Paramore Grows Up With ‘After Laughter’ — But Will Fans Follow?

Photo by Lindsey Brynes

If you thought you knew what pop-punk trio Paramore is about, the group’s long-awaited comeback single “Hard Times” and newly released follow-up “Told You So” — from the forthcoming fifth album “After Laughter” (due May 12 on Fueled by Ramen/Atlantic) — have likely knocked you for six. Three years on from the band’s last release, it’s a major departure. Renowned for singer Hayley Williams’ yelping choruses and Taylor York’s hugely distorted guitars, Paramore is usually associated with anxious anthems — no longer. “Not gonna hit rock bottom!” cries Williams at the end of “Hard Times.” Despite the song’s message (basically, when the going gets tough, the tough get going), Paramore has never sounded — or looked — more defiantly joyous.

That first video for “Hard Times” employs the coolest use of pastel-colored doodles since the “Saved by the Bell” opening credits, while the track’s production comes over like a late 2000s tropical club banger from former XL band Friendly Fires, as though sung by La Roux or Debbie Harry. There’s neon! There’s facepaint! There’s silly shimmying to camera! It’s matched today by “Told You So,” the video for which is less cartoonish but no less flirtatious, featuring the trio wearing matching red suits and rocking spikey guitars that — again — remind of British bands such as Foals and Bombay Bicycle Club. For many old fans — and pleasantly surprised new acolytes — the main question is: What’s happening here?

“Hard Times” in particular could be interpreted as a cri de coeur for our current socio-political age, particularly given a chorus that says “Hard times/ Gonna make you wonder why you even try.” Both songs, however, are deeply personal, documenting Williams’s psyche at her lowest ebb during the band’s continued uncertainty.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Paramore, which formed in 2004. “For all I know, the best is over and the worst is yet to come,” sings Williams on “Told You So.” For the band’s entire existence, it has been marred by legal disputes, quitting bandmembers and very public misunderstandings. All the while, Williams has remained the focal point, and her importance as a forthright frontwoman can’t be understated. She’s a bridge between fledgling punk acts and those who paved the way for her (the old guard of ’90s riot grrrls, and the likes of Gwen Stefani, Karen O, and Shirley Manson).The question of how to remain relevant to both demographics will likely weigh on Paramore’s mind. Between the lines, the real question posed by these new songs is: how does a band like Paramore grow up with — and without alienating — its devout fanbase?

Well, the reactions have come. Some hardcore fans are jumping on the “sell-outs!” train. Others, however, are bowled over the by the boldness of experimentation. One tweet said of “Hard Times:” “New Paramore song sounds like the music on crash bandicoot tbh” referring to the old PlayStation game. It’s truly that colorful.

Perhaps it’s selfishness that’s brought Williams to this point. “You can run on the fumes of being a teenager for as long as you want, but eventually life hits you real hard,” Williams told The New York Times recently. It’s written all over her face. She’s at her most approachable. Famed for sporting hair dyes that could kill, Williams has softened her edge with platinum bangs. Her body language is a more nimble form of kick-ass, compounded by a true self-assuredness.

Embittered purists might critique that going for pop gold is a cop-out — but it’s also a very hard move to pull off. “After Laughter” could be Paramore’s biggest rebellion yet. Renowned for heavily emotional, hardened, and jagged tunes such as “Still Into You” and “Misery Business” over the course of four albums, Paramore soundtracked the angsty teenage years of Warped Tour fans around the globe. Now they appear to be aiming to set themselves free from genre. Rock is definitely not the genre du jour right now. Yet Paramore’s new sound isn’t pop, either. With “After Laughter” set to drop on the same day as Harry Styles’ self-titled debut, it’s the one album landing on May 12 that could challenge the ex-One Direction pin-up. As the lead indicator, these tunes builds upon the more ambitious, experimental sounds of radio stalker “Ain’t It Fun” off their previous, self-titled LP, leaning on their crossover success (“Ain’t It Fun” won a Grammy for Best Rock Song).

Paramore’s greatest feat here is in their pursuit of lightness. Successfully nailing pop songs is a steep challenge, but Paramore have made it look easy, channeling an energy of relief, exasperation, and sheer happiness to be back. With another new lineup, it marks the return of original drummer Zac Farro, who quit the band in 2010, a sign that some friendships are worth fighting for. That resolution has likely added to the sonic confidence. When the end feels nigh, perhaps the only way to go is relocating that groove that made you want to be a band in the first place.

According to Williams’ Instagram, this is the most proud Paramore have ever been of an album. As when us normal folk have a bad day and go out for a great night with old pals, Paramore went to work, calling upon each other when they needed a shoulder to lean on. “After Laughter” sounds like it’s about when life kicks you in the gonads. Instead of crying about it, hopefully Paramore will come back fighting and chop life’s head clean off.

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    1. Pnkr0cker says:

      I’m honestly not convinced by this single. This article suggests that great pop songs are not easy, but we live in an age (at least in the US) where catchy, successful pop songs are in overabundance. Paramore doesn’t appear to be breaking new ground; Hard Times sounds like it could have come off their last LP – especially with the intro.

      Rock hasn’t gone out of style. The problem is that major labels have too much control over artists and what is played on the radio. Bands like Yellowcard have been creating some killer pop-rock albums since 2011, but have received zero radio play because they don’t cater to the modern indie-pop hipster or dude-bro rock images that radio stations seem to exclusively acknowledge.

      In my opinion, Paramore is doing exactly what they have to in order to stay relevant on the media and radio. Just like what every other artist is being forced to do.

      • zak says:

        I don’t know about “indie pop hipster”, I’ve started to let myself enjoy the music by Chvrches, Carly Rae Jepsen (EMOTION-era stuff, not “Call Me Maybe”), Daya, Glades, HAIM, Banks. I wouldn’t consider myself a hipster since this music is extremely popular.

        I love pop punk, but let’s be honest – pop punk is stale right now. The “new wave” of pop punk in the form of The Wonder Years/Man Overboard/Transit (Transit is okay though) have the sound of pop punk, but the pop sensibilities and memorability of metalcore (read: not memorable). And all the songs are about summer, hanging out with friends and how super serious suburban middle-class problems are.

        What happened to the fun of pop punk bands? Back then, the likes of Brand New, early Fall Out Boy and Relient K were making snarky, very catchy music. And if it was super serious like Hawthorne Heights or My Chemical Romance (debatably more alternative rock than pop punk), they at least were memorable. How is some guy yell-singing (Wonder Years, A Day to Remember) fun, or memorable? It isn’t at least for me.

        So that’s why I’d rather listen to “hipster” “indie” pop (alternative pop) instead of nowadays pop punk/alternative rock. Even the Foo Fighters haven’t made something as good as anything they put out since Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. Modern rock is just… not good.

        • Pnkr0cker says:

          I think you misinterpreted what I meant when I said “indie pop hipster”. I was simply stating that the indie pop hipster is a construct that the music industry has created and favors to cater to, as opposed to finding real artists that create diverse and original music.

          What happened to pop punk? The music industry listened to its computers and decided to move on. Easy as that. If you haven’t, listen to Yellowcard’s albums from 2011-2014. They have some songs that are absolutely perfect for pop radio, and some genuine rock songs that could hold their own, but they got zero radio play simply because it’s not like what’s already on the radio, which is ridiculous and ironic.

          Rock isn’t going to be good until labels start letting bands control their music, especially for up and coming bands. When I’m listening to a song and can’t tell whether it’s Stone Sour, Slipknot, or Five Finger Death Punch, there’s a problem. Rock is about originality, but instead it’s been turned into an equation that must be adhered to. The bands that truly are great don’t get radio plays because they are “risky”.

          Regardless of everything I’ve stated above though, my main point is that Paramore doesn’t sound like old Paramore because it’s too risky today. And every band/artist from the early 2000s that still has new music playing on the radio pretty much confirms it. Even Linkin Park have transitioned to a sound that is sonically guitarless. To say that Paramore are breaking new ground and originality when catchy pop music is a dime-a-dozen is just ridiculous.

    2. Alexia says:

      I’ve been following Paramore to the ends of the Earth, and I will still be on the look out to move with them once they’ve stopped.

      • JP says:

        Rock music is in a deep slumber right now because for whatever reason, guitar-driven bands of 3+ members aren’t able to keep up with the singles-oriented nature of EDM and hip-hop artists. The reason those genres are king right now is due to the rate at which they are putting out new songs.

        I think what old school bands need to realize is that stockpiling a queue of 10+ songs then recording them all at once is dead. EPs are dead. Write a killer song, record it immediately, release it, and move onto the next one because 2017’s listeners have no patience. The rate at which music is consumed is at a blinding pace.

    3. Casey says:

      I don’t think people are giving Paramore fans near enough credit. I stopped listening to bands that sounded like the “old Paramore” a long time ago. Most of their fans are the same age as them and haven’t just grown up listening to them, but also with them. If Paramore had made a record that sounded like Riot, they couldn’t be my favorite band anymore, but now they get to be my favorite band forever. And that’s pretty awesome.

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