She could be the girl next door. Or more likely she’s the one skateboarding down the street. Avril Lavigne may be your typical tomboy, but she’s hardly your typical pop star. A few months ago no one knew who she was. Now, she’s one of the most popular teenagers in America with a smash CD, a handful of Grammy nominations and millions of fans who follow her every move. It’s a Cinderella story except for one thing — you wouldn’t catch her dead in a ballgown. NBC’s Jane Pauley reports.
If you've never heard the name Avril Lavigne before now, get ready to hear it a lot. She’s on three magazine covers this month alone. She’s one of “People” Magazine’s “25 Most Intriguing People of the Year.” And with five Grammy nominations, the five-foot-one-inch small town girl from Canada is the next big thing.
“It didn’t even really hit me ‘til like last week was when I actually sat down,” says Lavigne. “Like literally, I was like — whoa. I mean I feel like I’ve just been going, going non-stop. And finally I just went, whoa, I sold that many records? I feel like I’m getting more famouser every day.”
Her first album only came out in June and is already platinum five times over — and still climbing. “Complicated” was the video that launched a 17-year-old star.
One fan says, “We can relate to what she’s singing about, and her lyrics.”
Another says, “And she writes everything and she’s independent.”
Another girl says, “She dresses really cool, and a lot of people like try to follow the way she dresses. She’s like a big role model.”
“I’ve always kind of wanted to be different and stand out,” says Lavigne. “And I never really wanted to be you know a normal person and have a normal lifestyle and I’ve always been a crazy kid. And weird and you know I’d go to school with like twist ties in my hair or little candy wrappers in my hair just to be weird. Always dress different.”
Avril Lavigne didn’t always dress different. She grew up in a devout Christian family, in a small town in Ontario, Canada.
Jane Pauley: “What did your parents think of your look?”
Avril Lavigne: “Oh, my God, that was always a problem. Whenever I’d go to sing my mom would be like, ‘OK you need to do your hair all nice and you need to wear a dress.’ I’m like, ‘Mom! I don’t want to wear a dress!’ I’m still mad at her to this day for making me wear a dress.”
But her parents supported her singing. And helped her line up karaoke style gigs like this when she 14.
“I’ve known all my life that this is what I was supposed to do,” she says, “thinking all the time what it would be like to have so many people around. Visualizing like what it would be like to be famous with my music. And always just dreaming, always daydreaming.”
“My dad had bought me a microphone and I’d be singing the soundtracks,” she says. “And I just spent so much time thinking about it. And so much time singing and wanting.”
Meanwhile, her father was pushing to make her fantasy a reality. He got a drum kit, a keyboard, and several guitars, and turned their basement into a music room.
Avril Lavigne: “That’s where I spent all of my time after school. You know, I remember my dad saying to me, “you need to be down there for five hours” I’d be like, ‘Mom, that’s too much!’”
Jane Pauley: “How were you with school?”
Avril Lavigne: “School? I was really bad in school. I didn’t have any motivation. I’d you know, sit in class and doodle, carve like little things, little designs in my desk, talk, laugh, be loud, get kicked out of class. And then when I did get kicked out of class I was like, ‘Yes!’”
cHANCE OF A LIFETIME
At 16 she wasn’t in school anymore. She’d been noticed. And while working with professional songwriters in New York, one evening a man came by to hear her sing.
Jane Pauley: “Did you know who he was?”
Avril Lavigne: “No!”
It was LA Reid, the president of Arista Records, but he didn’t know who she was, either. They were both in for a surprise.
“I got a call asking me to come to the studio and hear this girl sing,” says Reid. “I was in a rotten mood. I was in a really, really bad space. And really wasn’t in the mood to do it at all. But I said, “OK, you know what? Don’t cancel. Just go and do it. Get it over with.”
“I basically sat down on a stool and sang three songs for him,” says Lavigne.
LA Reid: “And within 30 seconds, my whole mood had changed. I went from being a really aggravated, irritable guy to all of a sudden feeling like, “Oh my God, I have never heard a voice like this.”
Jane Pauley: “I find that hard to believe.”
LA Reid: “Ah, it was very special. It was very, very special for me.”
He offered her a two-album deal on the spot.
“I remember after he left, everyone was like, ‘He loved you, he loved you,’” says Lavigne. “And everyone was like picking me up. I was like this little peanut. Everybody’s picking me up, swinging me around and being like ‘yeah’ and I was just like “cool, cool.” And they’re like, ‘You don’t understand. It doesn’t happen like this. You don’t just get a record deal, boom, like that.’”
CALLING THE SHOTS
And if you’re 16, you don’t get to call the shots — unless you’re Avril Lavigne.
Avril Lavigne: “Everyone thought I was gonna be like a Faith Hill, Shania Twain. And I’d be like, ‘Uh, no, I wanna rock.’”
Jane Pauley: “You have a reputation for being in charge.”
Avril Lavigne: “Well, I mean it’s my face that’s out there. It’s my name. It’s my picture on the album cover. I need to make sure that that represents me fully.”
Jane Pauley: “If you had completely had your way with how to market, how to position this young girl, what would we be seeing today?”
LA Reid: “I probably would have had her prettied up and you know, maybe the clothes would have been a little tighter, a little more revealing and you know, a little more sparkles going on, a little more bling-bling. I’m telling you, I would have messed it all up! Being normal is what’s hot today and the simple beat, the simple melody, the catchy hook line. Everything is simple. Less is more.”
Avril Lavigne: “It’s kind of weird to me how like you get famous and then everybody goes all glamorous and glittery. And its kinda like - it’s weird, it’s strange to me. I mean OK, maybe yeah you make a bunch of money and you can afford all that stuff. But it’s not something I can really do. I just like to dress down, dress normal and comfortable. And that’s my style and that’s cool.”
THE AVRIL LOOK
The Avril Lavigne look is tank tops, baggy pants, and wrist bands. It includes high top sneakers and her fingers seem to have become entwined in her shoelaces.
Avril Lavigne: “Look at me, I’m a mess. My wallet is falling out.”
Jane Pauley: “It is. It’s like it’s tied around there.”
Avril Lavigne: “I fiddle too much in interviews.”
Jane Pauley: “I don’t know what you’ve done.”
Avril Lavigne: “I don’t know what I’ve done either, oh there we go. I’m trying to create a new style — right. OK!”
The music media have given a name to her style.
Avril Lavigne: “Oh yeah, the anti-Britney, the anti-Britney. Everybody just thinks because you know the whole pop thing, show off your belly, dance around with your background dancers, lip synch, whole deal thing was really popular for a long time. I’m not made up and I’m not being told what to say and how to act, so they have to call me the anti-Britney, which I’m not. I think that’s very rude and very mean. I think it’s a dumb game. It’s just the media putting up like those labels.”
Jane Pauley: “Well, it’s not just the media.”
Avril Lavigne: “Yeah.”
Jane Pauley: “It’s a business. You’re the product. In order to sell the product you’ve got to put some kind of label on it.”
Avril Lavigne: “Yeah, see, that’s what I don’t like. I don’t wanna feel like a thing and I don’t wanna feel like a product — and that’s what comes with pop music.”
Jane Pauley: “The industry does have a tendency to eat its young.”
LA Reid: “Right.”
Jane Pauley: “And in order to position the next big thing, someone has to pronounce the current big thing over.”
LA Reid: “As over — absolutely, absolutely. I mean that’s an important marketing ploy. We’re guilty of it. And it works. And it has worked quite well with Avril.”
Jane Pauley: “Do you have a boyfriend?”
Avril Lavigne: “Do I have a boyfriend? No, I don’t.”
The words from “I’m With You” go: “Take me by the hand, take me somewhere new. I don’t know who you are, but I’m with you. I’m with you.”
Avril Lavigne: “That’s the song called “I’m With You” and it was me having a depressing day and you know, feeling those feelings.”
Jane Pauley: “That’s where the good stuff comes from musically?”
Avril Lavigne: “Yeah.”
Jane Pauley: “They don’t tend to come from great feelings do they?”
Avril Lavigne: “No. Every relationship I’ve been in has always you know, ended up not on a great note. So maybe one day I’ll be like extremely in love and be able to write those sappy love songs.”
Avril has plenty of dates ahead of her — concert dates. She’s booked solid until the end of May.
Jane Pauley: “So how typical is this teen really?”
LA Reid: “Look, I think she has a typical way about herself, but I don’t think she’s typical at all. I listen to her songs, and I listen to the lyrics and I read the lyrics and I’m so, so impressed that someone could be so prolific, and so special, at such a young age. So, you’re right. She’s anything but ordinary. She’s anything but typical. She just looks like a typical teen.”
Jane Pauley: “Is it what you wanted?”
Avril Lavigne: “Um, yes. It’s what I wanted. What I wanted was to be able to have like everybody in this world to know my music and I have tons of fans and that’s really cool. But there’s the whole like, you know, whole other side to it. Like promotion and photo shoots and all the press — that part’s kind of weird. But things don’t overwhelm me. And that’s why I can deal with it, that’s why I can handle the whole thing I guess. I think things will calm down though, you think so?”
Jane Pauley: “Not for a while.”
Avril Lavigne: “OK.”
Next month, Avril may pick up her first Grammy — if not her first five: Song of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Pop Vocal Album, and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Her second CD is due later this year — one she promises will “rock” even harder than her first.