Like most people, music was a formative part of my teenage years. I would sit at the back of English class, desperate to squeeze in as much time with my imitation iPod as I could. The set-up was simple: my mp3 player would sit in my lap under the school desk and my headphones would be delicately feathered up the sleeve of my school jumper in a poor attempt to conceal them. As an emo kid in the mid-00s, there were a couple of albums (downloaded from Limewire, of course) that were on steady rotation: The Used’s ‘In Love and Death’, Jimmy Eat World’s ‘Bleed American’, and of course, Paramore’s ‘Riot!’.
For those not well-versed with the 00’s emo scene, let me paint you a picture. Yes, we had our fun novelties that we look back on and affectionately cringe at: MySpace profiles, our penchant for black (which, for me, has never left) and spray-on skinny jeans. Afternoons were spent watching video clips for My Chemical Romance’s new hit, ‘Helena’, or at hardcore gigs in the local community hall.
But the dark side of emo was just as present, and just as damaging. Older men incessantly hit on underage girls. Every gig seemed to have an all-white-male lineup. Slut shaming was embedded in the subculture. The very idea of our femininity was vehemently rejected. Misogyny, misogyny, misogyny everywhere.
That’s why the introduction of Paramore into the emo music scene in 2005 with ‘All We Know Is Falling’ was so revolutionary for many women, who had, until then, often been treated as mere sexual accessories. Fronted by the enigmatic Hayley Williams, Paramore burst onto the scene, determined to make a statement. With emo largely being dominated by men until then (and several abusive men, at that), to see a woman with bright orange hair march her way in was groundbreaking.
For millennials like myself, the power of Paramore lay in the fact that the musicians were our age, with Williams being just 16 years old when Paramore’s debut record was released. They weren’t 30-year-old men writing music about what they thought would resonate with teenagers; they were writing about the experiences and frustrations and worries that they were feeling alongside us. As girls, we finally started feeling seen. We finally felt like we belonged in the mosh pit. We felt like we were listening to music that was made for us.
But just as we all look back on our younger selves and cringe over our generous use of eyeliner or black box-dyed hair, Paramore also represented some of the more concerning parts of what it meant to grow up as a girl in the mid-00s emo scene: misogyny. After famously parking their number one hit ‘Misery Business’ from live performances due to its misogynistic lyrics, the band begun playing it again only in 2022, with the knowledge that the lyrics were a symptom of the internalised misogyny so many women were fed and regurgitated in the scene.
As teens, our little developing brains sucked up the poor treatment of women like sponges, thinking that this was what we were worth. But Paramore’s pause — and eventual reignition — of the song represents the internal process that so many women have had to go through to recognise that we are not what a toxic music scene taught us we were.
But while many of these emo bands ended up being locked up in a neat little box in their heads after people’s emo ‘phases’ ended (and thankfully, given the plethora of assault allegations that have come from the scene), Paramore has managed to stay relevant thanks to the band’s ability to lean into the evolution and what it means to ‘grow up’.
One of these biggest evolutions came in the form of their 2017 album, ‘After Laughter’, an 80s-inspired bubblegum-infused pop record that not just pushed the genre the band was known for, but also tackled big transitional issues for what it meant to be someone tackling ‘growing up’ in their 20s. “We don’t want to be a nostalgia band,” Williams said in an interview with Billboard earlier this year. The album was infused with emotions that anyone feels as they move out of their teen years: the pang of regret that’s stewed for a few years too many, the tiredness that refuses to go away no matter how many hours you sleep, and the pessimism from living in a world that’s worn you down for just a little too long.
While I don’t want to say that one person’s break-up is another persons break-up album, Williams’ navigation of the end of a decade-long relationship culminated in an album that for many people, including myself, offered catharsis during my first big, devastating break-up — ticking another box for what it means to grow up. While we had first fallen in love with Paramore’s unique ability to capture our uniquely feminine teen angst, their transformation into a band that could capture the joys and pains of growing up, especially in your 20s, solidified their lasting musical influence.
But what can be said of our present selves? Well, according to the band’s sixth album, released in 2023, we’re all royally pissed off. ‘This Is Why’ is the echo of anxious, angry young women growing up in a post-Trump, Roe v Wade era, amidst the growth of far-right politics around the world.
Therein lies the power of Paramore: its seemingly effortless ability to capture each life stage in an eerily accurate nutshell. From our desperation to feel seen and the perpetual angst flowing through our veins as 15-year-olds, to grappling with the bittersweet realisation of what it means to grow up and all the heartbreak, regret, love and eventual catharsis that comes with it, to finally capturing the feminine rage that is to live in 2023 — they’ve captured it all.
Paramore has been on repeat in my CD deck, mp3 shuffle and Spotify playlists for 18 years now. But finally seeing them live as a 31-year-old was strangely therapeutic for my inner child. I couldn’t help but think of the version of me from high school, desperate to use music as medicine to deal with the world. I couldn’t help but think of my own journey with internalised misogyny, mental health battles, and all the checkpoints that constitute what it is to ‘grow up’. I couldn’t help but think of my teenage self, and how proud she would be of where I am now. I couldn’t help but think of all the other teen girls discovering Paramore for the first time, who we have a duty to protect.
Ultimately, Paramore is a love letter to growing up, to ageing, and to evolution. “We grew up with you,” Williams told fans during the Melbourne concert this past Monday. Yes, we grew up with Paramore. Yes, we evolved just like Williams did. But Paramore didn’t just grow up with us — they helped us grow up too.
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