Christian singers routinely go mainstream with their music (think Switchfoot), but mainstream singers rarely go Christian. Avril Lavigne is changing that trend.
For her birthday on Sept. 27, the punk-rock singer released the video to her new single, “Head Above Water.” After remaining silent for five years, the 34-year-old is using the song to tease her upcoming album. It promises to be a hit, if her new song is any indication – with nearly 10 million views.
Her success is no surprise. Lavigne’s longtime fans know her for songs and videos boasting hundreds of millions of views, from “Sk8er Boi” to “Girlfriend.” What is a surprise is that her new song is a prayer to God. That’s because, while church music inspired her as a 2-year-old, she’s not known for publicly singing about faith or religion.
The new video, filmed partially in Iceland, shows Lavigne donning a flowing bridal gown and silver cross as she walks from inside a cave to the shore. She later jumps from a precipice and plunges into the water as she begs God:
God, keep my head above water
Don’t let me drown, it gets harder
I’ll meet you there at the altar
As I fall down to my knees
Don’t let me drown, drown, drown
Don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me drown.
Further in the song, she pleads with God yet again:
So pull me up from down below
‘Cause I’m underneath the undertow
She adds, “Come dry me off and hold me close” because “I need you now, I need you most.”
These aren’t lyrics familiar to her fans’ ears. Lavigne’s most popular songs revolve around relationships with men – not God. But singing to God is something Lavigne actually grew up doing.
In 2011, media outlets reported Lavigne saying she “always wanted to be a singer” – and it was something she picked up at church.
“My mom said when I was two I came back from church singing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and she said that she knew I was going to be a singer then, she called me her little songbird,” Lavigne said.
And with time, Lavigne wasn’t just listening to church music; she was creating it. According to Beliefnet, Lavigne performed her “first solo in church at age 10, ‘Near the Heart of God.’”
That past likely influenced Lavigne’s new single – and her album to come. When Billboard announced Lavigne’s work on a new album in March, the outlet reported Lavigne said she was “going back to my roots a little bit… I got my start in church and at country fairs when I was a young child, and I think those earlier influences are definitely coming out now.”
“Now,” perhaps because of Lavigne’s struggle with Lyme disease, which she was diagnosed with in Dec of 2014. The end of her video directs fans to visit The Avril Lavigne Foundation, which “supports individuals with Lyme disease, serious illnesses and disabilities.”
On her website, Lavigne revealed the backstory to her album that “tells my story” and to her new single about the night she thought would be her last. She explained:
“One night, I thought I was dying, and I had accepted that I was going to die. My mom laid with me in bed and held me. I felt like I was drowning. Under my breath, I prayed ‘God, please help to keep my head above the water.’ In that moment, the song writing of this album began. It was like I tapped into something. It was a very spiritual experience. Lyrics flooded through me from that point on.”
Lavigne said that she remembered “barely making it” as she fought for her health in 2014 – and years after.
“When you’re in bed for the better part of two years, you lose muscle mass,” she said, “and your entire body gets weak.” Her first song after that fight was this one. “I thought my voice would be weak,” she said, but “it ended up being stronger than ever.”
“Subjects were things that weighed heavy on my mind and heart,” she added. “I sat at the piano and wrote my life.”
The music, her prayer, “definitely pulled me out of my darkness,” she said, by giving her a “goal to work towards and a purpose.” With that, she concluded, “I hope the album touches people.”
During her struggle and journey back to her roots, Lavigne praised God on social media to her fans. In Feb. 2015, she tweeted, “Today and everyday I’m grateful 4 my family and the unconditional love that comes from their hearts to mine. Thank you God.” Nine months later, she added, “So just feeling blessed and supported with the friendships around me , new and old. God is good.”
All the time.