- 23 Nov 04
One of the biggest teen rock sensations of the early noughties, Avril Lavigne continues to draw the black-clad adolescent hordes in record numbers. But can Canada’s most famous skater girl make the transition to adulthood without losing the affection of her notoriously capricious audience?
It’s two o’clock in the afternoon – four hours before doors open, seven before their pint-sized heroine is due on stage –and already a shady army of teen pop orcs are laying siege to the front entrance of The Odyssey Arena.
They’re a jolly mob – chasing one another around, tripping each other up – although judging by their dark garb you would never have guessed. There is a lot of black nail varnish and distressed fishnet here, Nirvana t-shirts and high laced boots. It seems very clear that, for one afternoon only, the schools of Greater Belfast have haemorrhaged their population of bite-sized-goths.
Further back, underneath the fly-over, a few of their comrades are necking the obligatory ‘barrack-buster’ or two, but for most of those gathered around, the high spirits provoking such wearied expressions from the venue’s security staff seem to be of an entirely legal nature. There’s a (just turned former) teen superstar in town, they don’t need any encouragement to go a little bit nuts.
Deep in the non-descript bowels of the venue – in the locker room of the Belfast Giants, in fact; surrounded by benches, clothes hooks and oddly placed urinals – the discreet object of their affection is peering out from behind her newly bleached locks, trying to explain the secret of her success.
“I think they like me because I’m not this glam chick – I’m just a kid: this good, normal girl that came out of high school,” suggests Avril Lavigne. “Writing my own songs helped a lot because they could relate to me better and recognise what I was going through. It’s something I’m very grateful for. They’re great fans. They sing great. Really loud.”
And they spend a lot too. Tonight, there’ll be eight thousand or so little sk8r bois and grrls paying homage – a number representing a mere fraction of the tiny Canadian’s fanbase. Her debut album Let’s Go sold close to 10 million copies world wide, while this year’s follow-up Under My Skin looks set to repeat the trick. In the cut-throat sewer of teen pop sustained success is about as likely a long term prospect as a contented middle age. Two consecutive number one albums will, therefore, have been greeted with much excitement (and relief) amongst Lavigne’s commercial diaspora.
How lucky they are, then, to find their young prodigy to be such a willing worker.
“I finished the tour for the first record and then a week later started writing songs,” she admits. “Then maybe three weeks after that I started to record the new one.”
How did you feel about that? Would you have liked a bit more time off?
“No, I was dying to get into the studio, I really couldn’t wait.”
Any suggestion that this kind of schedule must make it difficult to manage relationships is given short shrift.
“I have a few friends from school and stuff like that,” she says. “I see them in different ways – they come to the shows and we hang out. My good friends haven’t changed and I’ve made lots of new friends. Like, I meet new people every day. And I’m touring with lots of people. I think that’s pretty normal, hanging out with people that you work with.”
The unwelcome (and patently insincere) egalitarian virus that is currently infecting planet pop (where your average high street sales assistant makes more of a sartorial effort than, say, Girls Aloud or The Sugababes) may have left a lot of us nostalgic for those flood-lit figures of yore who, you suspected, had not only never met a human being, but were quite obviously not even one themselves. Post-Jacko, though, and mums and dads are proving more understandably watchful of the idols their kids are obsessing over. From Pink to Britney to Gareth to Will – pop stars these days fall over themselves to convince us that (whisper it) they’re still one of us. With her tom boy togs, text-friendly titles and slick distillation of pop, grunge, punk, country and power ballads, Avril Lavigne is the (current) apotheosis of this trend.
But even though her evolutionary distance from Busted is not as pronounced as Avril would wish, there’s something about this everygirl millionairess that is oddly endearing. Maybe it’s her Lou Reed-esque way of dead-eyeing unwary interviewers in their late 20s who are dumb enough to ask her about her private life (“Nah, I’m not talking about that”), or maybe it’s her entirely commendable refusal to complain about her lot (“If you want to think about what’s really bad in the world, there’s nothing bad in this. I just focus on the good stuff. It’s mostly amazing. People may think this is a drag, it’s not. It’s awesome.”
Most likely, though, it is the likeable enthusiasm with which she approaches her job. She talks about “buying CDs like a maniac” and enthuses at length on support band A Simple Plan and the new Green Day album American Idiot.
The signs are instantly recognisable: this is someone nurturing the beginnings of a proper infatuation. The only time she sits up straight is when talking about tonight’s show and her determination to push ahead with it despite struggling with the sore throat from hell.
“I woke up this morning really sick,” she reveals. “It’s the air-conditioning and the weather. I swear I’ve never been in the UK when it’s been sunny. I’ve never been here and seen any sunshine. Does the sun ever come out here? Is it dark every day here? All this rain – it sucks.”
That’s very true. Do you think you’ll be okay for later?
She coughs again and looks at me as if I’m mad.
“Of course. I’ve got great powers of recovery. I’m really lucky because I can go out, get totally trashed, be hung-over the next day and sing fine. My voice holds up real good. But I’ve been a very good girl on this tour, haven’t got drunk once.”
That’s where you’ve gone wrong; you should have got blitzed.
She smiles and shakes her head.
“You know what: I wish. It was my day off and I just sat in and did emails and made phone calls. I like to drink and have a good time but I think I’ll wait until the next good party. I’m on a major health kick at the moment and don’t feel like putting any alcohol into my blood stream. If my friends were here it would be different but you don’t want to just get drunk on your own. That’s not very…cool.”
Correct. Outside, though, you suspect there would be plenty of volunteers willing to keep her company.