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When the mainstream popularity of pop-punk and emo crested in the mid-’00s, Paramore emerged as one of the movement’s leading lights. Fronted by Hayley Williams — a rainbow-haired, wise-beyond-her-years teenager with a hollering voice — the electrifying band proved that pop-punk could be thoughtful, sincere, and resist pandering to the lowest common denominator. Of course, it helped that Williams and the other members of Paramore were often the same age as their fans, which erased the distance between band and audience even more.
This level playing field quickly became evident on the band’s 2005 debut,
, an album preoccupied by romantic instability, lost friendships, and homesickness. The LP certainly has its fair share of effervescent pop-punk (“Emergency,” “Pressure”) but more often feels like a throwback to late-’90s emo and early-’00s indie rock; “Franklin,” for example, resembles Rainer Maria. Paramore’s ability to be both of (and apart from) the times continued with 2007’s
, a muscular rock ‘n’ roll breakthrough featuring the top 40 smash “Misery Business,” and 2009’s expansive
and its delicate pop crossover hit, “The Only Exception.”
As the years progressed, Paramore grew from a side-stage Warped Tour act into a band capable of selling out a headlining gig at Wembley Arena in 10 minutes. Critical respect soon followed: 2013’s thoroughly grown-up
was widely praised for taking cues from thundering post-rock, ’80s pop, and the Joy Formidable. The new
is yet another reinvention and revelation; indebted to modern indie-electro, candy-coated new wave, and lo-fi folk, the record is focused on the anxieties that go hand in hand with adulthood. Like fellow ’00s emo scene survivors Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco, Paramore circa 2017 bears little resemblance to their younger self.
also features drummer Zac Farro, who has returned to the band years after he and guitarist brother Josh originally left amid acrimony. To this day, stories about Paramore tend to zero in on the band’s tumultuous existence, specifically its ever-present lineup revolving door. (The latest example, a lawsuit filed by former bassist Jeremy Davis, was recently settled.) Focusing on band drama conveniently ignores the fact that Paramore not only have survived any setbacks — but the trio has thrived and emerged as one of the boldest, most consistent rock bands around.
As a teen, Hayley Williams was a preternaturally gifted songwriter who always helped Paramore stand out from the rest of the Warped Tour fray. The chugging, distressed “Emergency,” from the band’s debut album, is a sophisticated song highlighting the stress and panic associated with relationships that aren’t working. The lyrics weave Williams’ recollections from her parents’ divorce (“Well I can’t pretend that I don’t see this/ It’s really not your fault”) with more general accusations about a dysfunctional partnership: “So, you give up every chance you get/ Just to feel new again.”
Loners in love are a beautiful thing. That’s the the prevailing, relatable message of “Be Alone”: Going out is overrated, and hanging out at home by yourself — and maybe your special someone — is something to be celebrated, not lamented. “Be Alone” is also remarkable for the clever ways it updates Paramore’s familiar sonic touchstones. Guitar echoes that resemble streaks of charcoal give way to a sudden, sighing pre-chorus and then a slower version of the band’s headbanging-inducing, pop-punk breakdowns.
Over the years, various members of Paramore have spoken about their Christian faith in interviews. The most eloquent way these beliefs emerged in song, however, came via
’ “Turn It Off.” Williams explores various tests to her own faith (“I scraped my knees when I was praying/ And found a demon in my safest haven”) and muses about the conflicting messages and eye-opening experiences she’s seen along the way, and what these mean for her personal relationship with God. “Turn It Off” pairs these complex topics with moody emotive pop textures comparable to Jimmy Eat World’s ’00s output.
To tide fans over before the release of 2013’s
, the band released several stand-alone singles via its website in 2011. The best of these was the pop-punk buzzsaw “Renegade,” a song about rebuilding self-esteem after a turbulent relationship finally fizzles out. Williams observes “the grass wasn’t green enough here/ after watering it with my tears,” and sings of being chased by snakes, but then asserts she’s a renegade — in other words, a tough-as-nails iconoclast — who’ll outrun any darkness. Call “Renegade” a survival anthem for anyone who may have temporarily lost their sense of self because of a relationship.
On “Fast In My Car,” Paramore’s lyrics are both self-referential and universally relatable — a tough balance to strike, since it’s easy for songwriting in the former category to devolve into insufferable navel-gazing. This Elastica-like Britpunk rumble is a declaration of Paramore’s then-fresh start that, while acknowledging the angst and drama the band endured, also asserts that everyone’s in a good (if wary) place. “We’re driving fast in my car,” Williams trills, sassy bravado bolstering her voice. “We’ve got our riot gear on, but we just want to have fun.”
Perhaps because Williams adores ’90s space-rockers Hum, Paramore have always excelled at post-rock roars. Exhibit A: “Decode,” a
soundtrack. Jumping on this vampire money (R.I.P. My Chemical Romance) didn’t hinder Paramore’s creativity, however. Although “Decode” can certainly be interpreted in tandem with the movie, its veiled references to disappointing dudes (“But you think that I can’t see/ What kind of man that you are/ If you’re a man at all”) also read as harsh indictments of dirtbag behavior.
The “crush” referred to on this moody synth-rock stomp doubles as a reference to romantic oppression and obsession. More than that, however, this crush feels like bad news — a not-so-veiled threat rather than a promise of good things to come. One of Paramore’s heaviest moments to date, “Crushcrushcrush” employs slash-and-burn guitars and ominous electronic programming to bolster lyrics which find Williams daring someone else to be brave, ignore haters, and spend time with her. “Don’t you know, baby, we’re all alone now?” she beckons. “Give me something to sing about.”
Like many artists, Dolly Parton had a short-lived disco phase in the late ’70s. “Hard Times” is a spiritual descendent of this era — at least on the chorus, where Williams bops around, a country twang in her voice, as roller-rink beats and keyboards froth up around her. The rest of the song is a classic case of a sunny surface masking turbulent lyrics. Tropical island beats and colorful post-punk scribbles serve as a breezy palette for Williams to detail the lingering doldrums and bad luck following her around.
Williams’ growth as a vocalist was one of the major joys of Paramore’s self-titled era. “Ain’t It Fun” is a particularly successful (and natural) example of this evolution. Williams channels ’90s R&B sass and gospel singers on the funky, blare-in-the-car-at-top-volume song. Better still, she sounds like she’s having a blast letting loose and embracing some of her earliest vocal influences, which makes the song’s underlying message — growing up requires shedding self-centeredness — resonate in more profound ways.
1. “That’s What You Get” (from Riot!, 2007)
“That’s What You Get” is a stone-cold mid-’00s pop-punk classic. Not only is the song an irresistible pogo-pop jam boosted with spring-loaded grooves, but the lyrics find Williams putting a stop to the accusations and anger an ex is directing at her. “Well, I don’t wanna be the blame, not anymore/ It’s your turn/ So take a seat, we’re settling the final score.” Later, she regrets letting her emotions drown out logic, and muses aloud about why people don’t run from emotional pain. There’s no guarantee Williams’ heart won’t torpedo future relationships — but she’s now prepared to head things off at the pass if it does.
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