This article originally appeared on Gizmodo Australia.
In 2003, Canadian singer and Japanophile Avril Lavigne died and was replaced by an industry-planted clone named ‘Melissa Vandella‘. Melissa looked a bit like Avril, and sounded a bit like Avril — but she was not Avril. Melissa was bright and peppy. She wore fishnets and neon, and girlfriend-shamed the boy next door. She was not Avril — or was she?
The Melissa phenomenon has been around for a good 8 years, with rumours of her replacement first surfacing in 2011 on backwater internet forums. The source is often debated — from dodgy Blogspot websites to an unseen ‘insider source’, but the fact remains that for 8 long years, people have believed, to some degree, that Avril Lavigne died and every few years, some news outlet or other comes along to remind us of this exact fact.
The working theory, according to internet whispers, is that when Avril’s glamorous, high-profile lifestyle got to be too much for her, she was either a) killed by her record label b) died in a skiing accident or c) committed suicide. Either way, all stories agree that in the early 2000s, she was killed and replaced by a look-a-like known as Melissa Vandella.
Melissa Vandella was an Avril look-a-like and/or clone that looked, performed and acted on Avril’s behalf. Strangely, the name doesn’t appear to have come from the Avril Esta Morta blog that’s believed to have originated the rumour, but may have become attached to the rumour during the subsequent internet kerfuffle. Melissa appears consistently in every Avril-is-dead theory, yet her origins remain a mystery.
Avril Esta Morta, for its part, dubs her ‘new Avril’ and states that she’s an actress/look-a-like hired to replace ‘old Avril’.
It’s possible that the name came from the below photoshoot, where she wears the name ‘Melissa’ on her hand. But its exact origin, like the entire Melissa conspiracy, is murky.
Whether Avril was truly dead during this time or not is debated. But according to Avril Esta Morta, Melissa soon took over Avril’s life entirely, becoming her. The website claims that the Avril that we see today is not Avril at all, but Melissa, her clone.
The rumours reached such a fever pitch in 2018 that Avril found herself on Australia’s Kyle and Jackie O show vehemently defending her innocence. “Some people think that I’m not the real me, which is so weird,” she said. “Why would they even think that?”
That’s exactly what we’d expect Melissa to say.
So, why Avril?
Celebrity death hoaxes are more common that you’d think and this is far from the most famous or the most recent, but it’s my favourite, mainly for its staying power and the fact that media designed to squash the myth has only continued its legacy. Avril denying the rumour outright has only deepened the conspiracy.
In May 2017, Twitter user @givenchyass detailed the entire saga, from the moment Avril died to when she was finally replaced by her clone, Melissa, telling a tale of sordid dealings, deep depression and the pressures of fame.
While images of the thread can still be found online, @givenchyass’ account was mysteriously, and extremely suspiciously, suspended by Twitter and disappeared into the abyss. Just more fuel for the burning conspiracy fire.
Melissa truthers have worked themselves so far down the rabbit hole that the internet is filled with Charlie Day-style theories about everything from changing mole alignments to eye shapes and nose placement.
According to conspiracy theorists, her birthmarks have changed. She has a different jawline. Her tattoos are different. Plastic surgery? No, definitely a clone.
Okay so I was looking at these and the corners of their eyes are shaped differently and now I'm geeking pic.twitter.com/ag2G37NsSt— Ash ⚔️ (@ashlynntattoos) May 14, 2017
How the evidence stacks up
Differences in appearance, paired with a music style that drifted from late-90s pop-punk mall grunge…
To strange, culturally appropriating weaboo pop…
… had everyone putting their conspiracy theory hats on. Who was Avril, really? And who was Melissa? Could Avril really have been replaced by a clone?
For many us, Avril and/or Melissa was a distinct part of our childhood as she churned out bops after bops, from Sk8er Boi to Complicated to My Happy Ending – even Girlfriend is a solid banger. But there’s no denying that her music style changed in the mid-2000s. With the release of The Best Damn Thing in 2007, Avril/Melissa had successfully transitioned from grunge pop idol to candy-coloured pop-punk queen. And fans were not happy. Whatever happened to crashing the mall?
Whether this discontent was what gave rise to the conspiracy theory is unclear, but it is firmly routed in the time period between her second and third albums, when punk was out and prep was in. Surely, Avril wouldn’t betray her fans like this. Surely this was the work of Melissa?
It wasn’t just her looks, either. Her lyrics had changed, as had her voice. Even her handwriting was different, the theories claimed.
avrils old handwriting vs a latest tweet ???????????????? pic.twitter.com/1cwBbgSBfy— carly rae jepsen (@privatelaprip) May 14, 2017
Forget maturing and growing older, the answer was clear — #clonespiracy. Behind closed doors, scientists had perfected the art of human cloning, and they used its phenomenal, world-changing power to create a near-perfect clone of Avril Lavigne. But like a visitor from the uncanny valley, Melissa sticks out like a sore thumb — and we’re onto her.
Take her new music video, released just yesterday. Is this the Avril Lavigne you remember, or is she something more sinister, something more evil, something more… Melissa?
She claims she fell in love with the devil. Is this a sign? Is Avril really dead?
“No, I’m not dead. I’m here,” Avril, purported dead person told The Independent in 2018. But that’s exactly what a dead person would say.