If you have Paramore confined to a folder in your memory marked ‘mid-2000s – DO NOT OPEN’, Elle Hunt is here to deliver some startling news – they’re still going, they’re still writing perfect soundtracks to personal crises, and they’re coming to New Zealand.
There was a period early this year that I listened to the Paramore song ‘Hard Times’ once every 90 minutes, sometimes through one earbud to maintain the illusion of productivity, other times leaving the office to walk around the block just to get my three-minute, three-second hit.
Though it is a very good song, my fixation said less about ‘Hard Times’ than it did my mental state. I will often listen to only one song for hours at a time, sometimes for days – however long it takes to soothe or expunge the feeling or thought it is resonating with, to make way for another and its accompanying soundtrack. Once, memorably, this was David Guetta and Akon’s ‘Sexy Bitch’ on repeat for nearly two hours.
My feverish consumption of ‘Hard Times’ was rooted in a darker place, and took weeks to dislodge. At the time it felt like a necessary coping mechanism in the face of Trump, Brexit and the Islamic State. In hindsight, it looks more like a depressive period following my breakup with my boyfriend. Still.
I felt burdened by the world even though I was not personally shouldering its weight. Something about the song’s breezy resignation, its one-armed shrug in the face of unrelenting awfulness – gonna make you wonder why you even try – resonated.
This was the world after 2016; whatever could go wrong, would. ‘Hard Times’ didn’t deny it, but it didn’t give in either. Its marimba, its vocoder, its faded holiday vibe spoke to the necessity of leaning into life’s everyday trivialities, lest you surrender to its horrors. Plus it was very catchy.
“You can run on the fumes of being a teenager for as long as you want,” singer Hayley Williams had told the New York Times ahead of the new album’s release, her newly-bleached hair reflecting her newfound solemnity, “but eventually life hits you really hard.”
She wasn’t wrong. But where she saw cause and effect, I saw a coping strategy. I may have had nothing to show for it except occasional bouts of tearfulness and an, in hindsight, obsessive exercise regime, but life had hit me really hard. And all I wanted to do was bury my nose deep in those teenage fumes and huff. Paramore’s new album – their fifth, after a three-year hiatus – had come just in time.
Even I was surprised to discover that I’d been a fan for a decade, right back to 2007’s RIOT! – not because I’d been in denial, but because there’d been barely any opportunities to own up to it. People don’t talk about Paramore very much. These days they don’t talk about rock music very much.
Sometime after my wholehearted embrace of emo at high school and my performative enjoyment of Can at university, I largely stopped listening to music made with real instruments in favour of that programmed by Noah “40” Shebib or Mike WiLL or DJ Mustard or Jack Antonoff or Dr Luke, before he became problematic. I haven’t heard a guitar since Taylor Swift went electric.
I make an exception, however, when I want to tap into those wells of teenage feeling, to wallow like it’s 2007. (Cue a flashback, soundtracked to ‘Helena’, of me using the black eyeliner testers at Nelson Farmers because I was not ready to commit to “a whole one”.) Nothing soothes like nostalgia. Paramore has simply been good enough to keep pace with new, more nuanced material for my new, more nuanced angst. Here are my decade’s worth of picks.
‘Misery Business’ (2007)
This was many twenty-somethings’ introduction to the rotating lineup of unremarkable male musicians supporting Hayley Williams that is formally trademarked Paramore. A short, sharp burst of pop-punk, ‘Misery Business’ is about defiantly playing a long game in love – and what’s a game without a loser? I like to listen to it when reflecting on past romantic successes, particularly those achieved against staggering odds.
‘Rose-Coloured Boy’ (2017)
This Afrobeat infusion bears out the comparisons we couldn’t possibly have seen coming in 2007 between Paramore and Blondie, or the B52s. It is about well-meaning people trying to cajole you out of your low mood. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my ex when I was inarticulately trying to convey my sense of impending end-times, ostensibly because of Trump. He told me he believed “the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice”, and I pulled down one side of my mouth to make that sceptical emoji-face, because what had justice got to do with anything?
In a similar vein:
‘Told You So’ (2017)
‘Ain’t it Fun’ (2013)
When I say that this song is criminally underrated, I do so in the knowledge it got the Grammy for the Best Rock Song in 2015. At five minutes it’s on the upper end for a Paramore track, but they make good use of every one of them, going from xylophone to gospel choir before the halfway mark. “Don’t go crying to your mama/’cause you’re on your own, in the real world” is the best millennial mantra for steeling yourself in the face of adversity since 2004’s “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier”. Depending on your pettiness levels, it can be interpreted as either an imagined retort to your antagonists or a reminder to self, as intended. “We all need a kick in the ass sometimes,” wrote Williams of ‘Ain’t It Fun’ on LiveJournal, obviously. “Since I had no one around me to tell me to stop feeling sorry for myself, I had to figure out a way to do it on my own.”
‘Last Hope’ (2013)
Hayley Williams described the message of this song as Paramore’s “purpose”. It is about feeling your feelings and taking your time to do so, so sort of the punk-rock interpretation of the children’s film Inside Out. I recommend that too.
In true pop-punk spirit, this song is over and done in a little over two minutes, but its message is timeless: “Fall in love with yourself, because/Someday you’re going to be the only one you got”. Sort of the contemporary rock interpretation of the #selflove hashtag on Instagram, which I cannot recommend.
‘Interlude: Holiday’ (2013)
You don’t need to search #selflove on Instagram when Paramore helpfully follows ‘Anklebiters’ up with some practical tips in ‘Interlude (Holiday)’. It and the other ukulele-centric skits on Paramore, Hayley Williams has said, “came from me trying so hard not to write bitter, angry songs”. Maybe it’s the ukulele, but it sounds like she may not be being entirely sincere about the merits of caffeine, reading print media, being responsible with money, and eating “only top ramen”. Still. They can’t hurt.
‘That’s What You Get’ (2007)
From RIOT!, these will both take you back to a time when it wasn’t a song if it didn’t have a guitar breakdown. You felt better then, didn’t you?
From brand new eyes, this was Paramore’s contribution to the soundtrack of the first Twilight movie, or maybe the second – they sort of ooze together in a hormone-infused jam in my memory. As far as teenage fumes go, this is a dark cloud. Inhale with care.
Paramore are performing at Auckland’s Spark Arena on February 13. Spark has an exclusive pre-sale for Spark customers, available from 2pm Friday 10 November to 5pm Sunday 12 November.