Don't Underestimate Avril Lavigne

The queen of pop-punk is back to doing what she does best: being Avril Lavigne.

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It was 2004, and a 19-year-old Avril Lavigne walked into her first NYLON cover shoot with a look that’s become pop culture cannon: Doc Martens, her outfits covered in “lots of studs and zippers,” as the article goes on to describe; her hair pin-straight and unbleached, with dark layers underneath. Seventeen years later, she enters her latest NYLON cover shoot — her fifth — as if dozens of style trends haven’t come and gone since. Her hair is lighter, flipped over to one side but still pin-straight; her shoes are platform slip-ons with razor blade-shaped zip pulls; her jeans are baggy and ripped at the knee, as if she’s come from a day skateboarding in the back alley. In 2004, the look was lambasted by critics as a teenage girl marketing manufactured punk, but Lavigne begs to differ; tucked into a leather couch in a downtown L.A. studio, she recalls early photoshoots where she was the one calling the shots. “I’d show up and they were like, ‘Can she wear this pink blouse?’ And I’d be like, ‘I’m not wearing that.’ I’d pull out my book bag, and all of my ties. It was my thing.”

When Avril Lavigne first hit MTV with her single “Complicated,” dressed in those very ties, it could have been easy to write her off as a one-hit wonder: Here was your snarly antidote to the bubblegum pop of Britney and Christina, a temporary balm for those who like their pop with a side of guitar riffs. More than 40 million records sold worldwide, eight Grammy nominations, and a Guinness World Record say otherwise. Today, she’s a 37-year-old about to release her seventh studio album, older and wiser, with a career’s worth of experience under her belt. And she’s still doing things her way. “There’s nothing I wish I did differently,” she says, just mere hours after the lead single off her upcoming album has been released. Despite the hectic morning, she gets right down to business as soon as she gets to set, settling into the interview within moments of arriving, pausing only once to request a tea and banana from her assistant, both of which will go untouched. “I do look back and think some things are funny,” she says. “I didn’t have a stylist, and I wore my own clothes out of my suitcase for a year, over and over. I didn’t have makeup and hair people. I was just like, straight dirty, rock hair. But also that’s what made me, me.”

Ann Demeulemeester dress, Hair stylist’s own headpiece, Maria Black rings
Ann Demeulemeester dress, Maria Black ring, Hair stylist’s own headpiece

The backyard of Lavigne’s Malibu home is home to the regular trappings of a beautiful celebrity dwelling, plus something unique: a mini half-pipe.

Its origin story is one worth telling. It started, as perhaps many Hollywood tales do, at Diplo’s house. “He has a huge half-pipe, and there was a party one night and Brody [Jenner, Lavigne’s boyfriend from 2010 to 2012] and Mod [Sun, the pop-punk singer and Lavigne’s current partner] were dropping in and singing ‘Sk8er Boi.’ I was like, ‘This is so fun. I have to get one.’” She did, and it became quite the party hit, the celebrity equivalent of a rented inflatable bounce-house for when the rich and famous happen to pop by. “When we first got it, my boyfriend was using it, and he’s a really good skateboarder. Then MGK [Machine Gun Kelly] and Megan [Fox] were over for a little barbecue for Memorial Day, so we were doing a little bit of skateboarding in the backyard.”

Then Lavigne had an idea. For years, her team had been bugging her to join TikTok. But what, was Avril Lavigne just going to pop up dancing to a Doja Cat song or baking some feta pasta? (For the record, she does love to cook.) “They wanted me to start with trends and all those things. I was like, ‘Ew, no, I’m not doing that,’” she says. “Then I was like, ‘Listen, I’m going to post something; why don’t we just post ‘Sk8er Boi’ and have Tony Hawk in it?’ So I DM’d him and he totally hit me back.” Surely the singer of “Sk8er Boi” had crossed paths before with the pro skater of the generation? “Oh, no, we hadn’t met before,” she clarifies. “I was just like, ‘Hey, I’m a huge fan, you’re a fucking icon. I’m going to start my TikTok, and I’d love the honor for you to be in a video with me, and I’m going to play ‘Sk8er Boi’ in it.’ He was like, ‘Sure.’ He came over. He brought over his goddaughter, who was a fan, and we had a little barbecue.”

Khaite top, Ganni pants, Chanel cross necklace, Mondo Mondo heart necklace

“Skateboarding was not cool when I was growing up. Avril helped to change that narrative with one song, and I am thankful for her help,” Hawk writes in an email. “I agreed to do the TikTok because I can’t count how many times people have quoted the song ‘Sk8er Boi’ to me… online and in person. She was a catalyst for introducing skateboarding to a generation of young girls, and inspired many of them to try it themselves. Both Lizzie Armanto [the pro skateboarder who recently represented Finland at the Olympics] and my goddaughter Olivia were excited to meet her for that very reason.”

The final product shows Lavigne, tie and all, lip-syncing to the 2002 hit, before panning to Hawk, also in his own tie, dropping into the half-pipe. It’s simple, but genius — and it has 34 million views and counting. Lavigne went another three months without posting. “Everyone was like, ‘Whoa, you have to keep posting,’” she says. “I was like, ‘No, I’m not just going to post a post.’ I’ve made it this far without doing it; I think I’ll be OK.”

Ami blazer, Fleur du Mal bodysuit, Undercover leggings, Giuseppe Zanotti boots

Lavigne takes the business of being Avril Lavigne very seriously. The morning of our interview, she spent the nearly hourlong commute to the shoot posting about her new single on Instagram. Lavigne handles all social media herself. “I can’t have other people do it for me because they say cheesy things or they come up with really bad ideas,” she says. “I’m really hands on and have to come up with it all. I’ve been planning out all the posts and stuff for today.” She’ll monitor it over the course of the day, checking in on numbers occasionally but mostly putting in the time to interact with fans and “comment, talk, chat with people.”

It’s been like this for all of her career, simply because she doesn’t know it any other way. “In the beginning, I would fly, get a car, put my own suitcase in the car, drive my ass to wherever I had to go,” she says. “I look back at that shit and I’m like, ‘Why didn’t the label or my managers at the time be like, ‘Maybe she should have a hair and makeup person on the road to help her with her blow-dryer or give her a clothing rack to pick from?’ That’s the stuff I look back and I’m like, ‘I could’ve had more help.’”

“It’s just always been a fight. Fighting to make the music I want to make. Fighting to dress the way I want. Fighting to have things be the way I need them to be.”

Though she strives to be her most authentic self, she’s also not against newness. She would consider the idea of an eventual beauty line or further business extension “if it was totally her.” But in an age in which many pop stars will sign their names to the first brand deal offered, Lavigne has learned the power in saying no. “It’s just always been a fight. Fighting to make the music I want to make. Fighting to dress the way I want. Fighting to have things be the way I need them to be,” she says. “But yeah, duh, it’s work. Nothing about what I do is easy. I can’t even tell you the stuff I go through. Things I can’t even get into that I’m like, ‘Why do I do this?’ But then it’s like, ‘Well, I do this because I want to do this.’”

Chanel cape and dress, Hair stylist’s own headpiece

“Bite Me,” the lead single off Lavigne’s forthcoming album, out in February, gives exactly what you want from an Avril Lavigne song. “Eh oh, you should’ve known better, better to fuck with someone like me/ Eh oh, forever and ever you’re gonna wish I was your wifey/ Should’ve held on, should’ve treated me right / I gave you one chance, you don’t get it twice/ Eh oh, and we’ll be together never, so baby, you can bite me,” she sings over Travis Barker’s urgent drums.

It’s the perfect intro to the album, which Lavigne calls her most alternative record front to back. “This is the first one that’s just rock all the way through,” she says. “There was a point in music where the label was like, ‘Radio don’t want to hear guitars anymore.’ Live drums went away. Live electric guitars weren’t getting played. There’s always been that fine line that I’m going to make my music that I’m feeling but also you have a company behind you who influences what you’re doing.” It took several steps to get Lavigne to the space where she was ready to even create the album. For one, she was a free agent: “I didn’t have a manager or a label at the time,” she says. Her previous album, 2019’s Head Above Water, was released via BMG records; the deal was for one record, and then the pandemic hit. Home alone, she started to write music, not because she had a contract to fulfill, but simply because she wanted to. “There was no one on the business side telling me what I could and couldn’t do, and I was just like, at this point in my career it’s like, I don’t have to be here. I don’t have to be making music. I’m fucking here because I want to be.”

Her old friend Barker, whom she previously collaborated on with 2007’s The Best Damn Thing, also played a major factor. She had been watching the success of his pop-punk return to dominance, thanks in large part to 2020’s bestselling collaboration with Machine Gun Kelly on the rapper’s No. 1 album Tickets to My Downfall, when she ran into him again through mutual friends and he invited her to come to his studio for a session. She immediately said yes. “I’ve watched him go from being in a fucking band to being one of the world’s best drummers to now being a writer-producer to having his own record label, which I just signed to,” she says. “I was so stoked for him and Kels when their album went No. 1. I was like, ‘Fuck yes, pop-punk music’s back and people are appreciating it.’”

Chanel cape and dress, Falke tights, Hair stylist’s own headpiece, on right hand: State Property ring, on left hand: Maria Black ring (middle finger), State Property ring (index finger)

Lavigne credits working with almost exclusively her friends (Kelly also appears on a track he co-wrote) for making the process of recording this album such a positive experience. “It was the most fun I’ve had making a record,” she says. “It just felt like I was hanging out with friends, like I was with the people I went to high school with.”

Writing the album started during a time of “a lot of changes” for Lavigne. Heartbroken (her word) and fresh out of a relationship, she moved to Malibu for a clean start. “Honestly, I really believed in love. And then I went through the ringer with it,” she says. “Then I finally got back up on my feet and had a relationship just to get fucked over again. I was just like, ‘I can’t believe that I’ve been hurt or mistreated by this many people. I need a break from relationships. I feel like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me over and over. I’m fucking sick of it. I need to take care of me right now.’ So I bought a house, and I wasn’t waiting for a guy to start a future with. I was like, ‘I’m doing this for me now. I’m the only person, I’m the only one I can rely on.’”

“At this point in my career, I don’t have to be here. I don’t have to be making music. I’m fucking here because I want to be.”

She took that energy to the studio, working with producers John Feldman and Mod Sun, as well as Barker, firing off lines like “don’t hold your breath ’cause you’re still chokin’ on your words / those things you said, might be the last ones that I heard.” But here comes the punchline: She also fell in love. “It’s hilarious,” she deadpans. She describes her relationship with Sun, a free-spirited pop-punk rocker, as all but inevitable, much to her chagrin. “I tried to resist it, hard,” she says. “The most I’ve ever tried to.” Entering into a new relationship while rehashing the pain from the past led to the album’s most vulnerable track, the closest thing you’ll find to a ballad on the rock-fueled tracklist. “I wrote that one on my own,” she says. “It was like, ‘OK, don’t tell me you love me unless you mean it. Because I don’t want to get fucked up again.’

“The album is light and happy, even though there’s songs about heartbreak and breaking up,” she continues. “But it’s also anthemic, and it’s powerful, and it has a positive message for people to stand up for yourself, to have self-worth.” It’s the album, she says, “I’ve wanted to make for my whole career.”

Sarah Aphrodite top, Ganni pants, Giuseppe Zanotti boots

In 2022, Lavigne will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s an honor that coincides with an important anniversary; this summer marks 20 years since Lavigne released her debut record, Let Go.

The singer promises a year of celebrations for the milestone, alongside a world tour for the new album. “I think about my first album all the time,” she says. “It was my first tour, my first time hearing myself on the radio. It was just such a big part of my life. My whole life has just been my career.” She’s been around for long enough to now be cited as an influence for today’s biggest pop stars, including Billie Eilish, Willow Smith, and Olivia Rodrigo. Lavigne only has support and words of encouragement for her new contemporaries. “It’s nice seeing other female artists coming into it, working on music like this in a male-dominated world,” she says.

Lavigne can also remember what it was like to be that age. Recently, she attended her first Video Music Awards in over a decade, and memories flashed back. “Oh, I can’t totally remember winning that first Moon Man,” she says — before launching into the story of a red carpet photo opp that launched 1,000 memes, as if the memory has just occurred to her. “Then the second record, Kelly Osbourne and I were like, ‘Let’s go together.’ We decided to be each other’s date, and then we just stayed at the same hotel, and hung out after.” The photos are stuff of legend: Lavigne and Osbourne in full mall goth regalia, flipping off the photographers, looking like they’ve come straight from a shift at Hot Topic. They still pop up almost daily on Twitter 18 years later. This is news to Lavigne. “Really?” she says. “Wow. She was just around a lot. We had some good times.”

She may not know it, but that photo is iconic because there is no way around it: Avril Lavigne is an icon. And now, she can recognize the power in that: “Maybe I should dress up as me next Halloween.

Left: Chanel dress and cape, Hair stylist’s own headpiece. Right: Ami blazer

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Top Image Credits: Ann Demeulemeester dress, Hair stylist’s own headpiece

Photographer: Frank Ockenfels 3

Stylist: Kat Typaldos

Hair: Lauren Bates

Makeup: Francie Tomalonis

Bookings: Special Projects

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