Released: 2nd August 2004
Writers: Avril Lavigne / Butch Walker
Peak position: #5
Chart run: 5-8-9-16-28-31-41-48-66
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 70-46-39-34-31-23-18-15-13-9-9-9-9-11-12-14-17-19-30-33-41-43- 49-47-44
Although very much marketed as the anti-Britney during her debut album campaign, Avril Lavigne nonetheless found herself in a similar predicament to her pop “rivals” when she returned with her sophomore effort and dared to – shock, horror – grow up a little.
It would be remiss to suggest that pop stars who aren’t heavily involved in writing their own material are exempt from the “difficult second album” phenomenon. But generally in that case, if you’ve found a formula that works, you can go back to the same writers/producers and sip again from the same chalice. Or try and source alternatives, if you so desire. But when it comes to an act like Avril Lavigne, it isn’t quite so straightforward. She co-wrote every song on Let Go, and the album itself had a long gestation period, giving time for each song (potentially a life’s work at that point) to be perfected. When it comes to the follow-up, how on earth do you recreate that process with much shorter turnaround time and higher expectations? That’s the unenviable position Avril Lavigne found herself in with her second album.
And the turnaround time was rapid; there was less than ten months between the final single from Let Go and the first single from Under My Skin. It’s also fair to say Avril Lavigne didn’t necessarily opt for the easiest route. The Matrix were pivotal in helping write and produce Let Go, but there was perhaps a sense that their involvement was a bit more of a compromise on the sound than Avril Lavigne would have liked. For her second album, she opted for an entirely new team of collaborators, and it’s fair to say that the initial reaction was tentative. The hooks were a more subtle, the sound was a rawer and overall this was a markedly different Avril Lavigne to the one who’d burst into the charts a few years earlier. And if there’s one song that perfectly captures her approach to this second album, then it’s My Happy Ending.
Let’s talk this over
It’s not like we’re dead
Was it something I did?
Was it something you said?
We always feel it’s a tad misleading to pick out the intro of a song as our favourite bit because that implies the rest of the track isn’t up to much. And certainly, that’s not the case with My Happy Ending. However, the echoed “Oh, oh” over the backing beat is a such a great little production flourish. It’s typical of the “less is more” approach to the album in that it could easily have been more of a statement if indulged a little, but it just isn’t. Instead, we’re left repeatedly flicking back to the start of the song every 2 seconds to enjoy it.
When we get into the song proper though, we find Avril Lavigne in break-up territory. However, it’s not quite the raucous anthem one might expect from our scorned punk-pop princess. Instead, My Happy Ending bobs along with a gentle lilt; it’s a contemplative number, albeit one with a barely concealed layer of seething contempt running underneath it. The song excels when it approaches its subject matter from an observational perspective, such as the second verse: “You’ve got your dumb friends, I know what they say; they tell you I’m difficult, but so are they”. It’s here that My Happy Ending is at its most relatable. Not that Sk8er Boi wasn’t something we could all readily identify with, of course. But that is perhaps the most crucial aspect of this single: it showed that underneath the bratty punk-pop persona, Avril Lavigne was a skilled songwriter, and not immune from the realities of teenage heartbreak. Furthermore, she could craft a solid tune that stood tall even without the polished production values of The Matrix. There’s nowhere to hide on My Happy Ending; even the more climactic moments (“We were meant to be, supposed to be, but we lost i-i-i-it”) consist of little more than Avril Lavigne just stretching the melody ever so slightly. But it works very well, indeed.
The music video for My Happy Ending is just about as emo as you can get, which is perfectly apt for the period in which it was released. Although perhaps not as immediately recognisable as the likes of Complicated or Girlfriend, it’s nonetheless a strong visual, and very possibly one of our favourites from Avril Lavigne. It takes place in an abandoned cinema (or maybe she’s just working after hours – it’s not clear) and sees her watching memories of a relationship that ended badly. It’s framed beautifully, with scenes from the ‘movie’ transitioning back into the present day; the shots of Avril playing the piano as the film reels project around her visually striking. Like the song though, the video is realised in a very modest manner, if not in the budget then certainly in the delivery. You almost feel that the concept could have been pushed a bit harder, and those piano scenes a little more indulgent. And it’s not a completely radical departure, as Avril Lavigne still plays into her stereotype a bit; there’s an impressive array of scowling and casual vandalism littered throughout the video, as well as the obligatory scene where she jams with her band. But this feels like the natural evolution of everything that came before it, rather than a total departure.
In the UK, My Happy Ending matched the #5 peak of Don’t Tell Me. But that’s only half the story because when you look at the single in the context of the album, it was a much more significant hit. Although Under My Skin debuted at #1, six weeks later it had already dipped to #33. The arrival of My Happy Ending saw a swift reversal in the album’s fortunes, causing it to rebound back into the top 10 for a further six weeks. In America it was a similar story, if a little more clear-cut, since this was the only single from Under My Skin to make the top 10 at all. Again, it prompted a similar chart bounce for the album. It’s entirely possible that without this single, the campaign would have been entirely front-loaded and then collapsed. Certainly, nothing else released from the album had such a direct and immediate impact. Perhaps even more crucially though, My Happy Ending helped Avril Lavigne transition through that difficult second album and prove without a doubt that there was much more to her than a “sk8er boi” gimmick.