MM – Paramore & the future of rock music

Carving themselves a personalized niche in the 2000s emo scene and in the process gaining a large group of devoted fans, pop rock band Paramore has undergone several stylistic changes, refusing to ever make the same record twice.

Now, fifteen years after the release of the grunge-inspired “All We Know Is Falling” which was their first album, the band is somehow still relevant in rock music, while so many of their emo scene counterparts have fallen off everyone but their most dedicated fans’ radar. Paramore’s latest synthrock project “After Laughter” has received numerous accolades, including from imposing musical figures like Elton John. Kind of a big deal.

In this Miscellaneous Monday post, I want to talk about why I think Paramore has not only managed to stay relevant within rock music for fifteen years, but has come to be one of the few bands who will define the genre’s future in the coming years.

For anyone who might not recognize the band name, to give you and idea, here’s what their big hits sounded like in 2007, 2013, and 2017, respectively:

My guess is that you’ve probably heard at least one of these in passing, because all three got a decent amount of radio play when they came out. A full decade separates “Misery Business” and “Hard Times” and while the sound of Paramore has clearly changed, their relevance hasn’t – in fact, it’s only gotten better. The album “Riot!” from which “Misery Business” originates went to #15 on the American charts, while “After Laughter” (from which “Hard Times” originates) went to #6.

And the two album in between those? #2 and #1.

I personally didn’t hear of Paramore until their 2013 self-titled album that blew up into the mainstream – I remember hearing “Still Into You” and “Ain’t It Fun” as a teen and thinking “finally, rock/guitar-driven music on popular radio”. It made me so happy.

Still, I didn’t check out their full discography until the release of “After Laughter” in 2017 and to this day, I’m still not completely sure why.

I’ve always loved Hayley Williams’s voice and I think that she’s a brilliant lyricist who has only improved with time. I also think that Taylor York and Zac Farro (but particularly Taylor) are some of the most creative rock musicians we’ve seen in a long time. These three are constantly pushing themselves to do better and to make something fresh and innovative, and their success speaks for itself.

So, how does a band stay that relevant for as long as they have, especially when the emo scene they were born from fell off the mainstream only a few short years later?

The answer is pretty simple, in my opinion: Paramore has refused to stay quiet and complacent as rock music dies off. They’ve forced themselves to change their sound according to the state of rock in recent years without ditching their core identity altogether in a way that other bands just haven’t.

I commend those who stick to playing the rock that they know and love unapologetically – we need those types of people to keep the genre alive. However, we also need the people who are willing to go out on a bit of a limb, to take risks, and to push for rock music to stay relevant within the mainstream, especially as it took a huge nose dive in the late 2010s with the tsunami-like rise of trap music.

And to me, the most well-established band that has shown that they’re willing to take the most risks is Paramore. By pushing the boundaries of what rock music can be, particularly by injecting elements from more currently relevant genres such as pop and indie music, they’ve brought new life to it. It’s not like they had to change the sound of their band completely to stay relevant – after all, they’ve always had that strong pop component to them, and I think that their self-titled album was the culmination of a rise towards a poppier sound, but they’re still rock, and they’re still themselves.

Listen to these two tracks one after the other. They’re from different eras of the band, and while they don’t sound exactly the same, that energetic guitar, that sassy spirit, those peppy drums, and Hayley’s incredible vocals are there in both.

The biggest difference between those two, to me, is honestly the increased lyrical maturity in the latter. That stands out to me more than the sound change.

I admire the risks Paramore have taken over the years. They didn’t just keep riding that one emo trend when the world stopped caring about it, and that’s why they’re still standing strong as one of the most relevant rock bands today.

That ability to still be making music that performs well commercially after fifteen years of doing so is the mark of not only great musicians, but smart businesspeople. Paramore has been able to forge a slightly newer version of their core identity with every new release, with their most dramatic metamorphosis yet being “After Laughter”.

Now, to be clear, I’m not calling Paramore a bunch of sell-outs and trend-chasers – I just don’t believe that’s the case. While “After Laughter” is heavily inspired by a lot of synthpop and 80s new wave stuff, I’d sooner call it indie or alternative than pop. At any rate, it’s not like Paramore are doing absolutely everything to conform to trends. It’s that they’re cognizant of their place within the music industry as rock giants, and they know they can create something they still love and can put their individual stamp of identity on without it being some stale re-do of something they’ve already put out there.

They also know that people will give them more creative leeway because of who they’ve established themselves as – that being, a band whose next evolution always seems to make them bigger and stronger. I’m not saying you can’t like “Riot!” more than “After Laughter” as a matter of personal taste (my favourite era is probably the alternative rock “Brand New Eyes” era); I’m saying that every new evolution of Paramore has shown massive growth and creativity beyond what the last album did.

There’s a big difference between doing that, and falling victim to trend-chasing.

An example of trend-chasing by a rock band would be Fall Out Boy with their latest record. While I certainly don’t want to put down anyone who enjoys this project, “MANIA” felt to me like it lost way too much of what made Fall Out Boy stand out from the pack before and what made me personally fall in love with their music in the first place. This album felt like they ditched their identity altogether in favour of a more relevant sound. That’s what I mean by trend-chasing and selling out.

I never for an instant felt that way when I heard Paramore’s “After Laughter” for the first time. There was so much of them on the album that to me, the sonic changes – from the replacement of fast-paced, power-chord guitar playing in favour of slick picking riffs, to the swapping of the heavy punk drums for lighter, crisper percussion – didn’t obscure the core identity and sound of Paramore. It still sounds like them. I could barely say the same of Fall Out Boy’s “MANIA” when I first heard it.

Hence, that’s why I think Paramore has managed to stay relevant throughout the past fifteen years. They’re constantly growing, evolving, and creating new things as a band. They’re staying fresh and up-to-date on what will be commercially successful without going overboard and losing their roots as rockers.

Best of all, you can tell they’re truly making what they want with every record. They’ve always called their new one their favourite, so you know that what you’re getting out of every Paramore album is the band’s genuine creative vision at that time, because you know that they’re uncompromising with what they want to do.

The fact that this vision aligns so well with modern pop and rock trends is no coincidence; it is only a collection smart creative choices.

What does this mean for the future of rock music, then?

Since “After Laughter” was so synth-driven, some people decried it as the end of Paramore as a rock band, one of the last of the emo scene to succumb to another genre.

I disagree. First of all, “After Laughter” is filled with rock influences, from the guitar to the lyricism, the latter of which, frankly, has never been at such a high. This is without question Paramore’s best album, lyrically-speaking.

Just because it’s a bouncier, more bass-y version of pop rock doesn’t mean that whole “rock” part is gone. It’s simply slicker, and combined with other influences.

Secondly, at the end of the day, I still believe Paramore is a rock band, pop rock if you want to be pickier. Their entire claim to fame is rock music – most of their albums are rock at their core. They definitely aren’t turning their backs on it.

They’re only bringing it into the future, where we desperately need it to be if we want it to stay alive and well (because right now, it’s dying). I think they’re one of very few bands actually doing that, and they’re definitely the biggest to be doing so.

This is relevant, because it means they’re probably going to be the figureheads for an entire rock revival movement in the 2020s if it happens (I’m hopeful). Even if they aren’t the most commercially successful rock artist this decade, an entire new group of bands and artists will have been inspired by Paramore’s music and their dedication to keeping an eye on the future in order to ensure the longevity of the genre.

It’s already started happening. Machine Gun Kelly, an artist I personally dislike but who has been doing a lot to revive rock and emo music, put out a cover of Paramore’s iconic “Misery Business” with blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. That cover has 10 million views on YouTube, and it didn’t even come out that long ago.

What a perfect, brilliant way to combine the old (blink-182) with the bridge (Paramore) with the new (MGK) figureheads of rock music in order to propel it into the future.

I honestly don’t like the sound of this cover at all – I don’t like MGK’s voice and I’m too attached to the Paramore original. But I absolutely love seeing this sort of thing happening, because it gives me hope that rock could make a comeback.

And what of Paramore themselves?

Well, I think their personal future is still bright if they continue making music. I know Hayley came close to a breaking point before the release of “After Laughter” so I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if that were to be Paramore’s final album. I certainly hope that’s not the case though, because I really don’t think that Paramore is done.

I think they could still pull plenty of ideas from up their sleeves – they’ve done it for years now, so really, who says they can’t keep doing it?

I do think their next album will be critical to help rock music in this new decade, though. As I’ve said throughout this post, Paramore are rock giants and they’re one of few bands from that well-loved emo scene who are still standing strong today. Whatever their next album does, I think it’ll be another step in their growth as a band and will incorporate even more elements of modern popular music (pop, indie, etc.), which will do wonders to jumpstart the relevance of rock in the 2020s.

That’s why with their own talents and tendencies, along with their status as scene inspirations to new rock artists, I trust that Paramore will be a defining presence in shaping the future of rock music, regardless of whether they ever put out another song.

One thing is clear, though: their influence on the scene is absolutely undeniable.

— H

What do you think about this topic? Let me know in the comments!

Published by mcharlow

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