On June 4, 2002, Canadian artist Avril Lavigne shocked the world with her debut album “Let Go.” Twenty years later, she returned to her roots with a 20th anniversary edition of the album. To commemorate this occasion, I am revisiting the album to reflect on what was so special about it and how it had such a profound impact in the music industry at large.
When “Let Go” was released, Avril Lavigne was framed as a pop-punky alternative to the mainstream, even so far as being referred to as an “Anti-Britney Spears.” She was taken as a truly authentic voice — more “real” than the likes of popular contemporaries such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. In essence, her music was salient with her audience because she was seen as ordinary. She wore baggy jeans, tank tops, and neckties, embraced the rising skater culture and generally held an attitude of forgoing glamor and “being fake.” In a world characterized by deceitful politicians and machine-like record labels, the Canadian artist was a breath of fresh air. In fact, “Let Go” remains to this day as the best-selling album by a Canadian artist in the 21st century, which is especially impressive considering her young age of only eighteen at the time of its release.
Avril Lavigne was also seen as pushing the limitations of traditional femininity. Armed only with a guitar in hand and a rebellious attitude, she embraced the genres of rock, emo and pop-punk, swimming against the then current trend of female artists producing pop music. Her tomboyish appearance reinforced this image and further added to her perception of being genuine and the same person on and off the stage.
The “Pop-Punk Princess” is often credited as a pioneer in the pop-punk movement, sometimes even considered the first artist to push the genre into the mainstream, and this is in no small part due to the massive success of her first album. In addition to her personna and her push of alternative rock further into the pop space, another component that contributes to the legacy of Lavigne and “Let Go” is her skillful balance between her angsty side (“Sk8ter Boi,” “Complicated”) with the drama and sensitivity of a conventional singer-songwriter (“Tomorrow,” “I’m With You”). Such a balance has been adopted by other mainstream artists such as Oliva Rodrigo and Billie Eilish, who in the footsteps of Lavigne (Rodrigo and Eilish have both credited her as a major influence) are leading a recent trend of rock and punk in the pop scene. Her triumph was not in the fact that she was a mess; it’s in that she had the confidence to admit it.
The 20th anniversary edition of the album features six bonus tracks that were written for the debut album but never made it to final production. Notably, one of these is “Breakaway,” which Lavigne sold to Kelly Clarkson because Lavigne found it to be unsuitable for “Let Go.” The song went on to huge commercial success under Kelly Clarkson.
Overall, Avril Lavigne had an instrumental role in shaping and defining the pop-punk and alternative scenes as we know them today. Her success can be attributed to not only the fact that she was different from the mainstream but that she had the guts to own it. She is a reminder that originality and authenticity are factors that allow a song to transcend from just being good to being memorable.