Something magical happened in 2002 — something with the power to change mainstream music forever. It was a time characterized by bleach-blond hair, scantily clad women and provocative lyrics, as Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears ruled the charts with singles like “Dirrty” and “I’m a Slave 4 U.” Nothing was too over-the-top or erotic for the pop scene, a pop scene with leading artists who wore their sexual appetites as proudly as their leather pants.
That is, until Avril Lavigne’s arrival. With her messy hair, unconventional eye makeup and too-cool-for-school attitude, she ignited radio culture with the desire to be different. Her album Let Go, drenched in guitar riffs and angst, drew in 13-year-olds everywhere to the mystical alternative America. We wanted to be sk8er bois and date rock stars in lieu of dancing ballet. We wanted to wear men’s ties in our belt loops. We even felt a sense of superiority when we didn’t hang out with the popular kids at lunch — and if any of our friends did, we were entitled to label them “sellouts.” Avril Lavigne was our anti-establishment Barbie, making “uncool” the new “cool” in a nation that once drooled over mini-skirts and platforms.
Now, nine years after she began her campaign against “preppy clothes” and social conventions, the artist is trading in her baggy jeans for a style more typical of pop. Her newest album, Goodbye Lullaby, packs enough romance, sentiments and corny lyrics to nourish a Taylor Swift song — a far cry from the pop-punk princess image she tried to carve for herself in the past.
With sugary-sweet tracks like “I Love You,” it’s hard to believe the artist behind Goodbye Lullaby once encouraged us to wear Chuck Taylors and clothing embossed with chains. The song, like most of the album, moves slowly and tenderly with acoustic guitar and soft vocals. It’s a warm, personal ballad and is complete with equally gooey lyrics: She includes fluffy “La la la’s,” a list of the reasons she loves her boyfriend and a four-minute plea for him to always be next to her. Though the poppy romance style in “I Love You” is atypical of Lavigne, each corny line sounds genuine. Even the revoltingly affectionate “reason I love you is you” refrain is convincing — impressive from an artist once known for teaming up with Missy Elliot and chasing after another girl’s boyfriend.
That’s not to say that Goodbye Lullaby doesn’t contain traces of Avril’s former defiant side. Her attempts to hang onto her past image are clear in songs like “Smile,” which bounces with percussion and a faster pace. Even with its spunky sound, however, the track’s tough-girl attitude feels forced and feeble. The “edgy” vibe is immediately offset by the song’s generic lyrics, featuring cringe-worthy lines like, “You know that I’m a crazy bitch,” and, “I do what I want when I feel like it.” The track just doesn’t sound believable or natural on the album — especially when surrounded by songs with titles like “Darlin” and “Wish You Were Here.”
Preteens of this decade may need to look to violent video games and R-rated movies for their serving of nonconformity, because Goodbye Lullaby doesn’t deliver the same punch as past Avril Lavigne work. Instead, the album reveals a sentimental side of the artist — one that was covered in layers of eyeliner years ago. The album sounds natural in its vulnerability and sappiness, which poses a devastating question for Let Go fans: Was the sk8er girl we worshiped in middle school really as tough as we thought?