Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why Did You Do This To Us, Avril Lavigne?

Posted by on Tue, Apr 22, 2014 at 4:25 PM

Avril Lavigne has never been an icon of artistic integrity. At her best, she sang relentlessly catchy mall-pop. At her worst...well, at her worst, there's the video for her new song, "Hello Kitty."

Avril Lavigne is turning 30 this year. That's all I could think as I watched this video and listened to this atrocious song which, if you listen carefully, is layered on top of a keening whine of apathy. She's turning 30 and she's dancing and singing in a video for a pop song that is, if anything, a regression from her 2007 single "Girlfriend." "Girlfriend" was at least confident about the kind of song it was—a pop perversion of punk, an adoption of the imagery, stance, and sound of punk music with all the edges shaved off.

"Hello Kitty" is every bad decision of the last ten years, all wrapped up in one video: The thoughtless appropriation of popular Japanese culture a lá Gwen Stefani and, later, Katy Perry; the half-baked dubstep drop; the lame "OMFG" in the lyrics; and the sad autotuned chorus. The shameless handling of race and culture is the worst offense, of course: The random shouting of Japanese words; the scene where Lavigne goes to eat sushi and drink sake; her crew of silent, emotionless backup dancers, all dressed exactly alike, who follow her everywhere; the weak kung fu moves integrated into the dance.

And everyone involved seems to know this is a bad idea. You can practically see the backup dancers rolling their eyes at everything going on around them. Lavigne looks actively uncomfortable for most of the video. She's way too old to be boasting about her mom not being home tonight. Her objectification of young Asian girls as "kitties" doesn't come across as a personal come-on; with her obvious awkwardness, Lavigne seems to be singing this song from the perspective of a white guy who only gets off on young Asian women. It's less about a particular person than treating certain people like a fetish, like something to be consumed. This is a song that I expect will be played in strip clubs for years to come, whenever young dancers with pseudonyms like "Asia" and "China" take the stage. It's sleazy and it's gross and it's racist and it's embarrassing to watch.

The response to this video has been unanimous: Everyone is disgusted. People are offended by the racial and cultural politics, they're nauseated by the lyrics and the shitty production, they're cringing in staggering numbers all over the world. I don't especially blame Lavigne for this song—she was credited for writing it, but she shared the writing credits with three (!) men, and it was produced by four (!) men. Wikipedia claims that Lavigne loves Hello Kitty products and Japanese culture. But you can't take a predilection for Hello Kitty products and turn it into something as wrong as this video. This video is the kind of wrong-headed, ahuman product that only comes from a committee, or more likely a committee constructed of other committees.

Lavigne has always been a conduit for the baser forces of the record industry, the mirror through which we learned what music executives saw in the music-buying public. Somewhere, someone thought we really wanted "Hello Kitty," that it was the song we were dying to hear. And maybe it is. Maybe we needed to look this corruption square in the face. Maybe we needed a high-water mark, something we could point to and say, "We don't need or want any more of that." Maybe that's the one good thing that can come from all this.

Listen, we've all been there. We've all done something for money that made us die a little inside. It's what we do after that moment that matters most. What the hell are you going to do next, Avril Lavigne?


Comments (23) RSS

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In this edition of old man Paul struggles with youth culture...
Posted by j2patter on April 22, 2014 at 4:34 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 2
sweet jesus, paul, just ignore it like you should ignore glenn beck. you're like the NYT, reviewing utter pop tripe as if it were high art.
Posted by Max Solomon on April 22, 2014 at 4:36 PM · Report this
I love the video! I think it's awesome! (Comment removed for trolling.)
Posted by Centrists Rule the World today on April 22, 2014 at 4:40 PM · Report this
wow that's a lot of thoughts about Avril Lavigne.

In her heyday (/my teens) I saw her perform for free in the Southcenter parking lot. It was as terrible as it sounds.
Posted by JLDR on April 22, 2014 at 4:44 PM · Report this
Emily Nokes 5
At least she's super fresh with that Skrillex haircut…

Posted by Emily Nokes on April 22, 2014 at 4:46 PM · Report this
Rhysling 6
I would like to hear David Schmader weigh in on this important issue.

Domo arigato Mr. Roboto!
Posted by Rhysling on April 22, 2014 at 4:59 PM · Report this
crap bag 7
She's married to dude from Nickelback.
Posted by crap bag on April 22, 2014 at 5:06 PM · Report this
One aspect of this whole debacle that might surprise you is that Avril Lavigne is actually tremendously popular in Japan. Upon living there for two years and working with a lot of students, it became clear that Avril is among the most popular of the "Western" artists and her music is widely accessible. I believe she's one of the most popular artists at karaoke joints too and one could actually choose between 70ish of her songs. The thought that Avril Lavigne even has that many songs out there in the pop culture universe is a pretty disconcerting fact.

Another element of interest is that, while her use of Japanese stereotypes is quite offensive here, I wouldn't be surprised if some of her nods to Japanese culture were actually appreciated by a portion of the Japanese population. In my encounters with some of my Japanese students that had never left the country, I was pretty shocked by how little they knew about other cultures - common questions included "Can you use chopsticks?", "Can you eat Japanese food?", and so on and so forth. The fact that she's shown herself eating sushi and using words like "kawaii" would probably get her a fair amount of admiration from her Japanese fanbase. While I'm not surprised that her song and video are being deemed as all sorts of crazy around here, I think it is interesting to note that some people in Japan might actually have a completely different reaction.

Ultimately, though, I think the best course of action is to follow the wise words of Paul Anka in that Halloween Episode of The Simpsons: just don't look, just don't look.
Posted by Maggie in Seattle (but formerly of Osaka) on April 22, 2014 at 5:07 PM · Report this
She'll probably perform next year at Coachella, and the dude bros will turn in their headdresses for rice paddy hats.



** (sad face, no it fucking won't)
Posted by Kelly O on April 22, 2014 at 5:14 PM · Report this
Posted by r.chops on April 22, 2014 at 5:17 PM · Report this
Made it 6 seconds...what a gawd-awful piece of dung. But hey, art is only one letter short of fart.
Posted by PapaKipChee on April 22, 2014 at 5:23 PM · Report this
" thoughtless appropriation of popular Japanese culture"

Japanese popular culture is thoughtless appropriation.
Posted by Hanna Gaijin on April 22, 2014 at 5:34 PM · Report this
Unregistered User 13
Felt like somebody went "How can I combine aspects of currently (sort of) pop stars like Ke$ha and Katy Perry to make some money"
Posted by Unregistered User on April 22, 2014 at 6:12 PM · Report this
While reading the lead in I was thinking "It couldn't POSSIBLY be that bad. This is just Paul not understanding something or other and I'm sure there's something redeemable."

Well, it is that fucking bad. Seriously, that was.......shit. Dog shit even. Damn, that was bad.
Posted by bassplayerguy on April 22, 2014 at 7:00 PM · Report this
yelahneb 15
What @2 said.

@Paul: Dude. It's not *for* you, or for me, or anyone else our age. It's for young people. You are simply playing the part of the Exasperated Old Person, who fumes at how These Damn Kids And Their Stupid Liking Of Things Is Ruining Everything.

Your predecessors hated punks and hippies and Beatlemania and Elvis and Jazz and on and on - everything that wasn't designed for you that you simply couldn't fathom as to why anyone would like it compared to thing Thing You Liked when *you* were young.

Anyway. Carry on.
Posted by yelahneb http://www.strangebutharmless.com on April 22, 2014 at 7:11 PM · Report this
Here, let me fix that for you, Paul:

Posted by robotslave on April 22, 2014 at 7:13 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 17

Here's every Avril Lavigne song ever written:

"The You I Can't Catch" by Avril Lavigne

Oh, yeah, they tell me I'm a pretty girl
Yeah, that's alrgiht I guess so
But you with your overcoat and boots.
I wanna know you oooh.

You're so advanced, in your army pants
That you make me want to crave
Come out your shell, I'm hot as hell
(British voice)
We'll go to a 90s style raaa-vveee
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://www.you-read-it-here-first.com on April 22, 2014 at 9:22 PM · Report this
Paul Pearson 18
In this edition of old man Paul struggles with youth culture...

I guarantee you at least one-third of the decisions about the production of this video, and probably more than half of those about the recording, were made by bored, cynical old men.
Posted by Paul Pearson on April 22, 2014 at 11:27 PM · Report this
nixor 19
video still available here: http://youtu.be/avMo9ssoQL0
Posted by nixor on April 23, 2014 at 10:59 AM · Report this
Why are adults paying attention to this?
Posted by Amanda on April 24, 2014 at 1:29 PM · Report this
She must be poor now. That's the only explanation.
Posted by JakeS on April 24, 2014 at 5:09 PM · Report this
Punk has always been the phoniest, shittiest, worst genre ever excreted from the most cynical record industry hacks of the 70s. It's the whitest music in history, the logical endgame of privilege combined with lack of talent. The tone deaf and vainglorious product of over-privileged white kids who couldn't figure how to play the guitar daddy bought for them after the divorce but made shitty sounds with it anyway. The kids who grew up with everything but were just so sad anyway.

Don't trust anyone over the age of 15 who thinks that punk is or ever was authentic. That person is a moron.
Posted by johnjjeeves on April 26, 2014 at 9:56 PM · Report this
The reaction of white men in America might be unanimous, but that doesn't mean it's what the world is saying.
Also, calling her racist while saying 'she's too old to be dressing like that'?!
Your commentary is as repugnant as that video.
Posted by Just a Girl in the World on April 27, 2014 at 9:27 AM · Report this

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