P!nk Figures Out How To Be Both A Brat And A Grown-Up

Earlier this week, Avril Lavigne's video for her new single "What The Hell"—which features the chronically rebellious singer making off with a taxi, plugging her perfume and clothing lines, and giving her intended a TSA-worthy junk-grab—debuted, and the debate over whether or not it represented a nadir for a certain type of pop-rebellious stereotype began. Popdust's Maura Johnston and Los Angeles Times music critic Ann Powers swap thoughts on the matters of Avril, P!nk, rebellion, and pop in an exchange that we'll be publishing over the next few days. Maura's first post is here; Ann's response is below.

Sweet Maura,

Thanks for leading me into a mid-day crying jag. I hadn't yet watched that P!nk video. It should come with a warning sticker for all current and former misfits: Rated RN, for the raw nerve it taps, the ache of outsiderness that's only cured by finding a chosen family that helps you nurture your personal strangely colored spark. Plus, the mom factor! That scene in the end, with our redeemed but still vulnerable heroine dreaming over her own little girl, silently swearing to not do what her mama accidentally did... I'm wrecked until it's time for my afternoon snack.

But then we'd expect that from mom-to-be Alecia Moore, a so-what-I'm-a-rock-star whose relationship to the money-making pop machine has always been contentions, and who justifies her return visits to Max Martin's hit factory in part by insisting that her buying public is a community. When I interviewed her for the L.A. Times last fall, P!nk kept returning to the subject of her fans, and her decision to focus as much on touring as on recording because she recognizes that the loyalty of real people sustains her in ways the payoffs of product placement do not. Here's a P!nk quote that I wished had made my final draft:

"I felt like a freak in my school, in my family, in the world. Then, as I started writing this stuff [her more confessional songs], and meeting people and connecting with these all-of-a-sudden fans…friends. Just like me. Kids just like me all around the world. I was like, oh, F– I'm going through the same thing everyone else is going through and that's why we're relating to each other."

P!nk has compassion. It's in the bluish purple swoop of her voice on a ballad; it's one of her driving motivations, and it's something that makes her different from maybe half of her diva/starlet competitors these days. She's been through the kiss-off phase (though she can't be that harsh of a heartbreak kid, considering the fact that the husband with whom she's now reunited actually appeared in the video for the song she wrote to tell him to sod off), and it seems that now she's focusing on more positive messages. It is sign of her genius—and of Martin's knack for finding the right affective outfit for every girl who enters his atelier—that this late in her career P!nk has figured out how to be both a brat and a grown-up lady, and to ride that combination to the top of the charts.

Avril, on the other hand, seems increasingly like a one-kick pony. I didn't think she could top the heartlessness of "Girlfriend," a stomper that equates homewrecking and girl power, but here she goes again. It all seems so forced, too, from the opening scene. Do punks, even pop punks, traipse around in matchy-matchy lingerie and apply multiple squirts of eau de toilette? And do you believe for a minute that the gal who married (and, okay, recently divorced) Sum 41's Deryck Whibley, who looks-wise is a little Sex Pistol, would let that Guess Jeans ad reject into her bed?

So the narrative fails from the start. There's no logic, not even dream logic, to it. And Avril makes a lousy Ke$ha, frankly. Though many call her morally corrupt, Ke$ha has a zany streak that feels joyful and genuinely liberationist. Even when she's throwing the rearview mirror out the window, Avril seems to be doing what she's been told by some bad advisors to do.

In general, I hate meanness for its own sake, and that's what I whiff in Avril's new song. But maybe I'm being overly sensitive? I had a few teddy bears tossed across the playground as a kid...

I didn't get to the larger issue here. Don't you think it all might have something to do with….(dreaded, despised term)… post-feminism?



Come back later today for Maura's response, and check out more of Ann's writing at the LA Times' Pop & Hiss blog.

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