. It would be really weird if I spend one [whole] day on it."
Although they were created rather loosely, the 13 songs on Let Go don't sound like they were tracked off the cuff. The album sparkles with pristine production courtesy of a crop of knob-twiddlers including Clif Magness and upstart team the Matrix, with Arista Records head Antonio "L.A." Reid serving as executive producer.
After signing to the label at 16, Lavigne was handed prefabricated songs "Celine Dion-type ballads," as she referred to them. Singing someone else's songs is an accepted fact of most young pop singers, but it was a condition to which this confident young miss had an immediate adverse reaction. Lavigne knew she was more than a sultry voice: She could pen her own material, too.
"They [label executives] were like, 'What? This 16-year-old singer wants to write her [own] songs!' " she remembered. "So they were really cool and I admire them for doing this. They let me have the opportunity. They gave me the chance to write and ... they liked the songs and that's what's on the album."
Let Go wasn't exactly an entirely hands-off affair. Lavigne was paired with a handful of professional songwriters who helped her sculpt the songs during sessions in Los Angeles and New York, where she moved from Ontario, Canada, after striking the deal.
One day, Reid dropped by the studio. While most were unnerved by the visit from the industry mogul, Lavigne, in a typical reaction, wasn't shaken by Reid's presence. In fact, she was almost completely unfazed.
"Everyone was freaking out," she recounted. "They were like, 'Are you going to be OK? You're not going to be nervous, are you?' I'm like, 'What? I'm just going to be singing, OK? I'm fine, I'm just doing my thing.' "
Together with Michelle Branch and Vanessa Carlton, fellow artists of a similar age who share her dedication and passion for her art, Lavigne has been touted by the media as the next wave of teen pop, among the sincere successors to the Britney and Christina clones. While that may be the case, it wasn't intended on her part. And while she prepares to release the LP's next single, "Sk8ter Boi," for which a video will be shot in late July, she keeps her image in check by staying determined not to be a flash in the pop-music pan.
"I'm different from what's been out there for a while, definitely," she said. "And I don't want it to be one of those things that just comes in and is a phase and leaves. When things are very real and honest, they don't go [away]. They'll be around for a while. I'm going to be around for a while. I'm going to make tons of records and keep on writing music and performing and reaching fans."
Spoken like a true teen independent, indestructible and thoroughly in your face.
Joe D'Angelo, with additional reporting by SuChin Pak