In Defense of Paramore’s Hayley Williams

Vouching for tacky is a miserable business

Image: Courtney Carmody

Paramore recently released their first new music since 2013, jaunty rock-nouveau singles “Hard Times” and “Told You So,” and hurtled back into the cultural stratosphere. In my experience, the public dislikes Paramore as much as anybody in the radio circuits today. Twenty One Pilots, among a few sundry pop acts of 2017, also contend for the masses’ scorn, but almost to aggregate effect, as the duo owes their success to industry mentor and Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams. I shall now profess my love — a costly love! — for Williams: personal idol since my tender year of sixteen, widely disliked pop culture figure.

Before we proceed, we must concede: Paramore is a well-reviewed pop band. They are also a punk band and a rock band and a sometime emo band, but with ten songs marking Billboard charts and platinum certification on three out of four albums, they are ultimately a critically acclaimed pop act. Now that we have that out of the way, we can stop writing Williams’s fanbase off as mallcore sops (full disclosure: the mall rules!!!). What an insult to the artist! Well, really, such a jab wouldn’t be out of place for a pop star like, say, Ed Sheeran, who tops the charts but circles the drain in reviews. However, I smugly assert that critics and the media are on my side of the spacious Williams Divide.

Then why do all my friends hate the band and the artist for whom my heart is eternally aflame? Getting people I know to listen to Paramore is like pulling teeth. My own dear husband once reassured me, regarding my shyness as a car DJ, “Play whatever you want! As long as it’s not, like, Paramore.” (He has since recalibrated his musical compass.) One of my college classmates, a worship leader and collector of rare vinyls, cushioned the same blow with “She’s got a really dynamic voice, but her band sucks.” My friends moan and groan when Grammy-boasting single “Ain’t It Fun” comes on in the bar. Even my high school best friend, longtime lover of bold female pop figures, has a rich and colorful history of letting me know whenever the internet is making fun of “Misery Business” again. It’s fun! We’re all having fun.

Despite a heart brimming with reasons to adore Williams and her buddies, I’ve unearthed a few possible counterpoints to her talent, looks, and charm.

The first, and perhaps plainest, is that she is a female person with feelings, glorious feelings. While Hayley writes about completely reasonable things like friendship, doubt, and finding happiness (MISERY BUSINESS IS HER MULLIGAN, OKAY), the perennial objection that she’s “whiny” crops up quicker than I can aggressively argue people out of it. From dudes, obviously, but actually also from women. I guess they think that’s okay to say because….why? Nope, not okay to say that. But, as many of us know, it’s tough out there for a loud lady. And Williams is loud in more ways than one.

Hayley Williams’ persona has always been tacky. She’s noisy and brash on the band’s records and always has been. Her lyrical content can be a bit too on the nose for some; she’s even described the band’s discography as their diary, leaving little to poetic imagination. On their self-titled album, Paramore swerved recklessly into all manner of experimental and unsubtle sounds, received well by critics but with disdain from most folks I know, who lack interest in current iterations of a band they value purely nostalgically. “I liked their music in high school, but a new album? Too far!” their eyes tell me when I try to proselytize them into the blessed Paramore sisterhood.

But it’s not just the gaudy music. Her hair, hit or miss throughout the years, is infamous for its signature jarring orange hue. Likewise, the band’s album art, while always limping across the finish line of artistically passable, is heavy-handed. Williams’ sporadic social media posts are utterly uncurated, revealing a lifestyle full of garish clashing patterns and truly weird knick-knacks (gigantic pink dinosaur, anyone?). Even as a loving fan, I say with all tenderness that her wardrobe looks like the late eighties exploded, and not in the Urban Outfitters way (scope out UNIF, one of her favorite brands, for a sampling). There’s not a minimalist speck in her music repertoire or her closet, to the dismay of this loyal fan who is constantly attempting to vouch for her coolness and relevance.

It’s actually astounding how deftly Hayley avoids what us Cool Millennials know as “aesthetic.” Complete detour clear around. It’s *almost* there in the recently revealed album art for their forthcoming record After Laughter…if it wasn’t for the glaring purple and clutter of weird squiggles. Even her longtime passion for makeup veers off tangentially from the Instagram and YouTube staple looks of contour and shadow palettes into the esoteric, while still never quite attaining high fashion.

Forever patterned pants with sneakers, you know, the kind that look like they were designed to go straight to discount. Bowling shoes (for some reason, so many bowling shoes). Checkered and plaid everything, for God’s sake. Williams’ brand is disjointed and tacky and by all current standards, the un-aesthetic. Is un-branding oneself the last true punk act?!?!? Or is she really just severely uncool?

TRICK QUESTION! *Of course* un-branding oneself is the last true punk act. Yet, I find this an exceedingly difficult point of which to convince everyone, even the people at this party I barely know. For the ten years I’ve loved Paramore, I’ve found myself mostly alone in my sentiments, with opposing views ranging from token nostalgia to avid disgust. Perhaps I’m off-base, but I feel like most other well-reviewed, chart-topping stars don’t incite the same vitriol.

Funny, smart, beautiful, tremendously talented, friendly to fans, creative, longtime advocate of human and animal rights, ethical business owner in financial support of institutions like the NAACP, award-winning musician boasting technically perfect vocal performances. Why does everybody insist upon shitting on this shimmering and resplendent hero of mine? It’s because she’s tacky — her music and her image are intensely uncurated, and we are a generation loath toward chaos.

I stand in full confidence that my once-disdainful friends and colleagues will find within themselves that undying flame of passion for my favorite band that I always knew was there. Hail, Hayley Williams! Long may you sort the wheat from the weak-ass chaff with your terrible Converse and your brand-banishing boldness. And if you guys complain about “Still Into You” one more time, I swear to God I will beat you over the head with a bowling shoe.

Katie Wojciechowski is a mallcore teen masquerading as a Portland gardening nerd. She tweets at @katiesays_. Her corgi does not approve of this message.