A guest blog written by Julian de Valliere. You can agree/disagree with him here.
Song: ‘What the Hell’
Artist: Avril Lavigne
US chart peak: 11
Release date: January 10, 2011
Writers: Avril Lavigne, Max Martin, Shellback
Producers: Max Martin, Shellback
Quintessential Max moment: The way those handclaps and “yeah yeah”s punctuate each line
Video synopsis: Avril locks a man in her closet; stumbles upon her own concert
The year was 2011. It had been four long, joyless years since the last Avril Lavigne album, and the world was waiting with bated breath for the pop superstar’s next move.
Well, maybe not. But that lack of anticipation was exactly what led to the birth of ‘What the Hell’, so that’s a real glass half full moment if there ever was one.
In reality, by 2009, Avril Lavigne was already a fast-fading memory, her territory trodden upon by the likes of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, and then left to fall into ruin as acts like Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas, and her soul sister Britney Spears turned the public’s attention towards dance-pop and all its seemingly endless enjoyability.
This was probably why her album – which was originally scheduled to be released in November of that year – was pushed back by her label at the time, RCA, so she could record something more “fun”. This led to some lengthy back and forths, as Avril would go on to share. “I had to fight with them over and over,” she told Digital Spy. “Radio’s very rhythmic and urban and dance today. I think they wanted me to do something more like that, but that’s not what my vision was for this album.”
But in time, Avril threw her hands in the air, and ended up recording a few tracks that the public would be able to throw their hands in the air to (in a different way, of course).
Her work with Max Martin would be the only new additions to make the album, and the best of them (‘What the Hell’, OBVIOUSLY) was announced as the lead single near the end of 2010. Fans rejoiced. Avril scowled. Everything was as it once was.
‘What the Hell’ was unveiled in full on January 1, 2011, and it sizzled and popped like the fireworks that welcomed in the new year. From the keyboard riff that kicks it off, to Lavigne’s layered vocals transitioning from unaffected sk8er girl to the woman at the karaoke machine who’s had one too many daiquiris, it was her most glorious pop moment to date.
“All my life I’ve been good! / but now! / I-i-I-i-I’m thinking ‘what the hell?’” yodels the girlfriend-stealing, Hilary Duff-slamming, paparazzi-spitting songstress. The song was massive. It was irresistible. It was ‘My Life Would Suck Without You’ covered with spray-paint and black eyeliner. And it did exactly what RCA hoped. Sort of.
On the day ‘What the Hell’ was made available for purchasing, another song that Max had worked on – Britney Spears’ ‘Hold It Against Me’- was rush-released after the single’s campaign sprung a leak. The latter skyrocketed to number one on iTunes, keeping Avril stuck at the second position. This, along with added competition from those rhythmic and urban and dance songs RCA kept nagging her about (contributions from Rihanna, Bruno Mars, and Lil Wayne, in this case), meant Avril was left lagging behind on the Hot 100, debuting at Number 13, while Spears took the top spot.
Britney would block her yet again a few weeks later, as ‘Hold It Against Me’ took a brief break from its descent down the chart to remain steadfast at #10 on the Hot 100, leaving Avril to settle for the dreaded Number 11 after a final sales surge. Karma? Comedy? Calamity? It was all and it was neither. Lavigne wasn’t too fussed either way.
“I think it’s doing alright, especially because I don’t think it’s the best song on the album. It’s doing alright, yeah.”
Nevertheless, ‘What the Hell’ went on to become her second largest hit, nabbing over 5 million sales and huge video views. And for all her initial reluctance, Avril went on to enthusiastically belt out ‘What the Hell’ on her next tour –singing it not once, but twice(!) per setlist during certain legs. It’s hard to deny a good pop song.
If you’d like to write a guest blog on a Max Martin song that didn’t make the US Top 10 then there’s information on how to do that right here.