By Shirley Halperin
January 30, 2007 at 12:00 PM EST

It’s been nearly three years since Avril Lavigne last gave music fans a piece of her mind and, in that time, much has changed for Canada’s reigning pop-punk queen. Let’s see: She turned 21, landed a modeling contract, made her acting debut (in Fast Food Nation, at whose premiere in November this glammed-up red-carpet photo was taken), married Sum-41’s Deryck Whibley, and, for a second there, looked like she was headed down a one-way road to adulthood. But judging by new songs she previewed last night for a small group of music industry execs and members of the press, Avril’s forthcoming album, The Best Damn Thing (out April 17), promises to show that she’s anything but settled.

Taking the microphone at LA’s ultra-exclusive lounge Hyde (the scene of Paris Hilton’s infamous catfight with Shanna Moakler, Paris’ headline-grabbing night out with Britney Spears, and the unforgettable Firecrotch incident), Avril excitedly introduced six hot-off-the-Pro Tools-rig tracks, all but one in-your-face rockers with a common refrain of “I hate you, bitch.” Case in point: the opening verse to her first single, “Girlfriend” (“Hey you, I don’t like your girlfriend… I think you need a new one”). Familiar? Sure, but polished, confident and punchier than ever, thanks to some perfectly placed hand claps and top-notch production turns by Dr. Luke (Pink, Kelly Clarkson), Butch Walker, Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance) and her husband, Deryck. The same can be said of what’s sure to be the second single, “I Can Do Better.” She introduced the song as her favorite before explaining how it came to be. “I drank half a bottle of Limoncello, was completely wasted, wrote the song drunk and recorded it drunk,” she proudly told the crowd, then toasted the record with a shot of Jager as the chorus kicked into high gear. “You left without me / And now you’re somewhere out there with a bitch, slut, psycho babe / I hate you, why are guys so lame?”

addCredit(“Avril Lavigne: Matthew Simmons/”)

Of course, this third studio effort includes plenty of four-letter words as well as the requisite instant tearjerker (“When You’re Gone”), complete with strings and a dramatic piano arrangement. So what’s different this time around? For one thing, Avril’s dancing! Though she’d always sworn off choreography in her videos and live show, the clip for “Girlfriend,” which she saved for last as an extra sneak peek treat, features Avril leading a pack of punked-out cheerleaders in an orchestrated dance sequence. As it turned out, Avril enjoyed the experience so much, she recruited the girls (who double as back-up singers for Butch Walker’s band, The Let’s Go Out Tonites) to join her on the road. They’ve been rehearsing for nearly a month, Avril told us earlier, and were still “working it all out.” But on this night, it didn’t take that long (or all that many shots, truthfully) before she was climbing atop the banquette, singing along and showing off her moves.

Avril may be a perpetual teenager, but she’s an entertaining one at that. And this jaded journalist, who can’t remember the last time an artist actually attended his/her own listening party, never mind rocked out to their own fresh-from-the-mastering-plant music, says hallelujah to that!