It’s Thursday, it’s 9am, and still bringing you all the hugest hits from the UK charts of two decades ago, it’s The Story of Pop: 2002. This week: the iconic debut of Canada’s pop punk princess of the 00s…
- Artist: Avril Lavigne
- Song: Complicated
- Released: 23/09/2002
- Writers / Producers: Avril Lavigne / Lauren Christy / Scott Spock / Graham Edwards / The Matrix
- Highest UK Chart Position: #3
- Weeks on Chart: 15
As we start to hurtle towards the end of this series – sad but true, pop fans, for there are only ten more stops on our pop revisitation train for 2002 after this week – there is one pattern we’ll start to see quite a lot more of. We actually saw it a couple of weeks ago on our entry for Busted.
Chiefly, we’ll be discussing either brand new acts who made their debut this year, or returning artists who released albums in this year, but who didn’t properly explode success wise with them until the year immediately afterwards (2003). And it’s the former case we’re dealing with for this week’s featured artist certainly.
Born in September 1984 in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, Avril Lavigne’s prodigious talent was obvious from the age of 2, when her parents clocked her singing “Jesus Loves Me” on the way home from church. They supported her singing throughout her childhood, so much so that her dad converted their basement into a home studio, complete with drums, keyboards, guitars and a microphone.
By the age of 14, she was singing at open mic karaoke nights and country fairs, usually performing covers of songs by Garth Brooks and Shania Twain. It was Shania Twain that was a big early influence on Avril, to the extent that she won a radio talent contest in 1999, her prize of which was to perform on stage with the “That Don’t Impress Me Much” hitmaker at one of her live shows.
That same year, she was discovered by her first manager, Cliff Fabri, again performing country covers at a bookstore in Kingston, Ontario. Fast forward a year later to 2000, and on a trip to New York she attracted the attention of Arista Records. L.A. Reid, the label’s CEO, promptly signed her up to a two album deal worth $1.25m with a $900k publishing advance. Avril then quit school, left her hometown and never looked back.
However, finding the sound that would be the basis of her debut album wasn’t an easy task to begin with; having just got into guitar based rock music, it was an obvious direction she wanted to take, but her early songs were almost a little too rocky to have wider appeal. But it was when she headed over to Los Angeles to work with the production team The Matrix, in May 2001, that she wrote and recorded the song with them that was about to change it all for her.
And really, there was no better song for her to launch with than “Complicated”. Avril described the song, saying that it was about being honest with yourself and others: “People sometimes bother me how they’re not real and how they’re just, like, putting on a face and being two-faced.” It was a statement of intent, as all good debut singles should be.
Certainly, she was something fresh for that time; with her skate kid wardrobe, rebellious outlook, self penned songs and an indefinable cool quota, she tapped into a generation that was coming out the other side of the pop explosion of the last five years, and delivered songs and live performances that, whilst still having pop sensibilities and melodies they could identify with, were rooted in something a little more grittier.
First released in Canada and North America in June 2002, along with her debut album Let Go, “Complicated” quickly shot up the Billboard Hot 100 to its peak position of #2. The UK followed in September, as after charting in the lower reaches of the top 75 on import sales alone (it peaked at #68), on full release it shot straight into the charts here at #3.
The Let Go album appeared in the UK top 10 the same week as the single, but it was further hits from the album that would really break Avril through here and across the world. Second single “Sk8er Boi” (now being planned, as we write this, to be turned into a musical inspired by the song) returned her to the top 10, peaking at #8 in December, and the sensitive torch ballad “I’m With You” entered at #7 in March the following year.
It all helped Let Go to eventually climb to number one in January 2003, where it stayed for three weeks, and it would spend over a year on the UK album charts, returning for an additional run in 2004 as her second album, Under My Skin, also topped the chart. Not only does it mean that Avril is still to this day the youngest solo female to have a number one album in the UK, but with 16 million copies sold since its release, it is also the biggest selling album worldwide by a Canadian artist of the 21st century.
Certainly, in the same way Britney Spears had broken down the barn door for a generation three years previously, so do did the breakthrough of Avril Lavigne in 2002 allow the likes of Lorde, Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo to follow in her footsteps, writing and releasing the music as young women that they wanted to make on their terms. It’s also why “Complicated” has held up phenomenally well these last two decades; mainly because you can tell it comes from the heart. And that’s a special thing for any artist.
Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 2002. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop2002.