Originally written and published by me for PopMatters.
When Avril Lavigne released her last studio album Head Above Water in 2019 (three years ago give or take a decade), it drew heavy inspiration from her battle with Lyme disease and the time the singer had spent out of the spotlight. That record contained some of her most personal and exemplary work, but due to near minimal promotion it didn’t receive the level of mainstream attention it deserved—arguably because the pop punk fanbase that Lavigne first cultivated in the early 2000s grew up and forgot about her in the six years between her fifth and sixth albums.
But that didn’t seem to matter, because Head Above Water felt like a full circle journey for the fans that did stick around and had grown up to her music. As essayist Anne T. Donahue put it at the time, “I’d like to think that she’s learned from her questionable trajectory and come to be comfortable in her own, grown-ass skin in the way most of us tend to. Pop culture has already taught us that you can’t go home again — but maybe there’s still a part of that conflicted teen ready to merge with the person she’s grown into.” But if there’s one takeaway from the singer’s new record Love Sux, which works overtime to capitalize on the current nostalgia for the pop punk of the early aughts fueled by TikTok teens, it’s that pop culture refuses to let Avril Lavigne grow up, regardless of whether she wants to.
Lavigne had set the bar high for Love Sux with the release of “Bite Me” as its lead single last November, easily one of her best singles, and even higher with the Blackbear collaboration “Love It When You Hate Me” in January. Sure, it’s more than obvious that the songs’ noticeably short running times were designed for marketing on a certain social media app where the kids hang out these days. It was also clear that Lavigne was diving head first into her roots for her next album as her debut record turns 20 this year and enters its golden age of nostalgic rebranding. But if there’s one thing that the singer has always gotten right, it’s the tasteful blend of power anthems and ballads ideally located on a pop album. Love Sux is sorely lacking this signature Lavigne trait.
We also so easily forget that this is not the first time the singer has “returned to her roots.” Her 2013 self-titled album, her last before the aforementioned Lyme disease fight, was riddled with songs like “Rock N Roll,” “Here’s to Never Growing Up,” and “Bitchin’ Summer” in an attempt to continue enticing her aging fanbase. It worked because Lavigne didn’t lose herself too much in the songs, and you believed that she herself was really choosing to never grow up. On Love Sux, it feels like returning to her roots for a punk/power pop album was presented to her as the best way to generate streams and benefit from a resurgence of the music from her youth—despite the fact that the pop punk found here sounds nothing like the post-grunge alt rock of Let Go or Under My Skin.
Lavigne’s talent has always been providing depth beyond the emo screams—she reels you in with “My Happy Ending” or “Girlfriend” and makes you stay for “Fall to Pieces” or “When You’re Gone.” Love Sux has no such hook, providing little beyond the headbanging cries of “Bite Me” or the title track. Its deepest offering is “Avalanche,” a wannabe mental health and wellness ballad. But already knowing full well what Lavigne is capable of musically and lyrically from the weight of Head Above Water, its lyrics come across as glib and immature at best. There are other highlights that could serve as decent singles, like “Déjà Vu,” but the ability to stay interested is fleeting—much like social media trends.
Ahead of its release, Lavigne described Love Sux as “a love letter to women,” and that she sought out to make something quick and fun following the heaviness of Head Above Water. “I just wanted to have fun, have a good time, and make an upbeat record,” she said. “I have a silly personality, so even though I’m talking about how love sucks — and I really, truly was feeling that way, burnt out and jaded on love, when I started this album — it’s very lighthearted and there’s a sense of humor in the songs.” She also lamented to the fact that she had the freedom to create what she wanted as she was yet again between labels and management, so she envisioned an ode to the punk-infused groups she grew up listening to. But the end result is unfortunately an algorithm-appeasing record that feels like the most impersonal Lavigne has ever been.
The implication beneath the Internet hype generated by the singer’s new music over the last few months is that she’s only interesting when she’s catering to the fans who knew every word to “Sk8er Boi” growing up but didn’t stick around much beyond that. It’s far from the truth, considering Lavigne’s true strength has always been emotional punches. But even if it was Lavigne’s intention to make something short and silly, it speaks to a larger mainstream conversation of the supposed limits surrounding women’s ability to remain interesting in pop culture. Love might indeed suck, but we know that Avril is capable of so much more.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Love Sux: “Bite Me,” “Love It When You Hate Me,” “Love Sux,” “Avalanche,” “Déjà Vu,” and “F.U.”