I don't go around trying to sell sex like a lot of artists do," says singer Avril Lavigne. Not that she hasn't had offers: When she was living in New York City last year, "some guy shows me all his money and says, 'Working tonight?' " recalls Lavigne, 17. "After that I started walking around with a knife."

Her music has plenty of edge as well. Let Go, Lavigne's Top 5 debut album, containing the hit single "Complicated," is a punky, pop confection of teen angst. A native of Napanee, Ont., Lavigne, the middle child of Judy, 47, a homemaker, and John, 48, a telephone repairman, started out singing at fairs. When she went to meet a record producer in 2000, she ignored her parents' advice to put on a "nice" outfit. "I'd be like, 'Bye, Mom, bye, Dad,' then go into the bathroom and put my baggy clothes on," she says.

She has been equally dismissive of stylists pining for her to wear skimpy stage clothes à la Britney Spears, whom Lavigne once called "a Barbie doll." For her part, Spears agrees: "If Avril Lavigne tried to be like me, she wouldn't do well. She has to do her own thing if she wants to stand out. I respect that."

Smart move. These days, disrespecting Lavigne has its consequences. Recently at a stateside bar, "some chick started mouthing off," recalls Lavigne. "But when she started messing with me, she found herself on the ground saying, 'Sorry.' "