The Paramore frontwoman has been a staple in popular music for over 15 years, outlasting her pop-punk peers and becoming one of the most influential artists of her generation
Paramore’s music has soundtracked an unfathomable amount of moments throughout my lifetime, but the moments of consistent comfort that their music has brought me during the last year are indescribably important. It’s these moments that have also led me to realize that Hayley Williams is a genius, and one of the most important artists of the last 20 years.
While Paramore was an integral part of the emo/pop-punk boom of the mid-to-late 2000s, Williams is an outlier amongst her peers, and for all the right reasons. The singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is arguably the only artist to emerge from that scene and have maintained relevance for this long. She’s transcended her status as the emo/pop-punk poster girl and definitively cemented herself as an icon in modern pop culture.
Throughout the 16 years since Paramore’s debut, Williams has been an absolute trailblazer. She’s been an integral part of now-classic releases, brazenly explored several different genres and sounds, and has successfully ventured outside of music as well, all the while staying true to herself. She’s made a career out of experimenting, daring to be different and never letting herself be put into a box, and it’s made her one of the most eclectic and adventurous artists of her generation.
After Williams and Paramore released their moderately successful debut, 2005’s All We Know Is Falling, they’d garnered a pretty substantial buzz. They were full of potential and Williams was at the centre of that. This potential was quickly realized as their 2007 effort Riot! saw them break through, and cause a massive shift in the emo/pop-punk landscape.
Paramore’s impact was immediate and it was immense. The success of Riot! saw the group rapidly ascend to the top of the emo/pop-punk scene, alongside already-established acts like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy. More importantly, it made Hayley Williams a household name in a genre that was historically dominated by men, and placed her at the very top, where she stayed.
This was a monumental moment for the scene, and was only achievable for the band because of Williams’ ability to capture the listener. Through her universally-relatable lyrical content and phenomenal and riveting vocal performances, she was able to connect to listeners on what felt like a personal level.
Throughout their subsequent releases, the band saw various shifts in their lineup and with 2009’s Brand New Eyes and 2013’s Paramore, and slowly evolved to adopt a more eclectic alternative rock sound. They took their evolution even further with their magnificent 2017 new wave/synth-pop opus, After Laughter, and though these changes occurred, there was always one constant; Hayley Williams is the face, the heart and the soul of Paramore.
She’s what hooked listeners in. Yes, the music was fantastic, but her vulnerability and relatability made it connect, and in 2021, two projects into her solo career, that is a fact that is more apparent than ever. While 2020’s Petals for Armour was a good collection of songs, Williams’ latest release FLOWERS for VASES / descansos feels like her proper debut as a solo artist.
It’s an excellent album, the first on which she’s played every single instrument, written every song and produced everything herself, making for an incredibly intimate piece of art. It’s a stripped-back, folksy and introspective album that sees the singer somberly working through the emotional toll that her divorce has taken on her.
That’s the thing that’s always set Williams apart from her peers: her vulnerability. She’s always presented her emotions earnestly and openly, and utilized her dynamic vocal range to evoke a range of emotions in the listener. It’s been ever present in her discography, regardless of the sound attached to it and the through line that makes the music so easy to connect with.
Even now, with her fanbase aging, the music is growing with them. It’s easy to see how the person who gave us “All I Wanted” grew older and matured, arriving at “No Use I Just Do.” The sentiments are similar, but she’s no longer delivering them with rage and fire, but rather sharing a subdued reflection and confessing those feelings.
Williams’ openness and relatability has been the essence of every single one of her releases so far, both solo and with Paramore. It’s her innate ability to convey such tangible emotion in a manner that feels more confessional and human than it does performative, that connects her to listeners. She’s there to share her experiences and comfort you, and while you may be the one listening to the music, you also feel heard. She’s still doing this today by giving us FLOWERS, so let’s return the favour and give Hayley hers as well.
Graphic by @ariannasivira