Here's Paramore's setlist from their first show in four years
This Is Why, Ain't It Fun, Decode, Misery Business... Paramore didn't come to mess around at their first show back
Still just 33 years old, Paramore vocalist Hayley Williams has achieved a staggering amount in a short space of time. Her Petals For Armor and FLOWERS for VASES / descansos solo releases and various contributions with artists as diverse as B.o.B and CHVRCHES have contributed heavily to a mainstream-straddling credibility, but Paramore (for whom Hayley has been the sole permanent member) remains her main concern.
Ever since she rejected the offer to shoot for pop-stardom in favour of performing the pop-punk she loved with schoolmates Josh and Zac Farro, and bassist Jeremy Davis, Paramore has been the vessel through which Hayley has come of age as a songwriter, a role-model, a pop-cultural icon and a simple human being. Each individual release stands as a snapshot, from the charming naïveté of 2015 debut All We Know Is Falling through late-teenage breakout Riot! and on through those more experimental and mature “adult” releases that have copper-sealed superstardom.
Nowadays, with Zac back in the fold and able support from multi-instrumentalist Taylor York, Paramore shows feel like a walk down memory lane. As such, our Top 20 consists of those moments in time that stand out most vividly, and those that have defined one of the biggest (and most unpredictable) bands of the 21st century…
‘Keep me safe inside / Your arms like towers / Tower over me, yeah / ’Cause we are broken.’ Although far from the fawning toothlessness of the 'Christian rock' purveyed by many of their middle-American contemporaries, Paramore have never shied away from discussions of faith. We Are Broken unfolds as a prayer for safety and salvation, delivered, initially, over a simple piano line that evokes Evanescence at their most stripped-back before rising into a chorus that’s pure Paramore. The scant electric instrumentation, organ and choral vocals of the final third pack heavenly power.
The emotional standout from All We Know Is Falling was born from a place of deep, genuine sadness. As a tribute to her friend Lanie Kealhofer who died in a boating accident at 16 (and to whom the album is dedicated, with lyrics and liner notes declaring “You shine brighter than anyone”), we can feel the choked-back grief in lyrics like, ‘Well this is not your fault / But if I'm without you / Then I will feel so small.’ It’s the iridescent delivery that really lingers, mind, with the melancholy offset by a rousing determination to remember the good times.
“It's one thing to have goals and dreams,” Hayley told Kerrang! back in 2009, “but it's another thing when you never know where you're standing in the real world. People can be hurt by that.” Unfurling as a twisted fairytale, the second single from Brand New Eyes imagines a misguided protagonist holding out for a prince charming who never comes. The band stress their need for a more tangible reality, hammering their point home with that iconic percussive ba-da-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba outro and the emphatic lyrical conclusion: ‘If it's not real / You can't hold it in your hand / You can't feel it with your heart / And I won't believe it / But if it's true / You can see it with your eyes / Oh, even in the dark / And that's where I want to be, yeah!’
Arguably the most simply relatable of their early tracks, the crunchy riffs and obvious quiet/loud dynamics of All We Know Is Falling’s lead single might feel a little formulaic nowadays, but the formula is so finely perfected that it’s hard to argue. Ruminating on the pressures of adolescence and looming adulthood (‘I can feel the pressure / It's getting closer now’), there’s an authentic urgency to Hayley’s desperate vocals.
There’s a misconception, amongst many outsiders and part-time fans, that Paramore’s music tends to be defined by its overwrought emotion and saccharine simplicity. On Still Into You, though, they’d be just about right. An unabashed love song of the highest order, the subsidence of an off-kilter opening riff into that gushing chorus (‘I should be over all the butterflies but I'm into you, I'm into you / And even baby our worst nights / I'm into you, I'm into you’) perfectly encapsulates the maddening pull and butterflies-in-your-stomach wooziness of long-term romance.
A vivid musical expression of emotionally faking it ’til you make it, the third single from After Laughter bridges aching acoustic (more alt.folk than emo) and colourful synthwork to superb effect. Its poppy exploration of our modern, image-obsessed culture walks a line between breezy authenticity (‘Oh please don't ask me how I've been / Don't make me play pretend!’) and such upbeat songcraft that it feels the listeners themselves might be being misled. The lasting impression is of intelligent songwriters coming to terms with the give and take of life in the glaring spotlight.
Perhaps Paramore’s last great, truly guitar-driven statement before their metamorphoses into the alt.pop force we know today, there’s an incredible sense of timelessness about this standalone cracker that dropped as part of 2011’s Singles Club series. An examination of the process of rebuilding oneself following a failed relationship, it foreshadows Hayley’s willingness to drive on alone as a creative force while harking back to the sort of high-octane pop-punk with which they made their name. Fists in the air!
‘Low-key, no pressure, just hang with me and my weather…’ Hayley continues After Laughter’s theme of grinning through clenched teeth. Her declaration that ‘I just killed off what was left of the optimist in me’ could be read as defeatist, but that purposefully laid-back desert island musicality suggests that it’s all a matter of learning to go with the flow, no matter where it takes you. The brilliant VHS-alike music video – casting the band as beleaguered ’80s morning talkshow hosts – adds another layer of commentary, with Hayley’s gravity-defying hairdo masking more serious themes of boredom and chart-chasing anxiety.
There’s a feeling amongst many that the Hayley we know nowadays is unrecognisable from the one who burst onto the scene a decade and a half ago. The prodigious songwriting of this All We Know Is Falling cut, however, proves that her ear for arena-ready hooks and willingness to grapple with deep feelings were there from the start. Any sense of performative, adolescent melodrama in lyrics like, ‘’Cause I've seen love die / Way too many times / When it deserved to be alive’ from the then-16-year-old singer was outweighed by the maturity of her determination not to be strung-along and a composition that put Warped Tour contemporaries twice Paramore’s age to shame. The “battle scarred” music video is a ghoulish treat, too.
The opening track on 2013’s self-titled offering set the tone for what was to follow. Following the departure of Josh and Zac Farro, Hayley stressed a willingness to go her own way with a garage rock/power-pop nugget that’s as wounded as it is bonkers and unlike anything we’d heard before. ‘Been through the ringer a couple times,’ she sings, inviting autobiographical comparisons. ‘I came out callous and cruel / And my two friends know this very well / Because they went through it too.’ That overriding pedal-to-the-metal imagery, of course, stressed their readiness to move on.
Brand New Eyes was an album about growing up and learning to find success on your own terms. Its fifth (and final) single felt like the parting statement from artists who’d learned to do just that. Clapping back at the naysayers, it comes on like a rockier (if no less accessible) counterpart to Taylor Swift’s Mean, with a quiet satisfaction burning at its heart. Remarkably light on histrionics, Hayley’s calm, collected delivery of lines like ‘Next time you point a finger / I might have to bend it back / or break it, break it off’ revealed a pop icon coming to terms with her own righteousness.
The lead single from Paramore’s self-titled third album is proof of their evolving intensity. Charging guitars and drums lead the way while Hayley works over tangible feelings of resentment and defiance. ‘Well, you treat me just like another stranger,’ she sings with subtle, sardonic venom. ‘Well, it's nice to meet you, sir / I guess I'll go / I'd best be on my way out…’ The track eventually pushes through to a place of breathless defiance, emphasising its will to leave behind deadweight and transcend the naysayers, which would define so much of their later career. ‘Don't wanna hear your sad songs / I don't wanna feel your pain / When you swear it's all my fault / ’Cause you know we're not the same!’
It might’ve dropped on the soundtrack to bafflingly anaemic vampire romance Twilight, but Decode packs plenty of creeping atmosphere and thematic bite. ‘The truth is hiding in your eyes,’ Hayley sings, ‘and it's hanging on your tongue / Just boiling in my blood / But you think that I can't see.’ Although inspired directly by the Edward/Bella narrative, the song manages to tap into the subliminal themes of forbidden lust and manipulation better across four minutes than the film does in two hours. It’s light on their conventional radio-ready hooks, but immense international exposure attached to the movie somehow made Paramore even more massive than they already were.
Another spiritually explorative number, Turn It Off finds Hayley in deeply contemplative form, dispensing some of her finest lyrics as she muses on the tests, mixed messages and disappointments that have shaped her view of a higher power. The textural, emo tone of the accompanying music – not a million miles from peak Jimmy Eat World – make this an unforgettably heartfelt song of praise.
If fans thought that the return of prodigal drummer Zac for 2017’s fifth album After Laughter would precipitate a return to the early Paramore sound, they were sorely mistaken. Not that there’s an ounce of negativity about the glorious alt.pop oddity that dropped as lead single. ‘All that I want,’ Hayley sings, openly grappling with internal disquiet, ‘is a hole in the ground / You can tell me when it's alright / For me to come out!’ Married to a flighty composition featuring marimbas, bongos and synths, thankfully it’s clear this is the sound of a songwriter pulling through.
The band’s breakthrough single may no longer truly represent its songwriters, but it remains in many fans’ minds Paramore’s propulsive signature tune. Telling the tale of a spurned high school bad girl who steals back her wayward lover just for the hell of it (‘Whoa, it was never my intention to brag / To steal it all away from you now / But God, does it feel so good / ’Cause I got him where I want him now’) before callously labelling her love-rival a ‘whore’, it has understandably been dropped from setlists. All the same, it remains an incredibly hooky, guiltily cathartic banger.
The last single from their self-titled LP indicated the stylistic shift to follow. Simply put, it’s an easygoing masterclass powered by a funky guitar riff (inspired, apparently, by support slots from Stockport art-rockers Dutch Uncles) which eventually squeezes in a full-on gospel choir. The inspired music video, featuring the band breaking a number of obscure records (most clocks smashed with guitars, most broken vinyl records, most feathers caught…), only emphasised the dreamily manic aesthetic. It connected incredibly with audiences, too, going triple-platinum stateside and winning the 2015 GRAMMY for Best Rock Song.
‘Pain make your way to me, to me / And I'll always be just so inviting / If I ever start to think straight / This heart will start a riot in me…’ It mightn’t quite be a title-track, but that telling namedrop for their breakthrough LP assured us that That’s What You Get was a distillation of everything that made Paramore great in 2007. Building Hayley’s powerfully bittersweet coming-of-age lyrics around Zac’s time-signature-hopping beats, it still feels like a perfect balance of saccharine accessibility and punk strangeness. A perfect example of their ability to bridge mainstream and alternative music.
A vastly underrated album track (the eighth song on their 2013 self-titled LP), Last Hope came into its own in the live arena. A stunning, stripped-back ballad that grows from its solo acoustic intro to encompass backing vocals, piano and an organ, this is the sound of Hayley opening her arms to all the pressure and possibility of her position. Even with arenas full of fans singing along, it ebbs with real delicacy, vulnerability and flickering hope.
The third single from Riot! was utterly emblematic of the colourful wave pop-punk was riding in the mid-2000s. Critics would have a go at its simplistic recipe (throbbing pop beat, springy riffs, gargantuan chorus) and the fact that it erred closer to mainstream darlings Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne than contemporaries like Fall Out Boy, but the irresistible force of crushcrushcrush could not be suppressed. The gleefully adolescent lyrics match up, taking us into the high-drama of young love: ‘Nothing compares to a quiet evening alone / Just the one two of us is counting on / That never happens, I guess I'm dreaming again / Let's be more than this!’ The Shane Drake-directed music video (imagining the band in some Mad Max-esque wasteland) was another brilliantly excessive touch. For once, more was more.
This Is Why, Ain't It Fun, Decode, Misery Business... Paramore didn't come to mess around at their first show back
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