B-Sides: "What the Hell" Do You Make of This?
A lot has gone on in the pop landscape since Avril Lavigne skateboarded into the public eye in 2002. She's been endlessly lambasted for calling herself a "punk" while sounding sooo Top 40. More seriously, she has drawn deserved criticism from feminist circles for slut-shaming and depicting other women as enemies.
And yet, I'll be the first to admit it: I'm pro-Avril. I purchased Let Go in its first week, and The Best Damn Thing remains one of my favorite albums of all time. I would never call Lavigne innovative musically, but I've consistently appreciated her tunes' energy and escapism, and her skillful way of capturing common experiences that don't get a lot of play on the radio (like warding off the grumps on a bad day or feeling like your sweetie smokes too much pot).
Adventures in the wonderland of dating.
The first single off Lavigne's new Goodbye Lullaby didn't disappoint. Perhaps inspired by her recent divorce from Sum 41's Deryck Whibley, "What the Hell" is about kissing various people and blowing off societal expectations about monogamy. The song's not without its problems. There's the "crazy" issue, and the lyrics are addressed to an unhappy main squeeze, which begs the question of how consensual their non-monogamy really is. Still, as with the Lou Christie classic "Lightnin' Strikes," I hear it as an exploration of dating around rather than a glorification of infidelity. "What the Hell" gave me the same flutter as Cher's 1998 smash "Believe," which burst onto the radio between songs about miserable devotion with the revelation "Maybe I'm too good for you." Yes, Avril's latest got my stamp of approval.
But then I saw the video.
I'm such a free spirit, I'm not sure if I'm singing lead or back-up!
Playing the field has been replaced by other rebellions, namely carjacking, shoplifting and, um, product placement. Yes, "What the Hell"'s about doing what you want, but is anyone else totally confused by this vid? Somehow, unambiguous lyrics about dating and kissing multiple people have become a story about being followed by your lover while you goof around before returning to his bed. There's no non-monogamy or infidelity to speak of, unless you count seconds of flirtation with strangers over a basketball. The brief scene even ends with Lavigne identifying her pursuer to the other men by mouthing "My boyfriend."
Then, there's the fact that this boyfriend is following her. At best, Avril and friend are playing a game that disrupts bystanders; at worst, this is a stellar example of poor communication and rather frightening possessiveness. If, as it seems, Lavigne wants some time away from her beau, why can't she just take it? Either way, a man chasing a fleeing woman doesn't sit right with me.
Don't worry: love still has an off-the-shoulder hold on me.
There are other maddening elements to this video, but frankly, they're not surprising. Gratuitous matching-undie shots? Check. Waking up in full, flawless makeup; promoting one's own clothes and perfume; inundation of brand names to rival "Telephone?" Checks all around. I'm more interested in the fact that even as she mouths the joys of non-commitment, she offsets the message with a (literal) label on her chest that says "Addicted to Love." Is suggested polyamory more threatening to the mainstream than auto theft?
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