NEW YORK — On Wednesday night, as dark clouds hovered over the city, Avril Lavigne was all wet.
High above Times Square, the Canadian singer was playing a secret outdoor show for soaked fans gathered more than 50 feet below. Dressed in a black hoodie that didn't quite shield her from the raindrops, Lavigne performed a three-song set that featured "Girlfriend," "When You're Gone" and "Sk8r Boi."
Lavigne has certainly come a long way since her innocent days as punk princess of the mall. In recent months, she's been known to spit on and flip off paparazzi. She's also bragged about booze-soaked nights — "I wrote 'Girlfriend' when I was drunk," she told us back in February (see "Don't Know How To Spell 'Avril Lavigne'? Prepare To Be Scolded"). And now she's taking it all off?
The blogosphere is abuzz this week over the June cover image for Blender magazine, in which the singer appears to be naked from the waist up. What really lies beneath that strategically placed headline?
Truth be told, Lavigne revealed to us before taking the stage last night, the photo shoot was a little more innocent than you think. "Actually, I'm not topless on the cover," she said. "I was wearing a tube top, and they just kind of put a banner on top of it."
Even if she's not topless, the 22-year-old is still flaunting her inner bad girl. "The Blender shoot was really fun because it was super rock and roll — we had a bottle of [whiskey] and ate cupcakes," she said. "Everyone was super cool. It was definitely a different kind of photo shoot for me."
Avril was also in town to make a red-carpet appearance at Wednesday night's Maxim Hot 100 party. She ranks #15 on the lad mag's list of celebrity hotties, which also includes Lindsay Lohan, Scarlett Johansson, Beyoncé and many more Hollywood A-listers.
And Lavigne herself is looking to do more movies. After lending her voice to last year's animated "Over the Hedge" and making a quick appearance in "Fast Food Nation," she wants to branch out beyond cartoons and cameos.
"I think as time goes on, I would want to try different styles," she said. "I would want to go for a more serious drama, something darker that would take a lot of emotion. I do have a movie that I'm going to be working on and starring in," she added, although she wouldn't give up the film's title.
Meanwhile, Lavigne is still promoting her latest album, The Best Damn Thing, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard albums chart in April (see "Avril Hammers Nine Inch Nails For Billboard's #1"). She just shot a video for the second single, "When You're Gone."
"It's a totally different video for me, something I've never done image-wise," she explained. "I'm wearing this old 1930s vintage dress. [I have] really long hair, and I'm running through the forest. And we have all these different vignettes of other people acting. [The song] is about losing someone or missing someone. It's a very emotional video."
Although she won't be embarking on a full-fledged U.S. tour until 2008, Avril will be playing some summer festival dates in Europe and Asia. On June 19, her cover of John Lennon's "Imagine" will be released. The song will appear on Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur, a compilation of Lennon covers that also features Green Day, U2 and Christina Aguilera.