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From Lavigne to Timberlake: what do pop stars mean by the ‘real me’

Avril Lavigne.
In her own words... Avril Lavigne. Composite: The Guide

Avril Lavigne raised eyebrows recently when she described her forthcoming album as “personal, dear, intimate, dramatic, raw, powerful, strong and unexpected”. The only surprise, though, was how much Lavigne was underselling it. All albums are intimate and raw these days, and today’s pop stars will stop at nothing to convince you of it, using language that’s a strange mix of Instagram poetry, W1A set-piece and advert for unwearable perfume – preferably their own.

Take the video trailer for Justin Timberlake’s latest, Man of the Woods. Billed as a return to his Tennessee roots, don’t you dare go thinking this is Justin cashing in on how white he is in the iffy goldmine that is Trumpian America, after spending the best part of two decades single-white-femaling Michael Jackson. It’s much, much less than that. “It feels like mountains, trees, campfires,” purrs Timberlake’s wife, Jessica Biel. “It feels so earthy!” croaks the inevitable Pharrell, over montages of Justin looking moody in plaid. Basically, it has all the pregnant promise of a good old-fashioned southern lynching, but co-sponsored by Jim Beam and Jack Wills.

In fairness, Timberlake has got one thing right: nothing says “personal” more than drifting through bucolic fields. Last autumn, Jessie J uploaded a video featuring her wafting around in a sub-Terrence Malick meadow, a trailer for her latest effort, R.O.S.E.. This apparently stood for Realisations, Obsessions, Sex, Empowerment. Rose is also her mum’s name, which at least makes for one hell of a spicy Electra complex. Anyway, J spends a whole three minutes and 54 seconds explaining all this, which is quite impressive; the length of an actual song telling us about other proper songs, which we’ll presumably get to once she’s muttered lots of things like “I feel everything so deeply” and “I just gave someone my magic, and they didn’t look after it.”

Sometimes, of course, less is so much more. A while back, Britney Spears promised that her eighth album Britney Jean was “going to be my most personal album ever :-)”. Fans knew it was coming: after all, her most recent release had been the excoriating Ooh La La, from the soundtrack to The Smurfs 2. Britney went on to explain further: “I am a performer. I am a mom. I am funny. I am your friend!” Never has one exclamation mark seemed quite so deeply Black Mirror.

Bless Lavigne, in any case. Surely she knows that no one listens to full albums now anyway? It’s more likely one of her “unexpected” offerings will end up on some generic “Friday Bangers!” playlist, sandwiched between Ed Sheeran and a Kygo remix. And really, why be sad? For most of us, that’s the true emotional journey of 2018.

This article titled "From Avril Lavigne to Justin Timberlake: what do pop stars mean by the ‘real me’?" was written by Louis Wise, for The Guardian on Friday 9 February 2018 01.00pm


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