At a time when Top 40 radio was busy figuring out the more adult-oriented pop sensibilities of teen queens Britney, Christina and Jessica Simpson, a young Canadian woman made her way onto the airwaves serving as quite possibly the perfect antithesis to this sound. Twenty years ago, on this day, Avril Lavigne released her debut single “Complicated.” It was a song that would bring rock back into the mainstream and for the first time since Alanis Morissette in the mid-Nineties, we’d hear guitar-driven pop be performed again by a woman top the charts.
As simple as it may sound, “Complicated” was anything but. Lavigne had been signed to Arista Records in 2000 by then label CEO, Antonio “L.A.” Reid. As her audition was routed in a more Faith Hill/Shania Twain country vibe, there was an expectation from the label that her work with top songwriters would result in a country-folk vibe. Despite multiple sessions, nothing seemed to work for Lavigne who had since become more of a fan of guitar-rock than this style.
Lavigne was nearly on the verge of being dropped before she came to the attention of the production trio the Matrix in Los Angeles. Their work together seemed to finally fit what Lavigne had envisioned and a sound that matched the attitude she’d been developing over the course of her signed journey. Together, they created a rock-punk-pop hybrid that felt authentic to who Lavigne was and her label seemed to agree with Reid, happy with a final musical direction for his artist and “Complicated” being set as the debut single from her album Let Go.
The single seemingly exploded out of the flood gates. The track instantly connected at radio, climbing all the way to number two on the Billboard Hot 100, where it stayed for more than 30 weeks.
The single went platinum, hitting Number one on the Mainstream Top 40 chart and earning Lavigne two Grammy nominations in the process for Song of the Year and Best Pop Female Vocal Performance.
The single heralded a new star and Lavigne has never looked back. Fueled by the success of “Complicated,” Lavigne’s debut album became one of the biggest success stories of 2002 and peaked at #2 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart. Subsequent releases like “Sk8er Boi,” “I’m With You” and “Losing Grip” would all become hits for the singer who single-handedly spearheaded an Anti-Britney movement by offering up anti-formulaic formula that would go on to inspire a generation of younger artists.
In addition to a hit song, “Complicated” was known for its music video that was directed by the Malloys. The video commences with Lavigne asking her bandmates if they want to go and “crash” the mall. The band agrees and they skateboard their way there. The video then features Lavigne and her band harassing shoppers and employees of the mall creating chaos, intercut with the singer performing the track at a skater park as others ride around her. The video won the singer Best New Artist at the MTV Music Video Awards and is still remembered today for its IDGAF vibe.
While Lavigne’s career soared through the 2000s, it had stalled over the past several years. Her latest album Love Sux featuring collaborations with Blackbear and Machine Gun Kelly makes it ever so clear that Lavigne can still rock with the best of them and has no plans to slow down. The album has garnered Lavigne some of the best reviews of her career with many marking it a return to her Let Go days.
Lavigne’s legacy has been cemented over the years with the number of female artists she has inspired. Last year’s breakthrough artist Olivia Rodrigo and her hit “Good 4 U” was nothing short of a 2021 update to Lavigne’s pop-punk style, and rising stars like Chelsea Collins (incidentally also signed by Reid) wouldn’t get the same level of creative independence, if not for Lavigne’s persistence to match her style with her music.
“Complicated” still feels fresh 20 years later and that’s the true brilliance of the track. Here’s to Lavigne’s track continuing to simply get us all a little “punked” up.