Go, Canada: How Avril Lavigne Reclaims Her Pop Punk Roots With “Bite Me”
Imagine a typical Western. I know it’s a rich genre full of strong, individual stories and themes, but for a second, allow me to just boil it down to a basic trope. There’s often a scene where an elder gunslinger, who was the best in their day, is being mocked by the younger generation. It’s easy from their vantage point, after all, they may have heard the stories, they may know them by reputation, but they’ve never seen what the gunslinger can do. It’s instinctual for the younger generation to boast, brag and seek to proves themselves better than what came before. It’s natural. Every generation does it, and the gunslinger did it too. In this scene, the younger would-be outlaws start to make fun of the gunslinger, calling them washed up and out of touch. The gunslinger doesn’t flinch, they mind their own business, but the challenge has been made, even if unspoken. The younger folk have been having some target practice, and the gunslinger, as the collective mocking falls on deaf ears, shoots every single target without so much as lifting their eyes.
This is essentially what Pride of Canada Avril Lavigne just did with her new single, “Bite Me.”
It’s not a perfect analogy, granted, but still a scenario worth imagining, because it’s not that far off, either. We are in the middle of a pop punk revival. It’s been building for a few years, but now has simply taken off. New artists are reimagining and revitalizing an era of music that had been thought long dead, and often with terrific results. Then there’s Avril Lavigne, who had never quite left any particular style behind, but certainly evolved as an artist over time, as is natural. Take the personal power ballad “Head Above Water” or even “I Fell in Love With the Devil,” which is still distinctly pop, but a far cry from the fast-paced jams that skyrocketed her popularity through the aughts. Now she’s come wading back into a genre that she helped create and it’s like she never left. So many more celebrated, iconic artists have attempted to return to a style that made them famous, and the results are rarely even half this good. This is exact. “Bite Me” sounds ripped from the early albums. In particular, if you had told me it was a forgotten track from The Best Damn Thing, I would not have questioned it for a second.
This is Avril Lavigne, once pretty frequently described as the Pop Punk Queen, slipping right back into that persona just to show that she can, to clearly display that it’s still there, and that she’s still—frankly—the best. That’s not to say that I think Avril Lavigne is the best pop punk artist we’ve ever had, but at the specific thing that she did—which is so hard to describe, but at the same time, so distinct—there was no one better. With “Bite Me,” she has stepped back into her old ways, and crushes it, and even though I’m positive it’s anything but effortless, it certainly feels that way.
At the same time, while “Bite Me” sounds identical to the pop punk Lavigne was doing at her peak, there are still some stark, smart differences. Let’s look at some of the similar themes that ran through her music back in the day. As great as she was at the height of the 2000s pop punk era, a lot of her most popular songs were about campaigning for a guy’s attention. Whether it’s someone they want to be more invested in the relationship or someone they simply want to notice them, it’s rampant in hits ranging from “Complicated” to “My Happy Ending” to “Girlfriend” and more. “Sk8er Boi,” as I’ve delved into in the past, is literally a song written by a boy’s current girlfriend to ridicule a girl she’s never met who isn’t even the boy’s ex for simply having the audacity to turn him down in high school. There are of course exceptions to this, “I Can Do Better” and “What the Hell,” in particular, but even still, that push for a guy’s attention is a noticeable through line across some of her biggest hits.
That’s what makes “Bite Me” kind of brilliant. It sounds like those. It doesn’t sound like “I Can Do Better” or “What the Hell,” even though it has much more in common with them, thematically. It sounds exactly like the plea for a man to invest, fix, or embark on a relationship that is central to so many similar sounding earlier hits, while conveying a message that is the polar opposite. That’s what makes it so great. The sound is there, the energy is absolutely still there, so much that it almost feels like going back in time. But the words could not be more different.
My Happy Ending opens with a plea to rebuild a relationship that forms the basis of the entire song, “Let’s talk this over, it’s not like we’re dead, was it something I did? Was it something you said?” That is in stark contrast to everything in “Bite Me.” Here are the opening lyrics of “Bite Me,” for comparison’s sake: “Hey you, you should’ve known better, better to f—k with someone like me, Hey you, forever and ever you’re gonna wish I was your wifey.” The message is clear and the differences between the two are immediately established. One is about a relationship that didn’t turn out to be what one person wanted and was maybe never as good as what they imagined it to be in their head, it’s a plea for a second chance that evolves into an acknowledgment that the relationship she hoped to hang onto never really existed at all. Still, it’s an invitation to talk it out, and “Bite Me” is emphatically not.
The lyrics of “Bite Me” are just as crystal clear, if not more so. It’s not about rebuilding, it’s not about learning to let go, it’s not about holding onto hope, certainly not about asking if she did something wrong or if there’s something she can do to fix it. In this song, it’s over. It’s dead. There is absolutely no hope of rekindling anything, and he is lucky to be alive. What truly makes it so fun and even hysterical are the repeated reminders that this guy messed up bad and is absolutely screwed, not just in the damage he did to the relationship, but by the multiple reminders that in her leaving him in the dust, he is absolutely never going to get over it and he is never going to be okay. It’s so over the top, so dramatic and heightened, and mixed with the upbeat, poppy attitude, is hilariously fun. It feels like tongue-firmly-in-cheek self-satire and genuine acknowledgement of development and growth at the same time.
“Bite Me” is Lavigne returning to a genre of music she dominated as a teenager with the mindset of a woman in her thirties and the general years of life experience that come with that. It’s the same rebellious, “I don’t give a crap” attitude, but re-contextualized, both for a new era and to reflect the awareness that only comes from age. “Bite Me” is more than anything just a solid bop. It’s the pop punk queen reclaiming a crown, the Pride of Canada once again belting out a banger. It is both a return to form and an evolution of the form, and for that I am so happy it exists.
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