The summer of 2009 was extraordinary for a few reasons. First, Daughtry’s second best album was released, providing the melodies my Dad and I would sing back to for ages during long car rides highlighted by slow, sweaty sunsets. Second, Obama was finally president. I don’t have to explain why this was such a monumental part of 2009. It was Obama, man. Thirdly and finally, I would accompany my mother and my cousin to a No Doubt show. Of course, at 8 years old, I couldn’t really be a No Doubt fan beyond the iconic hits: “Spiderwebs”, “Don’t Speak” and “Just A Girl”. Our seats were way in the nosebleeds, barely covered by the venue’s roof, which was unfortunate since our show was almost canceled due to a rambunctious rainstorm that night. It was messy and muddy and sweaty and, honestly, I can’t remember much of the performance. What I do remember, however, takes the form of a band called Paramore.
Let’s make this clear: I was born into the emo music scene as much as any other millennial. Of course, as a child, I memorized the entireties of Speak Now by Taylor Swift and Don’t Forget by Demi Lovato, but what took up the most space on my little iPod Nano included the likes of Breaking Benjamin, Three Days Grace and Linkin Park. Pop Punk, as it’s come to be known as, highlighted the best moments of my childhood, and so it should be no surprise that after living through the spiritual experience that is a Paramore concert, I was hooked. Admittedly, Paramore performed namely songs from their breakout album, RIOT!, and so my 8-year-old self came to experience life through solely those 12 songs, not discovering brand new eyes until two years later, when things for Paramore and, indeed, myself, became a bit rocky. But before that, we’ll analyze the good part of my childhood through the lens of Paramore’s best-known album: RIOT!
RIOT! Is one of those old-school gems that became old-school before even hitting its one-year anniversary. It’s what gave us our beloved angry scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs jams, like “Misery Business” and “That’s What You Get,” as well as more laid-back songs that genuinely embrace the term “emo” like “When it Rains” and “We Are Broken.“ But even more interesting than the music itself, RIOT! provided us with an integral part of Paramore’s history. “Misery Business,” the lead single off the album, peaked at #26 on Billboard’s Hot 100, making it the band’s highest-charting single before the brand new eyes era. It is the band’s most played song on the radio to date and sold over 3 million units. These statistics, coupled with the success of other singles such as “crushcrushcrush” and “That’s What You Get,” and there is no question that RIOT! was perhaps Paramore’s most influential album. RIOT! launched the band on major headlining tours alongside bands like The Starting Line, Jimmy Eat World, and Jack’s Mannequin. Paramore was now getting attention from mainstream media outlets, including Z100 and MTV. In short, Paramore was taking the world by storm, an idea almost unfathomable for such a time period where pop was still the king of the industry.
I like to associate RIOT! with my middle school days, mostly because, well, I listened to the album most during my middle school days. In a sense, both mine and Paramore’s early history can be equated to the middle school experience. Things are changing… DRASTICALLY. You’re growing, physically and mentally. Your body is changing in more ways than you can keep up with. You’re losing friends; you’re gaining friends. You’re discovering new opportunities, like actual sports teams and after-school clubs. For Paramore, their career was growing. The band was changing, with the addition of guitar player Taylor York. New opportunities showed themselves in the form of headlining tours, music festivals, and TV performances. Paramore became up and coming. A new, scary but also kind of exciting phase of life had emerged, for Paramore and me alike.
Of course, middle school was not without its faults, as both Paramore and I can tell you. Alongside the excitement that comes with growing up, comes the hardships, struggles and other negative shit that trademarks maturity. For me, that meant seeing my parents divorce, seeing them fight over custody of my brother and me. It meant waking up each morning to see my father alone, nearly bedridden from the disease he’d contracted during the Persian Gulf War. It meant learning how to read my father’s eyes: knowing how to say, “we don’t have enough money for real food” or “I can’t afford your school supplies, never mind new clothes” without ever uttering a single word. It meant accepting the fact that most of my wardrobe would be from thrift stores and charities for the next few years. It meant that I couldn’t afford swimming lessons. It meant breaking down in my father’s bedroom, a 9-year-old wheezing, “Why did she leave?! She didn’t even care!! Why won’t she help us?!”. It meant that from now on, I would have to find a way to take care of my dad, to take care of both of us before things got really bad.
And perhaps Paramore’s middle-school days weren’t as difficult as mine, but they definitely didn’t grow without seeing some struggle. Lead singer Hayley Williams and lead guitarist Josh Farro would date on and off throughout the album cycle, ultimately contributing tension to the band as a whole. In fact, after leaving the band, Farro would eventually write that Hayley and bassist Jeremy Davis began changing their core beliefs during RIOT!’s cycle, that things quickly went “downhill” for the band. The Farro brothers would grow suspicious of Williams’ true motives as an artist, question her dedication to the band as she maintained contracts with Atlantic Records as a solo artist (which she had signed at 14). While Paramore was perhaps at the height of their success as a band, RIOT! provided the foundations for tension and arguments that would eventually lead to the band’s temporary falling-out a few years later down the line. Middle school is never without its hard times (ba dum tss), and while the mandatory phase in life is crucial to growing up, the memories made can leave scars that can be reminders of one’s strength.
Middle school is a stew of good times accented with adversity. It’s tough to walk through, but once you reach the end of that final year, you’re invigorated yet again with that excitement (and a little anxiety) for the future as you begin your journey into high school. And then on your first day of Freshman year your friends forget to inform you that they decided to eat outside for lunch, and then you forage your pockets for the lunch money you swore you’d packed but, oh look, you forgot, and then you go home with a 20-page packet from your algebra teacher, and you realize that middle school was a sanctuary compared to this place that’s supposedly a school.
Let’s say it together: high school freaking sucks. Freshman year especially sucks, because it’s like sixth grade all over again (only it’s even worse). Your body is still changing, friends are still leaving you, and classes are more difficult. You still have more opportunities, like becoming president of a club, staring a food drive, or getting a varsity letter. But mentally, Freshman year takes the worst toll on you, and when you’re struggling with the already-difficult stresses of being a teenager combined with personal homelife problems, you could care less about some damn varsity letter.
brand new eyes is my favorite Paramore album, hands down. It’s angry, it’s violent, it’s every emo teen’s dream. The lyrics are unprecedentedly amazing, with trademarks like “The truth never set me free so I did it myself” and “If it’s true you can see it with your eyes, even in the dark, and that’s where I want to be.” The production is a step-up from RIOT! with haunting guitar riffs and hidden humming xylophones. In short, brand new eyes deserved to be album of the year upon its release in late 2009 in my humble opinion. But of course, that wasn’t the case for Paramore. While the era launched the band on to another set of tours highlighted by sufficient media attention to keep sales afloat, brand new eyes would give us perhaps the ugliest part of Paramore’s history.
Freshman year was also the ugliest part of my history thus far, and that’s another reason why I like to associate brand new eyes with the beginning of high school. My dad’s disease was growing worse with each passing month. All my life, I remember him being in and out of the hospital, but when my dad was put on life support in late April, I knew things could very well be different this time. He was released from the hospital, thankfully, and came home after spending a few days in a rehab facility. We thought that things were finally going to be okay. We hoped that things would be okay.
But there’s a lesson hiding between songs on Paramore’s third studio album, and it’s something along the lines of this: sometimes hope isn’t enough to save a life. For Paramore, hope wasn’t enough to save the band’s relationship with the Farro brothers. For me, hope wasn’t enough to save my dad. And so in early May, after just three days of being out of the hospital, my dad passed away at age 49. I don’t really need to explain much further as to why Freshman year was so terrible for me.
Paramore suffered from a different kind of loss. In late 2010, Paramore announced the departure of members Josh and Zac Farro, lead guitarist and drummer for the band, respectively. In the official statement posted on Paramore’s website, it was claimed that the brothers had decided to leave as a result of simply not being happy in the band and desiring a greater fulfillment in life. There were no hard feelings, or at least, that’s the message that was understood until a few days later when Josh Farro released a statement of his own.
“…what started as natural somehow morphed into a manufactured product of a major label, riding on the coattails of Hayley’s dream.”
To be blunt, Farro’s statement took a beating out on Paramore’s remaining three members. But more so than anyone else, the tension was directed at frontwoman Hayley Williams. According to Farro, Paramore had become all about Hayley than the actual band collectively. Hayley was the only member signed to Atlantic Records. Hayley got her way in writing ‘blasphemous’ lyrics despite arguments with the Farro brothers. Hayley, Hayley, Hayley. The Farro brothers had had enough with the band being overshadowed by Hayley, and so that, according to Josh himself, is the reason why he and his brother Zac left the band.
Paramore’s three remaining members had no idea this was the real reason Josh and Zac decided to leave. In their infamous hour-long segment with MTV News, York, Davis, and Williams all concluded on the same message: if the Farros truly had as many issues with being in the band as they’d written in their random blog post, they definitely didn’t make it clear. Williams explained, “If they don’t want to be in the band, then that’s a simple answer. But then when it really became about all these other things, I was very surprised and kind of felt led on, almost.”
Davis added, “It was pretty confusing because the way it was expressed to us from them was they weren’t happy and they wanted to move on and do something else. And there was this peace between us, and then reading [their statement] was totally something different. And, like Hayley said, it was hard reading it because the whole time, I was thinking about all our fans we worked so hard for, and all the confusion and that stuff. And it’s all a bunch of silliness.”
By the end of the year, Paramore had endured the first part of what would be a very long four years. Josh and Zac Farro were no longer a part of the band; the original Paramore we had grown up loving and listening to death was no more. And as much as the remaining trio assured us the band would continue making music, fans were terrified and hopeless. Paramore had suffered a major loss, and now hope was more buried than it was during the release of brand new eyes. Freshman year, as we can see, takes no prisoners.
But there is a light that emerges, bruised and dim in the form of Sophomore year. While my second year of high school was indeed just that for Paramore—a year—”Sophomore year” for the band didn’t come about until four years after the Farro brothers left. If there is a future, it is slow and dismal and terrifying and anxiety-inducing. If there is any hope, it is so small one can barely hold it in their hands. But there’s a point to be said with such ideas: that which we most desire will come, eventually, whether we are prepared for its arrival or not. Paramore’s fourth studio album was no exception to this ideology.
“Feels like I’m waking from the dead, and everyone’s been waitin’ on me.
Least now I’ll never have to wonder what it’s like to sleep a year away.
But were we indestructible?
I thought that we could brave it all.
I never thought that what would take me out was hiding down below.”
Paramore’s first single post-hiatus seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, with merely a brief announcement and a random music video for a song titled “Now.” As any fan would be, I personally was skeptical of the band’s new phase. Would the forthcoming album hold up to Paramore’s tried and true genuine sound from years past? Would the band be able to produce high quality, well-produced music without the help of the Farro brothers? Could Paramore, as a three-piece, really continue to be a band?
“Now” gave us a drastically different sound than Paramore’s three previous albums. It was more poppy and almost retro-sounding, more pop-rock than it was pop-punk. It was a major change for Paramore’s musical identity.
And it was damn good. No, Paramore’s old sound was no longer with us, but maybe that was a good thing. The lyrics to “Now” were just as amazing and sharp as those of brand new eyes, if not even more so. The guitars were sharper, though more rhythmic and distorted. The bass was more prominent. Hayley’s voice had somehow aged even more, sounding ragged and tired (but in an oddly good way). Paramore had matured their music to a brand new sound no one could have ever seen coming, especially from a band that was always grounded in punk.
Sophomore year was apparently a good year for all of us. Though I transferred to a brand new school knowing no one, the new atmosphere I was thrust into was fairly easy to assimilate to. Despite taking even more advanced classes, I was lucky enough to be paired with hardworking, motivating teachers who genuinely cared about their craft. I joined a new sport. I joined some more clubs. I got heavily involved with a local nonprofit that promotes creative writing. For the first time in what felt like forever, I was truly getting to know myself. In the months following the loss of my dad, I refused to write. But the epiphany came, as it always does, and I realized I had to write about my grief before moving on to anything else. So I did just that. I wrote a poem, dotted with runny ink from fist-sized tears. And then out of pure curiosity, I sent the poem to perhaps the world’s most well-known contest for young writers, the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
I won a freaking silver key (silver medal, for perspective). I looked from my name listed on the website to my wrist, and I placed two fingers upon my pulse and finally breathed—really breathed, for what felt like the first time in a while. Sophomore year, perhaps for this reason alone, was the best school year I had experienced so far.
And I wasn’t the only one who’d won a major award in their field. As Paramore embarked on their biggest tour yet, they dropped a slew of high-ranking singles, including “Still Into You” and, most notably, “Ain’t It Fun.” Sure enough, in 2015, Paramore won a Grammy in the category “Best Rock Song” for the groovy, soulful, lyrically-rich song. Sophomore year was shaping up to be the best thus far for the band.
Except, it wasn’t. Again, another bump in the road was hit, again uprooting the confidence that Paramore would continue to be a band. In December of 2015, it was announced via Paramore’s Facebook page that bassist and longtime member Jeremy Davis would be leaving the band. The message was fairly brief, simply stating that Davis would be departing the band, leaving out any real explanation as to why. In addition, remaining bandmembers York and Williams assured fans that Paramore would continue as a duo.
That should have been the brunt of turmoil for the band, but a few months later in the spring of 2016, Davis sued Paramore (or at least, the business entity that represents Paramore), over disputes regarding royalties and songwriting credits. Davis claimed he had been excluded from songwriting credits, as well as royalties from the band’s self-titled album. Varoom Whoa, Paramore’s business entity, argued that Davis had been working under Paramore as an employee, and therefore was not eligible for royalties from merchandise, sales, and touring. While the lawsuit was eventually settled, one can only imagine how Williams and York must have felt throughout the entire thing. To lose a band member is one thing, but losing a close friendship with said member is a whole other type of deep emotional loss. And for that ex-friend to sue the people he’d sworn were his best friends for years upon years… that may even hurt worse than the brief chaos that was losing Zac and Josh Farro. Paramore finished off the year with an announcement for their next adventure, Parahoy, keeping fans hopeful that Taylor and Hayley really would be able to maintain Paramore’s career.
Admittedly, Sophomore year was not all roses for me, either. While my writing portfolio grew throughout those 12 months, I still found myself losing friends who swore they would never forget about me. I sat alone at lunch for the first three months of school before finally finding a friend group through mutual classes. To say the least, was extremely depressed. But I pulled through, eventually making newer, better friends, acing my AP World History exam, and joining a real sport where I made more friends and actually did stuff after school. Perhaps I hadn’t hit a wall as badly as Paramore did, but compared to both of our pasts, Sophomore year was still better than Freshman year or, even, middle school. The school year ended with both of us questioning our future, hoping again that things would improve and art would prevail.
Enter Junior year. 2017 is almost over, meaning the upcoming school year is just around the corner. I don’t know what my future holds, how difficult my classes will be and which friends will choose to abandon me—if any decide to do so. But I do know Paramore is having an amazing year already, and so I can only hope that this year will be good to me, too.
It arrives rather abruptly. First, Paramore tweets out a link to their online store with the caption, “I’m Back.” Said link brings fans to a brand new shirt for sale, depicting a younger Zac Farro with various neon colored shadows. It’s official: Zac Farro, the same Zac Farro who left Paramore along with his brother Josh back in 2010, had returned. Fans were extremely excited, and while the history regarding Farro’s exit remains a bit problematic, it was, after all, Josh who had written such negative remarks about Hayley. Zac simply followed along because, well, Josh was his brother. But suddenly, seven years had passed and whatever tension existed between the band and Zac was dissolved. Paramore would now be a three-piece.
Then, we started getting hints. Paramore’s Apple music page was updated with a new photo of the band, dressed in primary colors. The band account embarked on a weeklong journey of tweeting bit by bit of the new album cover. Finally, in spring of 2017, Paramore’s debut single from their forthcoming fifth album, After Laughter, was released: “Hard Times”.
If the self-titled album was a drastic change from Paramore’s original sound, After Laughter was like recreating the band’s sound from the ground up. Yes, it was definitely more pop than rock or even punk. Bass was even more so prevalent, despite Davis’s exit. Synthesizers were introduced. If there was one word to describe the new sound it would be groovy. But it wasn’t pop in a manufactured way. Instead, the sound was more organic. Instruments were still involved despite the quicker tempos. Hayley’s voice was as clear as on any other song. After Laughter belongs in your mom’s old record collection from the 80s, and I think that is the best way to describe the band’s new sound. It’s vastly different, incredibly more poppy, and yet, it was done so well. Instead of rejecting the band as sellouts for giving into 2017’s pop music revolution, fans rejoiced at their unique, lovable new sound. Paramore was still a band, and that’s all any fan could have hoped for.
Junior year has continued to be a successful ride for Paramore following the release of After Laughter. The band announced a worldwide theater tour, came out with new merch and interesting music videos, and embarked on a series of various late-night TV appearances. Paramore had again saved themselves, despite all the hardship they’d suffered through as a result of losing Jeremy Davis.
I think there is a message to be said after all of this, after all of Paramore’s history, the ups and the downs and the gritty in-betweens: Paramore is a band. Paramore is a band we’ve all grown up with, a band we are able to pinpoint parts of ourselves within (both in the past and the present). Paramore is a band that has endured so much and is still kicking. There have been so many times where the band could have given up on their careers, could have stopped trying.
But they didn’t because Paramore is a band. Paramore is still a band. And maybe, that’s all that matters.
(Addendum: I realize Paramore had an album prior to the release of Riot! But I was like, six years old when it was released. I couldn’t have been that big of a fan when I could barely spell the name Paramore. Still, “My Heart” and “Here We Go Again” get me pumped up to this day.)