It’s rare to find a decent and popular female-fronted band in 2016 – I’m not counting Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s She & Him, the duo being fairly underrated. Our sexist music industry has no room for women who ‘rock’ their way into people’s hearts, unless they’re dressed provocatively and have no real personality of their own. But for that, they obviously don’t need a band.
Then again, every once in a while, some women let their talent speak for itself, whether they are following a solo career path or they are fronting a band. Those cases are very few, especially the ones that come with a band. Over the last ten years though, there’s been one such example, which has convinced me that a female-fronted band can, in fact, be successful, if the artist is extremely talented and, basically… a badass.
I’m talking about Paramore, and their super-woman, Hayley Williams. The band recently announced that founding member Jeremy Davis was leaving, adding to the departure of two other members who had said goodbye five years ago; the Farro brothers. And while Paramore have now promised to go on as a two-piece, I’m wondering if Hayley’s dynamic personality is all it takes for the band to survive yet another blow. Ultimately, is Hayley the glue that keeps it all together or is Paramore that special?
But let’s go back to the start. Hayley Williams was only 13 when she formed Paramore with Jeremy Davis, Zac and Josh Farro, as well as Jason Bynum – who would soon be replaced by Hunter Lamb, himself being in turn replaced by Taylor York. While Atlantic Records, where Williams was initially signed to, wanted to see her as a pop solo artist, her vision was to be part of a band, where she would write the music with her friends, steering clear of the ‘pop princess stereotype’.
So in 2005, Paramore got signed to both Atlantic Records and the niche label Fueled by Ramen, which was their entry ticket to pop-punk success. As they were recording their debut album, Jeremy Davis left the band for personal reasons, and the members wrote “All We Know” about his departure. Their debut album All We Know Is Falling was then based on that concept. Luckily, Davis agreed to come back after five months, and the band started getting attention with singles such as “Emergency” and “Pressure”.
Things didn’t really pick up, though, until 2007, when Taylor York was added to the crew and Paramore recorded Riot!. That’s when they proved that they were stronger than ever, ready to take on the pop-punk music scene with this dynamic female-fronted model that delightfully surprised even the non-believers. Williams reminded people of a punkier, perhaps cooler and even more anti-conformist version of a ’90s Gwen Stefani, and, really, who could say no to that?
But Paramore wasn’t only about Williams, as much as haters would soon start to appoint the band’s success solely to her talent. On the contrary, Riot! proved that songs like “That’s What You Get”, “Misery Business” and “For a Pessimist I’m Pretty Optimistic” were pop-punk masterpieces on their own; anthems to any rebellious kid out there, and especially girls, who quickly idolised the redhead that sang about love in such an unconventional way. “Let the Flames Begin” and “We Are Broken”, indicated that this record had soul, with or without Hayley. Of course, her mind-blowing vocals did help.
After their very well-received The Final Riot! tour (also recorded on DVD) and having just released the hugely successful “Decode” for Twilight’s soundtrack in 2008, Paramore were ready for their next step. People were now really beginning to see why this band was so different. Some saw it as a ‘one-woman show’, with the media often focusing on its frontwoman and leaving the rest of the members to slowly fade in the background.
Williams, though, refused to steal the spotlight from her bandmates. In 2007 she went as far as to accuse Kerrang! magazine of only focusing on her for a cover piece they did on Paramore. “We could’ve done without a cover piece”, she said. “Sorry, if it offends anyone at Kerrang! but I don’t think there was one bit of truth in that article”.
And with that same sense of unity in 2009, the band started recording their third studio album, Brand New Eyes. The record clearly blasted that they weren’t kids anymore, this being evident through lyrically-perfect tracks like “Playing God” and “Brick by Boring Brick”, or fearless odes to standing up for oneself, such as “Careful”, “Ignorance”, “Turn It Off” and “All I Wanted”. Somewhere amidst this pointing-the-finger whirlwind, the band also took the time to thank the fans with the optimistic “Looking Up” and “Where the Lines Overlap”.
Sadly, as much as they would really love to ‘shut some mouths’, not everything was perfect. After a lot of touring to promote the album, Josh and Zack Farro announced that they were leaving the band in late 2010. As haters quickly started to speculate that there was tension between the bandmates, Josh reinforced that idea, by stating that the band was “a manufactured product of a major-label” and that its members were simply “riding on the coattails of [Hayley’s] dream”. Ouch.
The rest of the band decided to give an interview to MTV in January 2011 and set the record straight, but by that time, a lot of their fans had already disappeared. The Farro brothers were integral members of Paramore and a lot of people were angry at Williams, following Josh’s statements. Nevertheless, she promised to continue despite having lost two founding members.
Honestly, the band’s comeback record could not have been more spectacular. With “Monster” having served as their in-between-albums single (and Transformers soundtrack) in 2011, fans were convinced that the show would, indeed, go on. And so it did. Fast-forward two years, the self-titled record bears little resemblance to the band’s previous stuff. Paramore is sassy and powerful and, hell, even gospel at times! It’s giving away some pop-ier vibes, but it’s definitely the most well-written record they’ve ever created.
Hitting back at haters – and even more so at former band members – songs like “Now”, “Grow Up” and the interlude “Moving On” might suggest that this album was released just for spite, or to simply show that Paramore were survivors. However, “Still Into You”, “Last Hope”, “Proof” and the Grammy-winning “Ain’t It Fun” proved once more that talent cannot be hidden and it cannot be contained. This record was a million things all into one, yet somehow beautifully consistent and bold.
Everything was smooth sailing for a while, until just over a month ago, when Jeremy Davis announced that he’s leaving the band for good. This departure meant no hurt feelings, only bitter-sweet nostalgia and respect from the part of Williams and York. However, one question is now more relevant than ever; could Paramore afford to lose one more member? In case you were wondering, the band will not stop making music just yet. And if Hayley’s started to sound a little annoying – or a lot like Celine Dion – when she says that Paramore will go on as a two-piece, then I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t be surprised. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, is that the woman never gives up!
Just a few days ago, she announced that she’s started working on a new album with York. This is surely an interesting turn of events and no one can really predict what Paramore will sound like as a two-piece; after all, the band concept works better for that genre. Then again, this is Hayley’s voice we’re talking about; how bad can it be? It’s pretty awkward to admit, but, at this point, I’m pretty sure that Hayley can survive without Paramore, even though Paramore couldn’t possibly survive without her. Even so, it’s nice to know that she’s still ‘with band’, following her once punk dream, whatever that has come to mean.
Words by Konstantina Pyrnokoki