Paramore has been a steady constant in my life since I was just a nerdy middle schooler, when my music taste aligned more with what was playing on Disney Channel than with what I listen to now. When I was taking the bus every morning with my much cooler older cousin who would sit in the back with her friends but give me her OG iPod, loaded with such iconic bops as “Paralyzer” by Finger Eleven and “Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off” by Panic! at the Disco.
It also had “Misery Business” by Paramore, which I loved so much I made her buy the rest of Riot! so I could have that to listen to, too.
Flash forward to 2017, and the release of their fifth studio album After Laughter, when I was 21. I was very vulnerable, which meant that it fundamentally changed me as a person. I’m still discovering new things to love about that record, and I think that’s what’s so wonderful about it – while it was fundamental to my own personal growth, it was also fundamental to Paramore in that it cemented that sound as one that we all associate them with now.
This Is Why reminds me a lot of After Laughter, in that – well, a lot like all of Paramore’s releases – it’s about being human. It’s honest and vulnerable and it portrays the resilience of humanity, throughout the course of the pandemic and throughout our own lives. It’s angry, rightfully angry. I could truly get into it, but I’m sure we’re all tired of hearing about it, so instead I’ll just gesture vaguely at the last few years.
My first impression from the album listening party at Grimey’s on Tuesday was that this record is their most cohesive and exploratory work yet, and I fucking love it. Standout favorites (aside from literally the whole thing) included “Crave” and “Figure 8.” I’m so grateful to have been able to attend the event, and to have been able to listen to the album early, but the wait for its official release felt eons long.
The first half of the record is almost exclusively previously-released (or at least previous-listened-to) singles, with the exception of “Big Man, Little Dignity,” which opens with what I think is clarinet, and then a veeeery catchy guitar riff that plays out post-chorus throughout the rest of the song, courtesy of Taylor York. “Don’t mean to stare at you across the room / It’s like I’m glued to the sheer sight of you / And you’re so smooth, it’s pitiful / Know you can get away with anything, so that’s exactly what you do.” It’s that feeling of being in a room with someone you detest, someone who’s made your life a living hell. You can’t believe you’re forced to share this space with them. You go over in your head all the things you’d say to them, if only you could, and you can’t peel your eyes away from them. You go home and journal about how much you hate them. You feel better.
It’s also the anger we all feel when we hear the phrase “boys will be boys.” When we think about all of the men who’ve gotten away with violence against non-men. All of the men currently sitting in positions of power and using it as a means to commit violence against non-men. It’s the pit in our stomachs when we woke up and realized Trump had won the presidency, that it was all downhill from here; when we woke up and realized Roe v. Wade had officially been overturned, thus limiting access to safe abortions; every day that we wake up and trans people’s lives and livelihoods are threatened via horrifyingly casual acts of hate.
The back half is the meat and potatoes of This Is Why. For me, “You First” best characterizes one of the defining themes of the record – that you can be both the hero and the villain. You don’t have to be one or the other. You’re the hero of someone else’s story – for Hayley Williams, this is Paramore’s devoted fans – and the villain in someone else’s, and the people who look up to you won’t even know the half of it. And this is a completely normal, healthy way to experience life. All of this set to the backdrop of jarring, lilting guitar. The rhythm section really shines during this song.
Track seven is called “Figure 8,” and it is the song that surprised me the most at the Grimey’s listening party. I know well enough that Paramore are perfectly capable of anything at this point in their career, but “Figure 8” truly feels like nothing they’ve ever put out before.
On “Liar,” the trio aim for a softer approach to the open and unapologetic nature of the record. In their recent interview with Zane Lowe, Hayley said of the track, “When something has ease to it and when something feels healthy and again, like, respectful, it must be wrong. And I fought that feeling and said to myself that ‘that’s just a convenient thing, you’re just trying to go to where maybe your ego likes it,’ I just made up anything that I could.” Hayley and Taylor have been quietly in a relationship for roughly the past five years, and this song is about her reluctance to admit she was in love with him, which makes me weepy to think about.
I still don't quite have the words to describe the way I feel about "Crave." It feels like a version of "Caught in the Middle" that's lived a little more life: "I can’t think of getting old / It only makes me want to die / And I can’t think of who I was / ‘Cause it just makes me want to cry, cry, cry." The past is a dangerous place to dwell, and nostalgia can hurt just as much as it can help, though it's wonderful to be able to look back on parts of your life you thought you'd never make it through to see that it's not as bad as you thought it was. Or not that it's not as bad, but that you're stronger than those hardships forced you to think that you were. And it's wonderful to see life coming at you from all sides and feel nothing but love: "Any second, feel the present / Future and the past connectin'."
This Is Why quietly comes to a close with final track “Thick Skull,” which is a low-energy contrast to where we started with the opening title track, but still manages to pack an immense punch. In an interview with The Line of Best Fit, Hayley is cited as saying, “The last song of the album is reflective of my biggest insecurities throughout our career. The shit people projected onto me all these years: saying the band is manufactured or that I’m using my friends for my own personal career advances… I decided to speak directly to those fears, even indulging the naysayers. This being the last album of this era of our career as part of the same contract I signed as a teen, I just want to leave all those fears and the bullshit here. I’m not taking it with me any further.” It’s an ode to that voice in your head that tells you you can’t do it, that no one is going to care, that everyone thinks you’re a fraud, but it also shuts it the fuck up. This was the first song that the band wrote when they began working on the new album, which leads me to believe that this is what they were working off of, this thesis, this theme. Listening to the album on repeat, so that “Thick Skull” trails straight back into “This Is Why,” really shows you just how far the band stretched themselves while working on this record.
The album release show on Monday night at the Opry House in Nashville, TN was, for lack of better, more intelligent words, a party. We didn’t get a stop on their fall tour, and I’ve never seen Paramore before, so I was really pleased that their setlist was the same as the 2022 shows, for the most part. They opened with “This Is Why,” unsurprisingly, which truly set the tone for the rest of the show, then played mostly the hits. I know that some people were hoping they would play the new record in full, but I have a hunch the band wanted it to find people’s ears for the first time when we were all listening to it together on Tuesday, around the world.
I was also pleased to find that our seats were approximately eight to Julien Baker’s right.
There wasn’t a person in the house that wasn’t on their feet. People had traveled to be there, but so many in attendance call Nashville their home, too, and to know that everyone in the audience was there because they love this band and the people in it was so special.
One of the most incredible parts of the show is when Hayley saw the band off stage and returned solo, herself and an acoustic guitar, to play a song they haven’t had on the setlist since 2014 – “In The Mourning.” Everyone wept. She then played a cover of “You Ain’t Woman Enough” by Loretta Lynn. Actually unreal. I’ll have a hard time forgetting the way that I felt when she was standing alone in the Opry circle.
Paramore as a band are a phenomenon. In the words of Hayley Williams herself (and I’m paraphrasing here) – what other band can go dark for almost five years and have even more fans to return to than they left behind? This Is Why is a remarkable revival for them. All the best parts of After Laughter except a little more grown up, its worldview drenched in the same amount of cynicism – but it seems to me like this version of Paramore is more open to believing in the selflessness of the individual while at the same time criticizing the selfishness of the establishment. It’s a reconciliation of all of your selves, the past, the present, and the future, their most cohesive and vulnerable and, quite frankly, their most impressive body of work to date. We need each other no matter how much we might hate to admit that. And we’re all so much more resilient than we think we are. Thank you, Paramore.