Avril Lavigne: This Girl Rocks

It was clear when I spoke with Avril Lavigne back in November 2002 for last year's Who's Next feature that things were starting to bubble over for the 18-year-old singer. At the time, she was already being chased down the hall of her hotel by adoring, prepubescent fans and overwhelmed by the "mind-blowing fact" (as she put it) that people were finally listening to her music. "Before when they'd say 'Oh, My God, it's Avril Lavigne,' I'd be like, 'How do they know me?'" said Lavigne. "Now it's just like, 'Don't think--run'." There were piles of gifts from fans in her hotel room--teddy bears, rainbow hair bands and even an air fern attached to a plastic, Day-Glo fish. She gave me the gaudy, gift-shop trinket as a memento of our interview. I immediately liked the girl. Maybe the air fern had gone to my head, but I was almost certain she would continue to mesmerize young fans throughout 2003.

For once, my prediction came true. Even if you've never voluntarily listened to Avril Lavigne and couldn't pick the scrappy pop singer out of a police lineup, it's safe to say that by now you've accidentally heard a song or two from her 2002 debut, "Let Go." Maybe it was "Complicated" blaring from your kid's radio, or "Sk8r Boi" reverberating out of a teen store in the mall. You were likely exposed to "the Avril look, " too: think skinny teen wearing dark eye makeup, a men's tie, white tank top and cutoff Dickies work pants.

Thanks to Avril, 2003 became the year suburban girls reclaimed their right to be tomboys, and actually put some clothes back on. It doesn't matter that the 5-foot-1 Canadian singer, now 19, dropped the look when she realized legions of fans were adopting it. Girls who felt betrayed by Britney's oversexed image and vapid dance tunes finally had someone to look to for some self-respecting real-girl attitude. Moms were happy, too. "I have moms come up to me all the time and say thank you for wearing clothes, thank you for not being Britney Spears," Avril told me in the same interview. "I'm like, 'Puleeaase, no worries there'."

Whether Lavigne is a record-company concoction, an independent-minded artist or somewhere in between, the fact that she stands out from the prefab teen pack has paid off. Her album sold 14 million copies worldwide, and her singles "Losing Grip" and "I'm With You" dominated the first half of 2003. Lavigne, who was nominated for five Grammies in 2003, performed "Sk8r Boi" at the awards ceremony in February. But it was this past year's "Try to Shut Me Up" tour that marked the biggest leap in her fame and popularity. The girl who grew up singing Christmas songs at county fairs went from performing in small clubs in 2002 to filling up coliseums by spring of 2003.

Now Avril is back in the studio working on a new album. "I wanna rock out on that record," she said last year of her latest effort. "You know, lots of screaming, loud guitars. Rock out!" She hoped Arista would back her up on her quest to cut loose. Perhaps 2004 will be the year Avril introduces a whole new generation of girls to rock, or at least a new, anti-Britney style. Will her fan base still be interested? If it's any indication, the air fern--and her debut--are still going strong.