A nude direction: why is Avril Lavigne posing naked with a guitar?

The singer has adopted the mysterious naked instrument shot for her new record. What does it reveal about her artistic ambitions?

Avril Lavigne.
Fret not... Avril Lavigne.

It doesn’t half get warm when you’re a Woman in Music™. Frankly, this is the only reason we can find for so many having to resort to the rock’n’roll equivalent of the Ladies Laughing With Salad stock photo. Yes, it’s the never knowingly empowering Lady Posing Naked Behind a Guitar trope. The latest extremely limited variation on a theme dreamed up by a middle-aged record label exec in need of some fresh thrills after his wife ditched him for a hench personal trainer from Potters Bar comes courtesy of Avril Lavigne.

Now 34 years old, the Sk8er Woman is expressing her maturity by appearing on the cover of Head Above Water, her first album in five years, in moody black and white, like a Camden High Street busker as directed by Fellini. Stripping off, jumping in a large puddle and strategically manoeuvring her body behind an acoustic guitar, we can see neither nipples nor pudenda but plenty of leg, a smidge of sideboob and a Brigitte Bardot bouffant. “I can play this thing,” says this brand of pose, “but playing this thing isn’t my priority; my priority is trying to make sure the photographer doesn’t get too handsy when he moves the bugger.”

Liz Phair’s 2003 album artwork.
Liz Phair’s 2003 album artwork.

Even so, it’s not the raciest version of Lady Posing Naked Behind a Guitar out there. For that you have to visit Christina Aguilera’s 2002 Rolling Stone cover, in which she doesn’t even bother with placing the instrument over her bits, instead using a fingerless glove-clad hand (so 2002) to cover a boob while crossing her legs like she was desperate for the loo. On the flipside, the most demure version comes thanks to the delicate whisper of a skirt that Liz Phair has draped over her thigh as she assumes the position on the cover of her self-titled 2003 album. For a classical twist, why not check out a beaming Grace Chatto of Clean Bandit stranded in a car park with only a violin bra for warmth in the 2013 video for Mozart’s House? A scene so scandalous, it led to her being fired from her job as a school cello teacher. Thankfully, the band have since made a shit ton of cash, so she can afford all the IRL clothes she needs in case she’s ever stuck in Peckham Levels without her undies again.

So what does this particular pose mean? A number of things, actually, none of them particularly heartening. It means you are allowed to love your body (that’s if you’re a slim, conventionally attractive blond white woman). It means women are allowed to play musical instruments, but only if they’re also willing to use them as a saucy prop, just in case you’d forgotten for a few seconds that they’ve got tits. It means that women should be naked before they’re comfortable and vulnerable before they’re powerful. All of which means that the patriarchy is still winning. Goddamn those guys.