You don’t have to know the full story behind Avril Lavigne’s recent ballad “Head Above Water” to hear the struggle in the song.
When Lavigne sings, “God, keep my head above water. Don’t let me drown, it gets harder,” she means it. Lavigne, who has Lyme disease, has said she prayed those exact words one day when she felt like she “was actually dying.”
And those were the first lyrics fans heard from the singer, a staple pop/punk voice of the early 2000s, after she took a five-year hiatus from the spotlight. Lavigne spent two of those years bedridden. Still, she managed to keep writing music, where she found healing.
“Head Above Water,” which is also the title of Lavigne’s sixth album and current tour, hits a far more serious tone than some of her earlier — and greatest — hits, such as “Complicated” and “Sk8er Boi.” The singer hasn’t strayed though from what she considers the reason fans initially clung to her.
“If I had to guess, I would say it’s because I was really authentic,” Lavigne said during a phone interview ahead of Saturday’s nearly sold-out show at Paramount Theatre in Denver. “And that hit home with people.”
Lavigne, known for catchy callouts such as “You’re trying to be cool/You look like a fool to me,” filled “Head Above Water” with empowering songs, one of which, “Dumb Blonde,” she wrote about “being a strong, independent woman and not letting a man belittle you or not letting anyone make you feel like that.”
“There’s a lot of like, ‘Know your worth, be strong and confident in what you deserve,’” she said.
Lavigne kept it real on her most recent single, “I Fell in Love with the Devil,” which is about being stuck in a no-good relationship.
“You’re under someone’s spell. You know in your heart you need to get out of it, but you can’t,” she said. “The song’s really just about dating a crazy, but that’s like the deeper explanation.”
To write that song, Lavigne said she told herself, “Don’t worry about what you have to say in interviews and what people are going to ask you. Just lay it all out there and just say it like it is. When it’s real like that, people connect to it.”
Lavigne was 17 when she recorded her debut album, “Let Go.” At 34, she now has fans who have known her for half of her life.
“I feel really grateful to have fans that have been around for so long,” she said. “I know some of them. I recognize them and talk to them on Instagram. One girl I text with.”
Those fans know all of the words to her songs, even if Lavigne doesn’t remember them. Before setting off on tour this month, Lavigne said she had to relearn some lyrics.
She still loves playing the songs that made her famous. One of her favorites is “I’m With You,” a ballad that could be a younger sister to “Head Above Water.”
“Playing the older stuff is dope,” she said. “It’s such a different energy, so it’s going to make the shows really diverse. It’s almost like I get to take the audience and myself on this journey.”
Amanda Hancock, The Gazette,