Avril Lavigne has gone rather spectacularly downhill in the last decade, with such legendarily bad song as “Girlfriend”, “Here’s to Never Growing Up”, and “Hello Kitty”. Because of this, it’s easy to forget that her first album was for the most part excellent. This song, the lead single and biggest hit from that album, is in particular all too easy to take for granted because it is one of those classic popular songs who have such a seemingly guileless simplicity on the surface that it almost obscures their deeper meaning. In reality, this is the definitive anthem of the spirit of Generation X…not anything by Nirvana, or Pearl Jam, or Alanis Morissette, or any of the defining acts of the genre’s heyday, but this 2002 mainstream Pop hit by a singer who, according to the standard definition, isn’t even part of that generation herself. But it articulates two profound and interrelated truths that Generation X, for all the flack they get, seemed to understand better than any other generation of our lifetime. The first is that trying to be something you’re not is invariably futile. The second is that life is what it is, and working yourself into a frenzy about its supposed injustices doesn’t really change anything in the long run. In a sense, “Chill out/whatcha yellin’ for?/Lay back/it’s all been done before” is just a shrugging, slightly cynical expression of the same universal truth that Taoism teaches. As I said, Generation X had a handle on these truths, but our current generation seems determined to repudiate them as blasphemy, particularly regarding the latter of the two. That’s why I consider this song the last great manifestation of Generation X’s disaffected wisdom in popular music, and quite possibly in mainstream culture in general. Like Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, this is essentially a statement of a profound truth so thoroughly disguised as a conventional Pop song that it takes careful and close attention to truly realize the brilliance behind it. That’s why, even if Lavigne’s career had maintained her first album’s level of quality, this song would still probably stand as her primary legacy.
Verdict: Not only deceptively brilliant, but full of the kind of wisdom the world could frankly use more of right now.