When we first watched Avril Lavigne’s new video clip, “Rock N Roll”, we once again bemoaned the tragically sexualised state of the music industry. Avril’s lesbian kiss with Danica McKellar in the middle of the clip seemed just another example of female singers mindlessly pandering to the patriarchy. Danica McKellar, by the way, is a child-actor-turned-mathematician (she graduated UCLA with a theorem named after her), who made a well-received Hollywood comeback as a guest star in The West Wing, only to plummet in our estimation by macking Avril onscreen – surely for the enjoyment of the male viewer.
Overtly sexual behaviour seems to be the norm in today’s music industry. Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball” are only the latest in an anti-feminist canon of increasingly degenerate behaviour onscreen by female role models. Of course, the jury’s still out on whether or not this kind of conduct is disempowering at all – many would suggest that these girls are taking ownership of their sexuality. But is simulating sex with garden implements or gyrating in leotards in front of older, married men really about sexual freedom for women? At least in Miley’s case, it seems to be more an extension of the objectification of women that feminists have fought against for decades. As Michael Hann notes in his blog on The Guardian, “the Wrecking Ball video doesn’t demonstrate a woman exploring her sexuality, it depicts a woman exploring the iconography of porn.” In the guise of emancipation, these girls seem to be pandering to the voracious sexual appetites of a patriarchal industry.
Once upon a time, Britney’s “Toxic” seemed to represent the peak of overt youth sexualisation, corrupting of loyal fans from her Mickey Mouse days who were not yet discerning enough to dismiss her behaviour as a gross Hollywood marketing stunt. And now, for Avril Lavigne to have capitulated to the demands of the industry? For girls like us, who once dressed up in ties and tank tops and had Total Girl posters of Avril Blu-Tacked to our bedroom walls, it was heart-breaking.
Avril once stood out from the bland blondes (think Hilary Duff, Delta Goodrem and Atomic Kitten), preaching a message of girl power. She subverted gender stereotypes by rocking guitar solos, setting film clips in skate parks, and wearing baggy cargoes. She appealed to our pre-teen inner tomboy, and we hear that her lyrics also rang true with our male peers. Recently reminiscing about his formative years, Will Mosley sighed, “When I first listened to ‘Complicated’ I thought, wow, I’ve never heard anything more true.”
This Avril seemed like a distant memory as we re-watched “Rock N Roll”, still at a loss to explain what was going on with that kiss? It was no scantily-clad twerking affair, but it was confronting because Avril represented our more innocent youth.
The bizarre plot line made it even harder to follow, portraying Avril as a comic book hero fighting a hybrid bear-shark monster. But we persevered, due to morbid fascination, and eventually came to a conclusion that surprised even us. Once we got past the killer lobster, Billy Zane on a flying Segway, and the shameless Sony product placement, we realised that it was actually pretty vintage Avril. There were punk outfits and guitar solos. In the opening lines, Avril declares “I don’t care about my make up” and “I don’t care if I’m a misfit.” If you’re not too distracted to hear it, that might be empowering. And the plot, though we missed it the first time round from laughing too hard, is about a girl crew fighting superhuman villains on a mission to save rock and roll, albeit getting close while doing so. Even the kiss, when viewed through a poststructural feminist framework, could perhaps be construed as a statement about queer rights. Is this a feminist anthem after all?