Avril Lavigne has been all over the press the past two days for all the wrong reasons. Her tone-deaf video for new single, “Hello Kitty,” is already a leading contender for worst video of the year… so bad that YouTube yanked it (although it is still up on Lavigne’s website; you can watch it here while you chuck cupcakes and roll around in your underwear.
The nearly unlistenable EDM track is meant for Hello Kitty aficionados only (Lavigne, herself, being one), and the video features Lavigne awkwardly lip-syncing through the song backed by robot-like, expressionless Asian women. Didn’t she learn from Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls experience that even if you mean their inclusion as an homage (perhaps in this case, to Lavigne’s massive Asian following), it’s going to backfire?
The truth is that Lavigne has been on a bit of a downward slope even before “Hello Kitty.” She’s a global superstar, having sold more than 35 million albums and having won eight Juno Awards, but she’s struggled at radio lately. Her last top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 was “Girlfriend” in 2007, which went all the way to No. 1. So far, the highest a single from current album has risen is No. 20 for first single, “Here’s To Never Growing Up.”
Here are five steps she needs to take to get her career back on track:
1. Decide if she wants to make music anymore. On her latest self-titled album, it feels like Lavigne is calling it in from some very remote location. First single, “Here’s To Never Growing Up,” which recalled her brat punk past, wasn’t a good fit for anyone over 21. “Rock n Roll” was better, but it felt empty instead of fun, and it peaked at No. 91. The best track, “Let Me Go,” a lovely ballad with her husband, Chad Kroeger, didn’t get the attention it deserved, and current single, “Hello Kitty,” is a misfire in every way. The album felt like it was made by someone with one foot out the door.
2. Stop being in her own videos: It’s not just the “Hello Kitty” video that is horrific. (And if you want to read a piece that really doesn’t pull any punches about the clip, check this one out). Lavigne has never seemed comfortable in her videos. That’s OK, some artists just aren’t. In fact, most of the time, she looks distinctly unhappy to be there and like she can’t wait for it to be over. The exception seem to be the ballads, such as the video for “Wish You Were Here,” from 2011’s “Goodbye Lullaby” album or the aforementioned “Let Me Go” clip. But some of her other clips are cringeworthy in that her reluctance is palpable.
3. Figure out who she is as an artist and what she wants to say: When she first burst on the scene in 2002, through songs like “Complicated,” “Sk8ter Boi” and “I’m With You,” we instantly understood who she was: a snot-nosed teenage kid with both attitude and heart. She was a toasty marshmallow: crusty on the outside, but soft on the inside. Over the years, she’s thrown us, veering in different directions and taking long breaks. She needs to find a producer who can take her vision and where she is now — as a married, 29-year old— and capture that instead of leaving her and us dangling and a little confused, like the last few albums have done.
4. Sell herself on the road: Lavigne hits the concert trail this summer with the Backstreet Boys. It seems like an odd pairing to me: the only thing they have in common is that they were having hits at approximately the same time. Regardless, it’s Lavigne’s opportunity to show her fans and BSB’s fans that she still wants to be in the game, that getting before an audience and performing these songs that many of them grew up on is enjoyable to her and that she lives to be on that stage and wants to keep doing it.
5. Find a way to communicate more effectively: Lavigne now has a perception problem. I interviewed her a few months ago and she was lovely and friendly. I was struck by the difference in my perception of her as a somewhat remote artist versus the warmth she displayed in the interview, especially when she talked about her fans and what they mean to her and how much she loves being on stage. Somehow, the fact that she may actually enjoy what she does has gotten lost. She needs to find a way, either through more interviews, TV appearances, some other method, to get that across.