No Matter The Shape Of Emo, Paramore Has Always Been There
By Robbie Campbell
Paramore has recently released the new music video for their track, “Rose-Colored Boy,” penned about a mild disdain for those optimistic people when you’re so hopelessly pessimistic. In the video, Hayley Williams, lead singer, Taylor York, guitarist, and Zac Farro, drummer, act out a scenario in which they are grinning morning-news presenters who fall apart behind-the-scenes. One particular beautifully-shot scene that stands out is when Hayley’s character looks into the mirror on her makeup desk and shifts into her reflection. I love this scene in particular because I think a lot of us can relate to that situation where you look in the mirror and stare at yourself as if you don’t even recognise the person staring back, or at least, haven’t seen them in a long time.
I, personally, have never fully committed to an emo phase. However, from 2008 to 2011, I did have a ridiculously long fringe, and because of my peers I started to get into “emo music”; I fell in love with bands such as Falling In Reverse, Bring Me The Horizon, All Time Low and Paramore. My friends weren’t listening to Paramore, as there was always this idea that Paramore “wasn’t cool” because a woman fronted the band. Sadly, this blatant sexism was followed by name-calling about Hayley Williams. Back then, my music consumption amasses entirely of what was on Grooveshark, and it had everything from singles to leaks and demos. One of my most played songs was “Ignorance” by Paramore. My earliest memory of this song sent me to my local Subway, getting a footlong Italian Herbs and Cheese sandwich before spending the rest of the day with friends in a multi-story car park drinking Lucozade before shoving mentos in the bottle (and thus, making a rocket), while watching the local community skateboard. Of course, we wouldn’t hear “Ignorance” in the car park. The playlist that did play tended to consist of the other bands mentioned previously and some music of the hardstep genre. However, when I got home, I would go straight to my Windows XP, open MSN, and listen to Lady Gaga, Example, and Paramore on Grooveshark. Despite this, I didn’t consider myself a Paramore fan until 2017, the year where the emo genre was most prominent in rap music, with the biggest song being Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO TOUR Llif3” and other rappers such as Lil Peep taking it on.
In February 2017, on Valentine’s Day no less, I was walking to a job interview at a technology company when I received a phone call regarding counselling (or therapy) that I had requested the past August. I agreed to a session the incoming Thursday. Paramore hadn’t even released the lead single from their fifth studio album, After Laughter, which would later be revealed as “Hard Times.” Not to dwell, but I didn’t think the counsellor was right for me, and it appeared she had a narrative that I wasn’t providing, so I stopped going. Regardless, I hadn’t told many of friends and only one of my roommates that I was going to the sessions as I was a bit embarrassed and, to put it plainly, didn’t want them to think I was “unstable” or “mental.”
Something that I had been holding out for turned out to not be helpful, so I was a bit aggravated and slightly worried about whatever I was going through. This thinkpiece isn’t an autobiography, but I started trying coping mechanisms that I’ve heard about on Tumblr or the internet such as holding ice cubes, or in anxious situations, the 10-second countdown as seen on the television series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. From not talking about what I was going through with anyone around me, I admittedly felt a bit isolated and as if I was the only one going through some crisis. It made me feel worse as I was always comparing myself to people in the same stage of life as me.
In April, the lighter days and longer nights came, so the winter blues were shifting slightly. In my attempts to lift myself up, I started going to the gym more, and it definitely worked as an outlet for frustration and restless energy. On Wednesdays, the gym had a “rock playlist,” which (from what I can recall) had “Zombie” by the Cranberries, lots of early Kings of Leon and Guns N’ Roses, and “Ain’t It Fun” and “Still Into You” by Paramore. The playlist revived Paramore more for me as a “throwback act” to my salad days of MSN and car parks, so it was odd when Paramore dropped the lead single from their forthcoming album with the sound of the 80s and the notably more light and nimble sound than what was typically associated with Paramore. It took me a while to pick up the lyrics, which at first didn’t seem out of the ordinary regarding the conglomerate that is pop music and melodrama. The lyrics contained the most common clichés regarding feeling down; it mentioned rain clouds, hitting rock bottom, and holes in the ground. Not long after, “Told You So” was released with an accompanying video. Although the song has the age-old ‘don’t make me say I told you so’ phrasing to it, it’s not as cliché as “Hard Times.” I liked “Hard Times,” but it didn’t do anything for me in the way that their earlier tracks had. “Told You So,” however, hooked me, so I decided to go back and listen to their self-titled album. I was pleasantly surprised. From what I knew of RIOT! and brand new eyes in my early teens, Paramore had cut the fat from their angsty, earlier sound and embraced the pop melodies and ideas that Hayley had been showing us on her solo features with B.o.B and Zedd. The track on their eponymous album, “Fast In My Car,” is a shiny, banging example of pop-rock when pop-rock was becoming more pop than rock (see: Imagine Dragons, Fall Out Boy). Their other songs, “Part II” and “Future,” were even harder than anything before. Notably, the interludes had a more stripped-back sound, and it seems there was slight foreshadowing for After Laugher. However, listening to Paramore’s self-titled album and some of their hits from brand new eyesmade me realise that this wasn’t a rebrand for Paramore as much as a change of aesthetic. Perhaps Paramore was jumping on the West Coast trends in indie rock or the island-hopping sounds in the mainstream — it doesn’t matter because they were singing the same lyrics with the same core values.
The first lyrics on their self-titled record were: “been through the ringer a couple times / I came out callous and cruel.” Other angsty highlights from their back catalogue include: “no one‘s the same as they used to be / Much as we try to pretend” from the previously mentioned track, “Fast in my Car.” Their Grammy-winning track, “Ain’t it Fun”, contained the lines: “Ain’t it fun / Living in the real world.” Another track, “Feeling Sorry,” continued with these distressing lyrics: “I feel no sympathy / You live inside a cave.” The growth in lyrics from this album to After Laughter noticeably show that maybe Hayley feels more empathy for others than before.
Regarding my personal favourite track, “Told You So,” this song seemed so cutting to me. Hayley may be singing about someone saying they told her so, but it seems to reflect back on the happenings of the band. Zac Farro, the drummer, returned to the group, the critics that undermined the female-fronted band were on jumping on the bandwagon due to the strength of their previous album, and the list goes on: Paramore is not a force to be reckoned with.
At the end of that week, Paramore released After Laughter. I admittedly thought, “this is okay, it kind of sounds like an album-length Apple commercial!” Also released that New Music Friday was PWR BTTM’s Pageant (which was my favourite album released that week until allegations which caused the band’s disappearance), Harry Styles’ self-titled debut and Girlpool’s Powerplant. Around this time, I seemed to be coming out of the hole I was in. Maybe it was because it was turning to summer or because I didn’t have time for my own intrusive thoughts as I was so focused on exams and projects in university. I channeled the typical habits of a depressed person into a routine; I spent several late nights in the library (and one very productive but delirious all-nighter) and turning my bed into a work-desk rather than getting up in the morning. Slowly but surely, the songs on After Laughter started to creep into rotation – the song “Caught in the Middle” caught me the first time around, then “Idle Worship” started to take on meaning in my life as I realised my seeming role as “agony aunt.” The track, “Fake Happy,” soon followed suit, becoming my favourite song for weeks and perfectly describing my situation regarding going to therapy. During my late-to-all nighters, Paramore became the soundtrack.
The 80s’ synth-pop/new wave sound is entirely contrapuntal to the themes of anxiety and sadness on the album, and this is definitely the point. Where the self-titled album was rough but harmonious, After Laughter dresses up the sadness in pastel colours, grabs a piano and some new guitars and says, “everyone is going through shit” while indulging in it – which was what I needed in 2017.
In August, coincidentally a year since I was at the height of my episode and had requested help from my GP, Paramore released the music video for “Fake Happy.” In the video, Hayley jots around Time Square surrounded by people with their faces imposed with a big smiley face, not unlike Nirvana’s. I can’t think of a better visual metaphor for the theme of the song, especially nowadays when music videos are becoming mere vehicles for streams or streams-via-memes.
As mentioned, the band has recently released the video for “Rose-Colored Boy.” One could take the video as some political message with the hashtag #WakeUpRoseville, and it possibly could be, but to me, this is the best video to come from the After Laughter era because it has a hint of meta. Hayley has been in Paramore since she was fourteen, and without delving into all the examples of young talent that have been exposed to the spotlight too early, Hayley has been growing up in front of us, or rather, with us. The hawk-like eyes in the media is a lot of pressure when you don’t know yourself, and everyone else thinks they know everything about you or what’s best for you (see: “Playing God”). Personally, I’m very inspired by and even proud of her for going through her grief and even maturing on the world stage (see: her comments regarding the “whore” lyric in “Misery Business”) and doing it so well too. Where “emo-rap” is indulgent in grief and killing emotions, Hayley turns away from the mirror, puts on a brave face and takes on the world.