It’s complicated: Avril Lavigne’s 20 best songs – ranked!

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20. Here’s to Never Growing Up (2013)

Depending on your perspective, Here’s to Never Growing Up was either a welcome return to basics or Avril Lavigne slipping into wilful self-parody: the video had her skateboarding around the school corridors and causing havoc at senior prom, despite the fact she was 28 years old. Either way, it’s got a big old earworm chorus.

19. Hot (2007)

Producer Dr Luke was at the height of his hitmaking powers when Lavigne availed herself of his services. He proved his worth with the fantastic Girlfriend, but Hot was a commercial disappointment in the US – which was odd, because it’s a very hooky single, its shifts from new wave chug to pop-nu-metal chorus tidily handled.

18. Tell Me It’s Over (2019)

An intriguing diversion from the Head Above Water album as Lavigne does 50s pop balladry, with soulful backing vocals. You wonder if she’d been paying attention to Lana Del Rey – the twanging guitar suggests so – although she swaps out LDR’s trademark blank-eyed vocal for something more straightforwardly emotive.

17. Wish You Were Here (2011)

A surprisingly unassuming collaboration with Max Martin and Shellback. You can recognise the Swedish pop powerhouse touch in the song’s deft melody, but it eschews sonic fireworks for a relatively understated acoustic strum; the chorus is big without straying into stadium anthem territory.

16. He Wasn’t (2004)

The closest Lavigne’s second album, Under My Skin, came to the sound of Sk8er Boi, He Wasn’t is that rarest of things: a pop-punk song that complains about the poor manners of men who decline to hold the door open for ladies. Notice is served that we’re perhaps not dealing with punk rock of a kind Black Flag may have understood, but still – great chorus.

15. Anything But Ordinary (2002)

None-more-teenage lyrics – “sometimes I get so weird, I even freak myself out … I’d rather be anything but ordinary” – set to one of Let Go’s more restrained backdrops: acoustic guitars, hazy backing vocals, taut mid-tempo new wave-ish rhythm. For any listeners not gripped by adolescent angst, it’s all about the melody, which is authentically lovely.

14. Head Above Water (2019)

The title track of an album that represented a diversion for Lavigne – it largely eschewed pop and mall-punk affectations for straight-ahead AOR – was a hit on the US Christian Rock charts. Detailing her struggle with Lyme disease, it’s both a punchy and classy example of type, although she reverted back to more standard territory thereafter.

13. Breakaway (2002/2022)

Breakaway was recorded for Lavigne’s debut album, but dropped – too folky or country-ish in tone, one suspects – then donated to American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, who had a hit with it. Lavigne’s original version was finally released in 2022; it’s a great track that suggests a musical path she could have followed, but never did.

12. Bite Me (2021)

As its title suggests, the whole point of Lavigne’s 2022 album Love Sux was to evoke memories of her early pop-punk hits, which the single Bite Me does remarkably well. It’s punchy, taut, polished and driven along by the powerful drumming of her new label boss, Blink-182’s Travis Barker.

11. Losing Grip (2002)

In 2002, no one would have picked Let Go as the kind of album that would exert an influence over pop decades on, but a lot of it, including its title track, sounds weirdly current in 2024. Its guitar-heavy sound and accusatory lyrical tone feel like a precursor to Olivia Rodrigo et al.

10. Don’t Tell Me (2004)

Neatly done Alanis-esque bitterness and fury hooked to a lyric that preaches sexual abstinence – or at least the benefits of not being pressured into sex – to Lavigne’s female teenage cohort, Don’t Tell Me occasioned a degree of mockery on release, but she was writing about something directly relevant to her fans’ lives.

9. Keep Holding On (2006)

Written for the forgotten fantasy movie Eragon – which co-starred, if you can believe this, Joss Stone as a witch with a pet werecat called Solembum – Keep Holding On has a suitably epic end-credits feel that works as well as the final track on The Best Damn Thing as it would in a cinema.

8. Sk8er Boi (2002)

An idea so simple you wonder that no one had done it before: perky pop-punk aimed squarely at tweens, with lovelorn comic-strip lyrics, don’t-judge-by-appearances moral at the end, a little rounded-edge rebellion in the video and a neat fourth-wall-breaking twist in the final verse.

7. Nobody’s Home (2004)

One suspects Lavigne might have been listening to the mid-90s Cranberries before coming up with Nobody’s Home – just listen to the swooping, very Dolores O’Riordan-esque vocal. Regardless of what influenced it, it’s a fantastic song, a saga of a teenage runaway that surges into an in-your-face chorus.

6. What the Hell (2011)

In a sense, this Max Martin co-write feels like a dry run for the songwriter/producer’s subsequent work with Taylor Swift: a 21st-century pop take on new-wave rock, not a million miles from Swift’s 1989. There’s a hint of 60s garage in the reedy organ sound and the chorus is great.

5. When You’re Gone (2007)

Lavigne had a tendency to present her third album, The Best Damn Thing, as evidence of her new auteur status – “I did this record on my own, I didn’t have anyone involved but me” – which was a bit rough on its team of co-writers and producers. But no matter. When You’re Gone is a fantastically polished, lighters-out stadium anthem.

Avril Lavigne with Travis Barker in 2021. View image in fullscreen

4. I’m With You (2002)

For all the punky affectations, there was a lot of straightforward mainstream US rock on Let Go. Moreover, that was something Lavigne and her co-writers were skilled at and there’s a compelling argument that the power balladry of I’m With You is far more potent and convincing than the album’s lunges towards Green Day territory.

3. My Happy Ending (2004)

Growing up in public was always going to be tough for Lavigne – eventually, she just gave up trying – but her darker-hued second album suggested she might make it work. My Happy Ending is its highlight; a killer post-grunge rock ballad, emotionally tougher and bleaker than anything on her debut.

2. Girlfriend (2007)

Girlfriend is the kind of bubblegum pop that songwriting duo Chinn and Chapman would have been proud to put their name to in the 70s. It’s heavily indebted to Toni Basil’s cheerleading banger Mickey – with a sprinkling of Suzi Quatro and the bratty Blondie of Rip Her to Shreds – and stuffed with hooks. A fabulous single.

1. Complicated (2002)

Sixteen million copies of her debut album sold or not, you may have assumed that Lavigne’s success would be short-lived. Twenty-two years later, she’s still here, accompanied by a new generation of artists – some of them infants when she broke out – attesting to her influence and impact. Her ability to transcend novelty appeal had less to do with Sk8er Boi’s clever contrivance than it did with songs like Complicated. It repurposed grunge angst for a tween audience, but was far more melodically and emotionally powerful than its mall-rat video suggested. The lyrics, about the dangers of playing roles, carry a hint of the Who’s Substitute or Disguises.


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