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Anarchy On Mtv? Tough Gals, Rejoice.

Avril Lavigne is a good 15 minutes late, which is very unlike her, says her manager. Finally, thundering footsteps, hysterical screams and uncontrollable giggles echo in the corridor, the door of her hotel room swings open and the breathless 18-year-old singer barrels in. "I just got chased down the hall," she gasps, flinging down the camouflage lunchbox she uses for a purse. "Before, when they'd say, 'Oh my God, it's Avril Lavigne,' I'd be like, 'How do they know me?' Now it's just like, 'Don't think--run'."

Lavigne's life has changed drastically in the three years since she was a Faith Hill sound-alike singing Christmas songs at the local mall in Napanee, Ont. Now the scrappy 5-foot-1 skater chick plays pop punk, sells 100,000 albums a week, has beaten out Pink as MTV's premier tomboy and is a good bet for best new artist at next year's Grammys. Her throaty voice and anti-Aguilera sound--somewhere between Alanis Morissette and Green Day--helped move 4.9 million copies of her summer debut, "Let Go," and spawn a prepubescent army of Lavignettes. You've seen them--sassy middle schoolers who wear men's ties with tank tops and sneer at J. Lo's clothing line. Avrilmania spread over the past few months on the strength of her singles, "Complicated" and "Sk8er Boi," but Lavigne's biggest push has yet to come. She has more "TRL" -friendly singles scheduled for 2003 release, and she'll headline her first national tour in April. Arista Records also hopes to squeeze a new CD out of her by summer. "I wanna rock out on that record," she says. "You know, lots of screaming, loud guitars. Rock out!"

Lavigne says her initial marketing campaign was "too pop," and she harbors particular disdain for those stylists who tried to make her look like Mandy Moore or Jessica Simpson: "That is like so sellout." Today, she dresses in cutoff plaid bondage pants, steel-toed Doc Martens and a Dickies jacket with a button that reads f-- fashion. Yet her penchant for punk is fairly recent. "I remember singing gospel songs at country fairs," says Lavigne, who comes from a tightknit Christian family and still lives at home with Mum and Dad. "I got to a point where I was like, 'Mum, I don't feel comfortable singing these outside of church.' Plus, every time I performed she was like, 'You have to wear a dress and wear your hair nice.' It's funny now." These days, to her parents' dismay, Lavigne has dropped gospel songs from her repertoire and high school from her life. "A career just came early for me," she says, playing with a thread from her ragged pants. "My friends still don't know if they want to be a teacher or a doctor. When I talk to them, they'll tell me they have exams the next day and I'll be like, 'Ha ha ha, you have a test.' They'll be like, 'Avril, shut up!' "

Lavigne was only 15 when Arista discovered her. She had no idea how to make an album, and sang only cover songs. Her debut took a lot of work--by five producers, Arista CEO L. A. Reid and a team of pop professionals known as The Matrix. Lavigne (who co-wrote the songs on "Let Go") now wants more independence, hoping to make her next album in the "kick-ass" style of Nirvana--a band she barely knew existed back in Napanee. And she's determined to prove herself more substantial than other teen sensations. "There's these people who say I'm made up by my label," Lavigne says. "It's like, no I'm not. If I was made up by the record label, I'd have bleached-blond hair and I'd probably be wearing a bra for a shirt." She pauses to pop her gum. "I hate sex-object music. It's not real, and I'd never be able to sit in my room and listen to that kind of stuff. I have moms come up to me all the time and say thank you for wearing clothes, thank you for not being a Britney Spears. I'm like, 'Puleeaase, no worries there'."