When Paramore burst onto the scene ten years ago with the pop-punk album Riot!, Hayley Williams made an impression with her dynamic vocals and shock of red, orange, and yellow hair. Few could have looked at the teenagers and predicted the many twists and turns the band would take over the next decade, both musically and personally. And fewer would imagine that Paramore would weather the changes and outlast it all.
The group's lead single, "Misery Business," a vengeful screed about a teenage love triangle, packed a punch and catapulted the band from Warped Tour stages to arenas around the world. Many of the acts that Paramore toured with at the time — New Found Glory, Jimmy Eat World — are still wildly successful within their music scenes and continue to sell out clubs in the States and Europe. But those bands have largely receded from the collective mind of mainstream pop culture. Paramore, meanwhile, continues to shape-shift, and Williams has come to be respected as an adventuresome songwriter with talent that rivals that of her decidedly more famous singer-songwriter friend, squad cult leader Taylor Swift.
But not all fans have followed Paramore along for the ride. As the band's sound took a turn toward cleaner, more refined pop in songs and ballads such as "The Only Exception" and "Ain't It Fun" (off the albums Brand New Eyes and Paramore, respectively), some fans lamented and even protested and resented what they viewed as the group's surrender to more mainstream musical forces. The melodic bop and gospel chorus backing on "Ain't It Fun" was refreshing for music critics, who praised the band's and particularly Williams' maturity and growing skills as a songwriter. Many fans, however, struggled to keep up, and they clung to their hopes of a return to Paramore's gritty sound like an astronaut racing to reach the edge of the ever-expanding universe. Adding insult was the fact that many of the group's stylistic changes were owed to the acrimonious departure of enough members to give Destiny's Child a run for its money.
After settling into a new lineup, the band's latest album, After Laughter, is the final nail in the coffin for fans who expected Paramore, now a decade older, to return to the angsty teenage grit that the group purged on Riot!
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The new album's first single, "Hard Times," is an upbeat, Tropicália-influenced pop ditty with perhaps an overly heavy-handed tribute to David Byrne. Still, critics gave it rave reviews. But the band's social media channels were inundated with complaints. "Wtf happened to Paramore? 'Misery Business' was the shit and now they are pop hipsters," one fan laments in the comments section beneath the "Hard Times" video on YouTube. "It's hard times when Paramore turned to pop," another snarks. It's the kind of clamoring that Kanye West lampooned on last year's "I Love Kanye."
After five albums, each starkly different from the last, Paramore has joined the ranks of artists like West who consistently follow their gut regardless of expectations and risking the possible disappointment of their fans. John Mayer once called it the "revolving door" approach, noting his fans sometimes left during certain album cycles but returned to his shows when they favored newer records.
Paramore seems to understand that it is these artists — not those who repeat formulas that have worked for them in the past, but those who stand the test of time, such as West, Mayer, and Williams' spirit godmother, Cyndi Lauper — who know that eventually everyone falls off the charts but that great songwriting is forever.