Lav­i­gne re­fuses to grow up …or do we refuse to let her?

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - JEN ZORATTI

IN 2013, Avril Lav­i­gne put out a record no one cared about. That is, un­til a few days ago, when she re­leased the video for the self-ti­tled al­bum’s fifth sin­gle, Hello Kitty. The song is ba­si­cally one over­long ob­nox­ious cheer­leader chant that in­cludes such pres­ti­gious song­writ­ing award­bait­ing lines as “Let’s all slum­ber party/like a fat kid on a pack of Smar­ties” set to wildly ag­gres­sive dub­step. It some­how man­ages to out-in­sipid Re­becca Black’s Fri­day, the very bench­mark of in­sipid. And then we have the ac­com­pa­ny­ing con­tro­ver­sial video, which caused a firestorm on the In­ter­net this week. Al­legedly, Hello Kitty is sup­posed to be a homage to Lav­i­gne’s love of Ja­pan’s most iconic cat — al­though many have in­ferred she’s us­ing a dif­fer­ent fe­line metaphor al­to­gether — and, as such, the video is billed as (sigh) “a cel­e­bra­tion of Ja­panese cul­ture.” In other words, it’s a hor­ri­fy­ing Tech­ni­color col­lage of stereo­types — right down to the en­tourage of un­smil­ing, in­fan­tilized Ja­panese women. This is the lat­est in a long list of cul­ture-as-cos­tume, people-as-props mu­si­cal of­fences; Mi­ley Cyrus, Katy Perry and Lily Allen have all been re­cently crit­i­cized for cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion be­cause ap­par­ently no one learned any­thing from Gwen Ste­fani’s Hara­juku phase. Lav­i­gne’s re­sponse to the crit­i­cism? “RACIST??? LOLOLOL!!! I love Ja­panese cul­ture and I spend half of my time in Ja­pan. I flew to Tokyo to shoot this video... specif­i­cally for my Ja­panese fans, WITH my Ja­panese la­bel, Ja­panese chore­og­ra­phers AND a Ja­panese di­rec­tor IN Ja­pan.” Her lat­est al­bum — which has the worst sales fig­ures of her ca­reer in North Amer­ica — went plat­inum in Ja­pan, so the “I spend half my time in Ja­pan” part is prob­a­bly at least half-true. But she might as well have added, “some of my clos­est friends are Ja­panese!” It’s puz­zling that some­one who pro­fesses to love Ja­panese cul­ture would rely on such base car­i­ca­tures, but her in­ad­e­quate re­sponse un­der­scores an­other strik­ing thing about this video: Lav­i­gne’s breath­tak­ing im­ma­tu­rity.

At 29, she’s still ev­ery bit the petu­lant teen she was back in 2002, when she pre­tended to defe­cate in the mall in the video for Com­pli­cated. A grow­nass woman singing about a cartoon cat and slum­ber par­ties in a cup­cake tutu is more than a lit­tle em­bar­rass­ing — but it’s not sur­pris­ing. Lav­i­gne is a prod­uct of the pop ma­chine. It’s a mine­field out there for fe­male pop stars. They get to be Good Girls (like Tay­lor Swift) or Bad Girls (like Ri­hanna). Of course, ab­so­lutely no one can fit within that Madonna/Madonna bi­nary, so ev­ery­one loses. Our cul­ture has set up some pretty im­pos­si­ble pa­ram­e­ters. It fetishizes vir­gin­ity — see: the un­so­licited hy­men up­dates we re­ceived about early-ca­reer Jes­sica Simp­son and Brit­ney Spears — while, at the same time, sex­u­al­izes girls and in­fan­tilizes women. (If a pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words, then Spears’ now-clas­sic late-’90s Rolling Stone cover — for which she’s pos­ing sug­ges­tively with the pur­ple Tele­tubby — is the Mona Lisa of this con­cept.) Be sexy, but not too sexy — be­cause then you’re a slut, and no one likes a slut. But un­like, say, Mi­ley Cyrus — who shed her squeaky-clean, child­like Han­nah Mon­tana im­age and has been ex­plor­ing her sex­u­al­ity and wom­an­hood — Lav­i­gne has never gone through a fraught pe­riod of pub­lic self-dis­cov­ery and rein­ven­tion, sex­ual or other­wise. She’s the Peter Pan of pop­u­lar mu­sic, her ado­les­cence in per­pe­tu­ity. She clings to her bratty, pouty teenage im­age likely be­cause it used to make her lots and lots of money. Lav­i­gne isn’t stupid — nor is she likely a racist. She just hasn’t quite fig­ured out where she fits in a game that has an ev­er­chang­ing set of rules. Which brings us to Hello Kitty. It sees Lav­i­gne per­pet­u­at­ing all kinds of stereo­types — about Ja­panese cul­ture, yes, but also about fe­male pop stars, too. We have a woman per­form­ing as a sex­u­al­ized teen girl, giv­ing us what she thinks we want. If some­one never evolves, her mu­sic can’t. And if some­one, some­where out there keeps buy­ing what Lav­i­gne’s sell­ing, her mu­sic won’t.


A scene from Lav­i­gne’s con­tro­ver­sial Hello Kitty video. She has dis­missed sug­ges­tions that the im­ages are of­fen­sive.

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