A confident, preternaturally smart nine-year-old from the burbs, Annie's my date for the massive Avrilstravaganza at the Air Canada Centre. "Avril's real," beams Annie. "She's funny and smart and pretty." I ask her how she knows so much about Lavigne's personality. She hasn't seen any interviews with the singer, but she claims she can "tell from the music." Ah, the celebrity machine in action.
We're surrounded by teeming masses of preteen girls, squealing girls, whining girls. Six-year-olds clutching their tired-eyed moms' hands, too cool tweeners with glitter on their baby-faced cheeks. The estro-charged adrenaline coursing through the throngs makes it feel like we're waiting for the bus on the first day of all-girl overnight camp. With few exceptions, the li'l ladies are dolled up proto-punk style in saggy-ass pants and sparkly studded cuffs.
It's a girl-powered arena rawk show.
I'll admit it: I wanted to be an Avril hater at first. It's not because I'm jaded past the point of appreciating good bubblegum pop. And it's not that I begrudge her the badass skate-punk shtick she works in every interview, although I wish she'd take a few lessons in giving good sound bite. But I'm sick to death of the young-girl-as-spectacle trend that's been littering mainstream culture in recent memory. I hate the thought of yet another pubescent lass stuck onstage to be stared at and served up for fantasy consumption.
That said, there's something different about Lavigne. The more I hear the annoyingly catchy strains of Sk8r Boi on the radio or see her flashing the devil sign on the covers of glossy mags or trashing malls in video clips, the less antagonistic I feel. If pop music's all about selling an image, I'd rather see one of a brazen babe fucking with convention than a slutty less-than-legal tramp gyrating in pools of fake sweat. Could it be that Lavigne's actually -- gasp! -- a right-on role model for little wannabe rock-star girls?
Annie thinks so.
"Avril's a billion times better than Britney. I don't like the way Britney tries so hard to be pretty. It's fake. If I were a singer I wouldn't make myself into something I wasn't." In a culture rife with eating disorders and body image issues, I'm relieved to hear a young girl articulate such self-confidence. Don't get me wrong, it's not that Lavigne doesn't represent the mythic ideal. She's skinny, blond and blue-eyed, after all.
But when I gaze on thousands of prepubescent girls dressed like Lavigne instead of miniature sex kittens, cheering and pumping their fists in the air, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. When it comes down to it, Lavigne's showing little girls that it's OK -- and attractive -- to be a butch tough chick, and that it's OK to be a kid. And her tiny stab at subversive, quasi-feminist gender-fuck is awfully cool to see plastered all over the mainstream media.