How I Discovered: Paramore

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

Written By: McKinzie Smith

Paramore was one of those bands that hung around my peripheral musical vision for years, never really calling to me until the moment was right. I spent hours on YouTube in my grandparents’ computer room in the mid 2000s watching the “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” music video and trying to convince my cousins that My Chemical Romance wasn’t emo (I can still smell the heat of the PC as it whirred with exhaustion). On the right-hand corner of the screen lingered the thumbnail to “That’s What You Get,” where an orange-haired Hayley Williams held a matching carrot microphone, but it was to remain unclicked-on for another few years as I chose to indulge in Men That Wear Eyeliner.

There was a level of intentional exclusion on my part. I wanted to distance myself from my previous interests. My favorite artist, prior to finding emo through the SingStar karaoke game for PS2, had been Britney Spears. By 2007, not only was Britney becoming a tragic public figure, but she was an artist that adults seemed to take for a joke. This began to feel uncomfortable, even embarrassing, as I felt that others would pick on me for my secret Britney obsession. And so my prepubescent re-brand took place. I chose to listen to male rock artists almost exclusively as a complete 180 from my “Toxic” past. All of this is totally bullshit, obviously, but I was, like, nine. Cut me some slack.

Why would I want to listen to songs about Pete Wentz’s shitty ex when I could listen to songs about yearning?

As I aged, however, I started to feel fatigued by the occasionally troubling narratives that bands like Fall Out Boy presented in their songs. At thirteen, I was just cognizant enough to recognize that “You want apologies, girl, you might hold your breath / Until your breathing stops forever, forever” was maybe not the healthiest attitude in the world. Not to mention, I was experiencing my first crush. Why would I want to listen to songs about Pete Wentz’s shitty ex when I could listen to songs about yearning?

Allow me to continue to out myself as a child misogynist by saying that the first experience I had with Paramore was finally clicking on that “Misery Business” thumbnail because I knew it was about hating a romantic rival. Not cute of me or whatever, but those feelings felt very visceral at the time, and it immediately connected me to Paramore. I had just found out that my crush had a girlfriend in California (or that’s what he told me, anyway), and I was pissed. How dare she, a complete rando, take my beloved away from me? I spent hours playing “Misery Business,” staring at my ceiling, and seething my broken heart out.

I began to realize that Hayley and I might have some common interests that the boys of the other emo bands wouldn’t. “Misery Business” and “All I Wanted” spoke to my first heartbreak, while “Brick By Boring Brick” and “When It Rains” came in to help me with my first real grief a year later when I lost my grandmother. Hayley often spoke about her small town in a way that I resonated with, like in “Franklin” and “Feeling Sorry,” a mixture of distance and nostalgia that simple “I hate this town” narratives could never quite satisfy.

This newfound appreciation of Paramore opened doors for me, too, that other bands couldn’t. Back when I still used Pandora, their station introduced me to other female-fronted Y2K bands that I otherwise might not have given the time of day, like Evanescence and t.A.T.u. When Paramore’s self-titled came out, I began to explore more pop sounds just like they did on the record. I even got into ukelele music for a bit because of the interludes on that album. Not all of this music has stuck with me, but I can’t ignore that Paramore forced me out of my masculine rock comfort zone and allowed me to think about female artists outside of the realm of traditional pop music.

It can be staggering to look back at all of the life lived since I first clicked play on “Misery Business.”

The growth of Hayley has always felt like it’s paralleled mine, especially as it pertains to genre. The further she strays into pop and indie, the further I’ve gone as well. Nowadays, I’m more likely to listen to Charli XCX on shuffle than Paramore, but I can’t deny that my experience with them allowed me to accept an artist like Charli into my daily listening. I’ve even gone back and realized my childhood obsession with Britney is not only totally tasteful but primed me for the high-energy music that Paramore often makes. On a personal level, Hayley’s first solo record, Petals for Armor, was released the same year as the breakup of my own long-term relationship. She’s always been there right when I need her, even as I branch out into other kinds of music, following her directions.

It can be staggering to look back at all of the life lived since I first clicked play on “Misery Business.” The world has matured beyond computer rooms and Pandora radio stations and making fun of Britney Spears. Both Hayley and I realize now that the messaging of that song is pretty terrible, but it still has an important place in our stories. For her, it was a huge hit and a touchstone in her career; for me, it was an introduction to a whole new world of music that I may not have ever explored without it. Paramore has been with me through so much that there isn’t a doubt in my mind that I’ll return to their music for the rest of my life. Though I’ve changed, and the band has changed, that love for them will always stay the same.