Avril Lavigne hasn’t had a Top 10 single anywhere in the world since 2007’s “Hot,” and her latest single, titled “What The Hell,” isn’t likely to change that. Co-written by mega producer and songwriter Max Martin, this warmed-over slice of pop is peppy, but it sounds dated and it lacks the bite that made the best of the singer’s earlier work compelling.
And it takes a lot more to compete in today’s pop landscape than simple peppiness. When Lavigne emerged in 2002, she was something of a pop counterculture figure. She wasn’t just a singer, but a symbol for people—primarily girls and young women—who were beginning to reject the gloss of overexposed female icons like Brittney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Lavigne’s skater-punk style made her seem earthy in contrast, and her self-penned songs—full of attitude and spunk—sounded like nothing else on the radio at that time.
She wasn’t just alternative, she was an alternative.
Now, however, Lavigne is culturally irrelevant. Her style has hardly evolved since those days, and her musical style has actually devolved to the point where it’s almost as glossy as what she was once rallying against. “What The Hell” couldn’t be slicker, fleshed out by an even and consistent arrangement that sounds tired and uninspired.
For her part, Lavigne sings about “just wanting to mess around,” and that line follows the “I don’t give a damn” sentiment that underscored her earlier work. But there’s no conviction in her voice when she sings it, only resignation. By the time she gets to the hook, she sounds more defeated than defiant.
A pop song that’s neither interesting nor daring stands little chance for success, especially when its singer doesn’t have a built in audience. Since “What The Hell” does nothing to establish Lavigne as an artist with something to say that’s relevant to “right now,” it’s likely to be another notch in her growing list of chart disasters.