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Call them growing pains or call it a changing world. Either way, Avril Lavigne’s “Head Above Water” makes it clear: There’s a battle raging on, and it extends far beyond the realm of music. Perhaps paradoxically, a modern world dominated by sound bites and breaking news alerts no longer seems safe for wild expression of punk angst. Avril’s return speaks for something bigger than herself: a genre besieged by the bleak, closer than ever to going completely under.
The video offers a purer reimagining of angst and the world it now exists in. Casual fans of the style might notice that there is no thick black eyeshadow present here. Instead, the musician drapes herself in a flowing white ensemble, letting the wind carry her as she wills. And yet, behind the artifice, Avril still manages to capture the essence of punk as high drama. Her video is embodiment, the pale luster reifying the pure naïve demand and rebellion. Each movement is theatrically extended, each word dripping with yearning.
Punk rock is itself on the rocks, and the backdrop of the performance is appropriately severe. Avril’s ministrations carry spectators deep into the Scandinavian fjords, walking along lush grassy plains overlooking sharp cliffs. Borne of churning volcanic heat, tempered by stinging salt spray, jagged and lumbering morosely over an infinite expanse of dark ocean, these pedestals both raise up and isolate the singer’s art form. In an increasingly uncertain and outrageous environment, the catharsis of punk rock is becoming drowned out, if not entirely obsolete.
How better to respond than to lash out? At this turning point, Avril flings herself into the water, floating among the dark waves. She fluoresces, bringing about rich flashes of red and purple, before slipping deeper and deeper below. In much the same way, the genre has entered into a period of reckoning, a liminal space that seeks to define its purpose against the noise. In a new age of resentment and discord, punk rock seems to have lost its potency.
Punk angst as an exaggerated art form hinges on monotony and a baseline of stability to rail against. Today, that looks to be less and less the case. “Head Above Water,” then, is less rallying cry than plea. Avril hopes that we can return to a world of light, a world once again safe for angst.
—Staff writer Rick Li can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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