Ain’t It Fun: The Career Arc of Paramore

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In case you haven’t noticed, Paramore is still going strong. Their self-titled album, released this April, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and their smash single “Still Into You” is still lighting up the pop airwaves. Even aside from its commercial success, Paramore stands as the band’s best work to date and is a testament to the band’s ability to rise from what appeared to be ashes.

The internal struggles and fallout within the band’s members has been well documented and needs no further investigation. However, it is a part of the story and is certainly an integral part in shaping this current unit – one that has one of the largest global followings imaginable for a rock band in the aughts and one that has pushed itself far beyond what most knew they were capable of.

In the midst of a North American headlining tour supporting the strongest album of their career, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on the band’s work and discuss the future of Paramore.

All We Know is Falling

all_we_knowFrom the moment a young Hayley Williams belted out the chorus to the album’s opening track, “All We Know”, it was clear that this band was headed for great things. In this scene, “great things” usually means a shot at radio play, a semi-successful music video and a headlining tour or two. Paramore had bigger things in mind.

There’s no denying how young the band sounds on this album. It’s a tad raw and a bit disjointed at times, but even through the cracks you can see something sincere shining through. There’s a certain level of innocence to this album, even if the lyrics to songs like “Emergency” and “Pressure” allude to a hidden pain and experience. Williams and guitarist Josh Farro penned several of the songs together and Farro’s backup vocals add an appropriate unrefined touch.

Truth be told, even with the rawness of the production and songwriting, the songs come together to form an album that many bands several albums into their career would strive for. Williams’ melodies flow effortlessly, backed by an almost-emo soundscape, creating a worthy debut for the Franklin, Tenn. act.

Riot!

riotIt’s easy to tell why this was the band’s breakthrough album. Remember the first time you heard the opening moments of “Misery Business” and immediately knew that this band was no longer your little secret? From front to back, Riot! screams for attention and is loaded with crossover potential. Paramore didn’t just avoid the sophomore slump, the eviscerated the idea of it.

The beautiful thing is that even though many of the songs are clearly created with an intent to be a hit, there’s no smacking of phony or forced creation. These songs sound polished without sounding fake and feel honest without feeling strained. Try not to sing along to “Crushcrushcrush” or “That’s What You Get” without feeling even the slightest bit snobbish. There’s something relatable and innately fun about these songs. And that’s perfectly okay.

Riot! would end up going platinum, becoming the hallmark release for the band and the album that pushed them from hometown kids to global phenoms. Yet even amidst the success, the inner workings of the band were suffering. However, instead of succumbing to the frustrations that sought to tear the band apart, Williams used them as fuel to create the band’s most frank and candid record.

Brand New Eyes

Brand_New_EyesComing off of the heels of a successful addition to the ballyhooed Twilight soundtrack, the band’s next release took a stark turn from the poppy sunshine of Riot!. Even without any back story, Brand New Eyes is so clearly about the band’s troubles, namely the divide between Williams and Josh Farro, that it can be painful to listen to.

That’s not to say that the album is bad – it certainly isn’t. If anything, it showcases a welcome maturity in songwriting and saved the band from becoming a broken record. The anger in Williams’ voice when she sings “Ignorance” and “Careful” is sharp and to the point, seemingly vanishing her former peppy and bright-eyed image.

Amidst the frustration, this is a band struggling to come to terms with success, relational discord and growing up, all while just hitting their early 20s. Yet even while venting her annoyance, Williams still takes time to speak with a clear head, singing of the band on “Looking Up”, “It’s not a dream anymore / It’s worth fighting for”.

Unfortunately, the damage was already done. Even after positive reviews and another wildly successful single in “The Only Exception”, the album proved to be a breaking point of sorts. Just over a year after the release, Josh and Zach Farro parted ways with the band in an ugly divorce that went public and threatened to tarnish the image of everyone involved. Within the disarray, Williams and company were able to regroup and create a masterpiece.

Paramore

paramore_coverWith Taylor York officially joining Williams and bassist Jeremy Davis as the official core members of the band, they proceeded to take their time creating the follow-up to Brand New Eyes. It was certainly worth the wait. Without the help of the Farro brothers, Paramore was able to write an album that surpassed their past work in composition, maturity, power and accessibility.

Paramore is a rock record. To try to pigeon-hole it further would be fruitless, as the album features a number of styles and genres amidst its songs that combine to make a much greater and far less easily pegged whole. Amazingly, even with the plethora of styles and sounds flowing through each track, the album never feels disjointed and every song has its own place. The wonderfully written interludes serve as an even stronger glue, holding the story together.

Speaking of interludes, the tongue-in-cheek “I’m Not Angry Anymore” is a barometer of sorts for the band. Williams surely isn’t angry in the way that made Brand New Eyes come across so bitterly, but she’s using her emotions to propel her forward towards something much more hopeful, even if she has to battle cynicism along the way.

Aside from the lyrical content, the music itself is a long shot from the early pop-punk/emo days of the band. “Ain’t it Fun” is a bouncy modern rock song that benefits from a monstrous chorus and backing choir vocals to push it over the top. “Daydreaming” is a power pop ballad with an aggressive touch while “Hate to See Your Heart Break” is a slow-tempo daydream of a song.

With Paramore, the band has cemented itself in a musical landscape far beyond the what many bands in this scene are capable of and set themselves up for a career that could last as long as they’re willing to take it. It seems clear that the band is the healthiest it’s ever been and has no plans of stopping.

Where will the future take them? Williams has proven herself as not only a pop icon, but someone with the creative willpower and vocal chops to keep herself relevant and at the forefront. Assuming that her solo ventures don’t distract too much from Paramore the brand, the group has a great chance of remaining near the top of the charts for years to come.

-by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his imaginary pet, Hand Dog.  You can follow him on Twitter.

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