Avril Lavigne The Anti-Britney

''She is the most real thing out there,'' says her manager, Terry McBride, who also represents Sarah McLachlan and Dido. ''Arista [her record company] had a heart attack when she was chewing gum on TRL and pulling it out of her mouth. I just watched that and laughed, because I know a lot of teenagers who do that exact thing in conversation and, like her, don't even know that they're doing it. If she doesn't understand a word, she asks. And if that seems stupid, well, sorry, but that's what most teenage kids would actually do.''

Indeed. We read Lavigne a quote from Elle Girl, in which she says she had an inferiority complex in high school.

''A what?''

An inferiority complex.

''Using those words? See, that's what people do, man!'' she gripes.

''I don't even know what that means. An inferiority complex? What does that mean?''

Feeling insecure about --

''I'm not insecure!''

It's hard to think of anything that could shatter this fearless self-confidence. Her debut album, Let Go, has sold at least 100,000 copies for each of the last 17 weeks straight and is now topping 2.3 million. Arista Records chief Antonio ''L.A.'' Reid expects to eventually sell at least 10 million globally, and not unreasonably. While Britney and Christina have almost dared radio to add hookless tunes like ''Boys'' and ''Dirrty'' to their playlists, nearly every song on Let Go feels like a potential smash. Using one hummable variation after another on the post-Nirvana formula of acoustic guitar verses and amped-up choruses, the richly melodic songs are spiced with lyrics just specific enough to Lavigne's adolescent follies to skirt the generic chick-rock trap. The No. 1 hit ''Complicated'' was an across-all-age-groups introduction to Avril; the jumpy ''Sk8er Boi'' is aimed at the pop-punk kids; the more adult power ballad ''I'm With You'' will hit by the holidays, just in time to remind parents about the album.

And the grown-ups do like her. Dad may be happy to have a young female singer whose songs he can enjoy without feeling like a lecher. ''Everyone sees her as, 'Oh, that's my niece,''' says Josh Sarubin, her A&R rep at Arista. ''She's never been this creepy fantasy thing. She's more like that kid in your neighborhood who broke your window.''

''A lot of moms come up to me and they're like, 'Thank you for not dressing like Britney. Thank you for being a good influence on my daughter,''' Lavigne says. ''I'm like, 'Uh...cool?... You're very welcome?''' She's as ambivalent as any self-respecting teen should be about unsolicited soccer-mom praise.

But Lavigne has mixed feelings about her own look infiltrating this year's back-to-school ensembles. ''When fans show up with the ties at the concerts, it's cute because it's like, yeah, support! And when you play at these radio-station shows, you can pick your fans out. But when I see someone on the street dressed up like me, it feels weird.... I don't wear ties anymore. I started feeling like I was wearing a costume. I'm over it. I get sick of things quick.''


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