Avril Lavigne’s Sk8er Boi came out 15 years ago today, and it’s just as brilliant now as it was then

2002 was a time of disruption for music. Pop punk had established itself as a radio juggernaut and music industry cash cow, with blink-182’s Take Off Your Pants and Jacket hitting #1 on the Billboard 200 the previous year. Meanwhile, the search was still on for the “anti-Britney” by girls who were too young for Gwen Stefani and who found P!nk still too close to the pop mainstream.

It was into this ideal situation that Avril Lavigne released her debut album Let Go in the summer of 2002. Her debut single, “Complicated,” hit #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40, #1 on the Billboard Adult Top 40 (where it spent sixteen weeks), and #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was a radio-friendly tune that had all the necessary vagueness of a hit pop song. Avril sang about her frustration that the boy she likes was acting disingenuous, and that was just about the whole thing.

Her follow-up single, on the other hand, is a complex, nuanced story of a young love lost. “Sk8er Boi” was released on August 27, 2002, and while its title is an unfortunate reminder of the AIM-driven parlance of the time, it’s a sharply intelligent jam that absolutely deserves a close read in celebration of the occasion. Here we go:

He was a boy
She was a girl
Can I make it any more obvious

Right off the bat, we know what this song is going to be about. There’s a boy, and a girl, and all your assumptions about what that implies are correct.

He was a punk
She did ballet
What more can I say

Uh oh. Again, right away, we know what’s going on here. It’s a tale as old as time; two kids from two different backgrounds are after each other, and that’s going to be a problem for both of them. She’s a Capulet and he’s a Montague. She’s a Shark and he’s a Jet. After school she laces up her ballet slippers and he laces up his Vans and they head off to their separate worlds.

He wanted her
She’d never tell
Secretly she wanted him as well
But all of her friends
Stuck up their nose
They had a problem with his baggy clothes

Ballet Girl wanted to take a ride on the spiked-hair side but also hoped to keep that to herself. The end of the first verse leaves us wondering: did it work out? Did she stand up for herself in the name of true love? Did she tell her friends to take a hike and do some smooching with a guy who might have a lip ring? Take us to the Chorus, Avril.

He was a skater boy
She said see you later boy
He wasn’t good enough for her
She had a pretty face
But her head was up in space
She needed to come back down to earth

…guess not. Things didn’t work out for Sk8er Boi and Ballet Girl, all because she let her friends convince her she was hot shit. So that’s it, right? Just another story about a relationship that didn’t work out because of circumstantial garbage? What else can there be to the story?

Five years from now
She sits at home
Feeding the baby she’s all alone

Oh, SHIT. This can mean so many different things, and none of them leave our girl looking great. Possibilities include:

  • She grew up, forgot about Sk8er Boi, married a guy her friends like, and now he drives a sensible compact sedan to work every day while she stays home trying to get little Mr. Safe, Esquire to eat his strained peas.
  • She grew up, forgot about Sk8er Boi, met a guy she thought would be good for her, but instead of treating her right (like Sk8er Boi obviously would’ve), he knocked her up and left her. Now she’s got all day to sit alone and think about how things could’ve turned out if she’d only gone after what she wanted in the first place.
  • What may be the least likely (but most interesting) possibility: she and Sk8er Boi dated for a long time. After about four years together, she gets pregnant. Her friends finally convince her she’s too good for Sk8er Boi and needs to get him out of her life. It’s not until THIS point that she hits him with the “see you later boy.” She has Sk8er Boi’s kid, but she’s raising the baby herself.
She turns on TV
Guess who she sees
Skater boy rockin’ on MTV

The joke that MTV doesn’t show music anymore has already been beaten to death, but I can assure any readers until the age of 21 that when the song was released, this would have been a very big deal.

She calls up her friends
They already know
And they’ve all got tickets to see his show

Damn girl. Not only did these conniving hens already buy tickets to see your ex-boyf (THAT THEY CONVINCED YOU TO DUMP) in concert, they didn’t even THINK TO INVITE YOU ALONG. It’s so nice when people really have your back, y’know?

She tags along
Stands in the crowd
Looks up at the man that she turned down

“Looks up at the man that she turned down” is a clever turn of phrase. It’s also reflective of the reversal in power dynamic between Sk8er Boi and Ballet Girl.

He was a skater boy
She said see you later boy
He wasn’t good enough for her
Now he’s a super star
Slamming on his guitar
Does your pretty face see what he’s worth?

Avril changes the chorus and twists the knife.

(repeat chorus)
Sorry girl but you missed out
Well tough luck that boy’s mine now

Wait, what? What?!? Oh SHIT. Here’s the major reveal of the song. Avril isn’t just a narrator telling a tale about two hypothetical people. She’s involved. She’s in the story.

We are more than just good friends

AND SHE’S ROMANTICALLY INVOLVED WITH THE SK8ER BOI

This is how the story ends
Too bad that you couldn’t see
See the man that boy could be
There is more that meets the eye
I see the soul that is inside

In case you forgot since her last single, Avril appreciates genuine, honest people.

He’s just a boy
And I’m just a girl
Can I make it any more obvious
We are in love
Haven’t you heard
How we rock each others world

Avril and Sk8er Boi have similar punk rock sensibilities that apparently make them more compatible than he ever would have been with Ballet Girl. Like the Sk8er Boi, Avril also skateboards and appears on MTV slammin’ on her guitar, which makes “rock” the perfect verb to describe her relationship with the S.B.

Take us home, Avril.

I’m with the skater boy
I said see you later boy
I’ll be back stage after the show
I’ll be at the studio
Singing the song we wrote
About a girl he used to know
(repeat chorus)

Once again, Avril changes the chorus to drive the story forward, bringing us to its conclusion. This whole time, she’s been recounting a story her boyfriend told her about an old relationship. When Ballet Girl dumped the Sk8er Boi she told him “see you later,” potentially implying she hoped to eventually get back together, but the fact that now she’s a girl he used to know implies that she’s out of luck and now, along with all his money and fame, he’s all Avril’s.

And that’s it. Avril took a story of loss and love and regret, told in three acts, and compressed it into three minutes and 24 seconds of pure brilliance. “Sk8er Boi” is one of the smartest hits of the last 20 years. Don’t @ me.

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