At Rogers Arena on Monday, October 3
Unlike many teen stars who enter the pop world as babies and develop everything from drug habits to womanly curves under the microscope of the public, Avril Lavigne doesn’t appear to have changed a bit in nearly 10 years. Sure, the multiplatinum-selling recording artist has toured the world countless times, released four incredibly successful studio albums, developed her own fragrance and clothing line, and married and recently divorced fellow Canadian pop-punk frontman, Deryck Whibley, but something about Lavigne’s manufactured persona stunts her growth.
Decked out in a slightly mature version of the signature tomboy look that dubbed her the Anti-Britney in 2003, the singer walked onto the stage at Rogers Arena nearly 20 minutes after her scheduled start time, sporting combat boots, black pleather leggings, and an over-size tank top that hung loosely over her miniature frame. The sparse crowd, which was a mix largely teenage girls dressed exactly like Lavigne and their parental chaperones, shrieked with the excitement of a jam-packed arena.
The 27-year-old and her backing band (made up of what appeared to be middle-aged, L.A. session musicians) kick-started the show with the intro ballad “Black Star” off her latest album Goodbye Lullaby before blasting into the undeniably catchy single, “What the Hell”.
Lavigne bounced around the stage like a bratty child jumping on the bed, peppering her valley girl stage banter with the F-word, even throwing a one-handed cartwheel into the mix. It was hard to tell if she was a party animal who had just snorted a pile of cocaine or if she was just an immature woman trying her best to be peppy. Either way, her fans didn’t seem to notice the difference, as they were too busy singing along and waving their glow sticks.
Compared to fellow hockey rink headliners like Katy Perry, Christina Aguilera, and Gwen Stefani, Lavigne had a decidedly low-rent stage setup. There was no dramatic backdrop. No crazy light show. No dancers. No props. All you got was a disposable backing band, some velvet curtains and the tiny starlet. But although her voice started off slightly dry and raspy, it only strengthened as she powered out hits like “He Wasn’t”, “Don’t Tell Me”, “Girlfriend” and “When You’re Gone”.
Lavigne may not be the most engaging performer in the current fleet of pop princesses, but she does know how to satisfy her audience. Still, one would expect she’d be the master of preteen rebellion after a decade of flipping the bird at the world and sticking out her tongue for the cameras.
It’s this fraudulent effort at being badass that makes Lavigne impossibly annoying to anyone over 13, but irresistible to children. All of her half-baked attempts at legitimacy on this night—the opera-style stage curtains, the grand piano she sat on to sing a few mature ballads, the long-winded, gothic-flavoured musical interludes—were transparent to anyone over the legal drinking age.
As the set came to a close with “Smile” and “I’m With You”, it felt like watching the last half of Boogie Night: even though a few hard-core hangers-on are still toughing it out, this party is definitely over. And here’s the catch: it’s been over for a while. Every adult knows this, but Lavigne’s party isn’t for the adults or the critics, it’s for the excited teens who look to songs like “Tomorrow” and “Sk8er Boi” to be anthems for their pubescent confusion. Napanee, Ontario’s most famous Home Hardware shopper may not act her age, but she effectively panders to her audience, and that’s all that matters, because they are the ones extending her seemingly everlasting sweet sixteen.