This is Why by


Words: Ayana McMillan
March 19, 2023

Six years ago, I learned that heartbreak can be happy. When Paramore’s After Laughter was released in 2017, fans were confused as it left them crying and dancing at the same time. This album diverged from the band’s original pop-punk sound. Heavy guitars on the tracks like “That’s What You Get” and “crushcrushcrush” off their 2007 breakout record album, Riot! cemented them into the emo scene of the 2000s. While After Laughter is the most substantial pivot, Paramore’s sound evolves on all of their projects. Their 2014 self-titled album alone ranges from gospel influences reminiscent of their southern roots on the hit “Ain't It Fun” to dreamy strings on deepcut, “Hate to See Your Heart Break.” In the midst of stylistic shifts, one thing remains: the band wears their heart on their sleeve.

I was hopeful that Paramore’s heart would beat loudest on their latest album This Is Why. This desire stems from the band previously evoking feelings in me that I am often uncomfortable confronting. This emotional oasis is the reason behind much of my fangirling. Paramore has been a navigational tool in my awkward adolescence. It did not matter if my first crush, the star of the middle school basketball team, walked past me in the Axe body spray-smelling hallways. It did not matter if I failed the Presidential Fitness Test. All of this was endurable because at the end of the day, my Urban Outfitters record player would come out, and Paramore promised everything would be ok. However, after hearing the first single and title-track “This Is Why,” it became unclear whether the band would continue to be an alternative music staple.

The song begins with whispering vocals from the lead singer Hayley Williams. In contrast, the chorus uses a chanting cadence with a message that the world is too devastating to bear and seeking shelter in the comfort of one’s home is necessary. This idea is further explored through out-of-place bass and guitar riffs that resemble the sound of progressive 60s rock and eccentric 80s new wave. This is to convey that the times are not a-changin as much as we would like them to be. Williams also notes Bloc Party’s 2005 album Silent Alarm as the “Number one reference” in her BBC Sounds podcast “Everything is Emo.” She states that the “urgency of [Bloc Party’s] sound” stands amongst their punk peers. Unfortunately, Paramore’s melodic choices are too close to their influences. The song sounds redundant rather than inspired.

These same critiques can be applied to the track “C’est Comme Ça.” Williams’ purposefully monotonous vocals in verses describing her “Doctor’s orders,” resemble the talk-singing in the 1962 hit, “Monster Mash.” I don’t want to think of that song outside of Halloween settings. Though the lyrics, “C’est Comme Ça, na na na na,” are catchy, they are a bit annoying. In these two songs, the band’s embodiment of their influences appears as a flaw rather than an asset.

I acknowledge my bias in that I tend to connect with Paramore’s music better when it takes me away from reality. If a song does not cause me to levitate and land in a pop music video, I don’t want it. Nonetheless, my disinterest in these songs is separate from my constant state of delusion. My dismissal is rooted in the fact that there is a lack of a distinct opinion added to the important conversations the band discusses. When fragments of melodic disruption are flashed for texture, it sounds displeasing and calculated. The weirdness feels ingenuine and halts any sense of earnest discomfort. It’s as if Paramore is paraphrasing the content of a Talking Heads song. Unless you are in a rush, there is no reason to listen to “This Is Why” and “C’est Comme Ça” when “This Must Be The Place” exists.

Luckily, my faith in Paramore is restored as songs like “The News” and “Running Out of Time” signify their capability of tackling apocalyptic and anti-internet themes in a digestible manner. The difference is the flow and expansion. Williams’ vocals are sultry, adding a clean edge to the composition of Zac Farro’s (drummer) intricate beats and Taylor York’s (guitarist) electrifyingly entangled chords. Farro and York sound as if they are in a race, matching the rate at which news is spread and contradicting the pace at which progress is made. There are moments when the rhythm is relaxed, allowing the listener to absorb what is being unveiled. This airiness flows behind lyrics like “So I turn on the news” and  “Intentions only you so far.” The songs reflect a wave of anxiety. You hear the build up in the mile-a-minute verses, you listen as the lyrics “Shut your eyes but it won’t go away” and “I’m always running out of time” crash loudly in the chorus, and you gather your thoughts as the instrumentals become soft and settle on the shore.

The album takes a groovy (I apologize for using this word) turn on the track “Big Man, Little Dignity.” The song touches on the subject of men using their power unjustifiably. With lyrics like “Smooth operator in a shit-stained suit” and a rhythm that makes me awkwardly sway, the track is on its way to being a certified girl-power anthem. In an interview on The Zane Lowe show, Williams delves into how to escape her tendency to generalize situations. She explains how she is in the process of preventing her specific experiences with men from dismissing the “beautiful, empathetic, and smart” individuals she knows and works with. As a previous user of the phrase “Men are trash,” I relate to the difficult task of breaking down the unbeneficial framework of disregarding any goodness within the male gender. Still, there needs to be space for rage. This will suffice.

The tracks “You First” and “Figure 8” are the bridge between Paramore’s past and present. Farro, York, and Williams are now masters of their craft and able to discuss underestimation and morality from a mature viewpoint. My sway shifts into moves that I imagine take place in mosh pits. York’s distorted strumming and Farro’s explosive beats make me punch the air and kick invisible rocks, in a good way. Paramore uses the shift in today’s mental health awareness and feminist climate to reflect on their wrongdoings. Their songwriting relates the notion of being the hero in someone’s story and the villain in someone else’s. This exhibits growth from the band’s controversial, early hit “Misery Business.” On these new songs, misogynistic lyrics are nowhere to be found. Instead, inner conflict is the central focus. They pull themselves out of a victim mentality, acknowledging that their poor actions hold weight in the form of consequences. I scream along to the self-aware lyrics “Can’t shake the devil sitting on my shoulder” and “ I lost my way.” Spinning in an endless figure eight. The band’s progressive reaction to the world around them allows Paramore to stay grounded and spearhead conversations that assess their flaws. This is the beauty of growing up with a band– as I enter a path of introspection Paramore soundtrack’s my coming of age.

Then “Liar,” a track with melancholy undertones and a lullabying melody, comes along because I can’t have peace. Williams describes her history of “fighting chemicals” and “dodging arrows” before coming to the conclusion that her feelings for someone are “crystal clear.” This idea of bracing yourself before a fall, as if there is no possibility that you can land on your feet, is one many are all too familiar with. Therefore, her surrendering to her emotions, knowing she may get hurt, is courageous. “Liar” is my favorite song on the album, and yes, I am going back to therapy.

Emotive lyrics continue to be at the forefront of the record with the track “Crave,” as Williams expresses her difficulty seizing the moment without waiting for its inevitable conclusion. The words are paired with a minimalistic chord progression I interpret as a choice emblematic of recounting a distant memory. The details are not vivid but sensations stay with us. The overarching objective is to find how to embrace goodness. This seems impossible when you have experienced what happens after laughter (pun intended). It is also challenging not to view memories through a romanticized lens when your current circumstances are daunting.

The closing track “Thick Skull” was the first song written for the album. In a Spotify video, Farro notes it is the track he is “most proud of,” as it set the sonic trajectory for this new era. The song commences with the lyrics “I am a magnet for broken pieces.” This may be a direct attack on their fan base or an act of vulnerability. You can hear the passion on this track as Williams delivers one of her best vocal performances. Her range is unmatched and her slight voice cracks add depth to her otherwise solid tone. York follows the words “Same lesson again? Come on give it to me, ” in a repetitive but cunning guitar riff. This further exposes the nature of returning to the source of one’s problems yet wishing for a solution. Farro captures the chaos of this tactic. Every displaced beat sounds like a habit-breaking. There is no shyness in the band’s attempt to break out of unhealthy cycles.

Paramore is strongest when they embrace their imperfections. When they disguise themselves in their influences, it is difficult to hear their creative contributions. Authenticity is Paramore’s driving force, and as such, there is much to identify with on this record. Their fearlessness when discussing insecurities offers a space to feel secure amidst the challenging seasons life presents and allows them to continue to produce quality bodies of work that appeal to their audience at any stage. Paramore’s pulse is most apparent on This Is Why – I feel more seen on this record than I did as my middle school self.






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