The cultural reset that was Avril Lavigne’s ‘Sk8er Boi’



Can I make it any more obvious?

The first time I remember seeing Avril Lavigne’s music video for the rock chick anthem, ‘Sk8er BoiI was six. Being born at the tail end of the ’90s, my childhood was a distinct time for female icons in music. I was already accustomed to watching The Girls (Britney, Beyoncé, the Bratz Rock Angels) dance across the screen during Sunday morning Rage.

But when the opening thrashes of the electric guitar sounded through our ancient TV speakers, I knew Avril was going to be important. I was reminded of this two years later when mum presented me and my sister with a secondhand Playstation and a copy of SingStar Popworld. 

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When I saw ‘Sk8er Boi’ as a duet option, it occurred to me that I too had been longing to “rock out and throw shit around”. In the lead-up to adolescence, the angst had already begun to bubble under the surface – but Avril got me. My sister and I would sing it into the Playstation microphones every day, twice a day until Dad informed us the disk had mysteriously disappeared.

I wasn’t the only one who identified with Avril’s unapologetically grungy persona. Across the globe, millions of teenagers were brooding (in a rock chick way) to the Canadian singer’s debut album, Let Go. Featuring iconic bangers like ‘Complicated’, ‘I’m With You’ and most importantly, ‘Sk8er Boi’, Let Go was a cultural reset.

We loved Avril because she was, at her teenage core, just one of us – a boy-crazy 16-year-old who quit her job at the chicken shop to pursue bigger dreams. Looking out to a sea of neat haircuts, braces and clarinet cases, I longed for my very own punk (I did ballet). I desperately wanted to see him rockin’ on MTV, despite the fact that even if this figurative young man was on MTV I wouldn’t be able to view the performance (cable was a little too pricey).

On year four free dress days, the girlies were separated into two categories: the Avril listeners, and the non-punk normies. As Fashion Journal’s Digital Editor, Cait Emma Burke, so eloquently puts it, “Seeing the Let Go album cover for the first time – with its shamelessly grungy aesthetic and Avril dressed in the baggiest low waist pants and fattest skater shoes, something I’d never before seen a woman wearing in mainstream media – ignited the rabid rock chick inside of me.”

On mufti day Fridays, those rabid rock chicks were unleashed on the grounds of my Catholic primary school. We unchained ourselves from the shackles of our starched uniforms and went ‘Sk8er Boi’ feral – an army of pre-teens with eyelids covered in our mums’ black eyeshadow, jorts held up only by the studded belts that were sold out at Jay Jays stores across the country.

Over in New Zealand, Cait was experiencing the same phenomena. “I recall watching the music video for ‘Complicated’ in awe – when you’ve been raised on a diet of sugary sweet pop and stars that seemingly prioritised being desirable and appealing to men above all else, seeing Avril wreaking havoc in the mall with a bunch of skater guys felt particularly subversive,” she explains to me. “Like many pre-teenage and teenage girls, I suddenly felt able to dress in a more messy, grungy manner. Because of her I saved up my measly pocket money and bought a leather wristband (yes, really) and a necklace with a red electric guitar dangling from it. I also definitely wore my dad’s neckties and applied some DIY studs to old belts.”

While the song’s subject focused on a man (and a skater, no less) ‘Sk8er Boi’ was, in essence, a feminist anthem. Avril proved to a generation of young people that it was okay to experiment with androgyny, to step outside of the perceived ideas of ‘girl behaviour’ and get a little bit grimy. “For me, Let Go is still one of those albums I can listen to in its entirety,” Cait says.

“So many memories are tied to her music, and the part of me that is still unashamedly a ‘rock chick’ will always feel connected to Avril. She was my gateway drug to so many artists that shaped me into who I am – Bikini Kill, The Breeders, PJ Harvey, Alanis Morisette – and led to me learning the electric guitar and starting a particularly cringey band in high school.” As Cait explains so well, Avril was, for that particular generation, often the first example of an edgy, uninhibited female icon.

“Avril was the first time 9-year-old-me heard female rage, infatuation, boredom and angst channelled in an authentic and relatable way, and I knew I wanted more from where that came from,” Cait says. And good news for rock chicks – retired or otherwise – everywhere, Avril is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Let Go with a special re-release of the album, expanded with six new bonus tracks. It’s about time studded belts and fat skater shoes had a comeback, no?

For more on the re-release of Let Go, head here.

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