Paramore, the female-led pop-punk band that rose to fame in the late aughts, has ended their nearly six-year hiatus with their new album This Is Why. In that time, the internet has had the revelation that, unbeknownst to much of it, Black people love Paramore. Slate assembled three of Paramore’s Black female fans—Slate associate culture writer Nadira Goffe, ICYMI host Rachelle Hampton, and Daily Beast deputy entertainment editor Allegra Frank—to discuss their love of the influential band, how This Is Why measures up to the rest of the group’s discography, and what it means to know now that Black people love Paramore.
Nadira Goffe: Hi, Allegra! Hi, Rachelle! Thanks for joining me here on the day when we finally get to dish on the thing we’ve all been waiting for: Paramore’s sixth studio album, their first since 2017’s After Laughter. The reason that I’ve invited you both to our roundtable is not only because you’re two of the most passionate Paramore fans I know, but also because, as the internet discovered on TikTok a year ago, and on Twitter a few years before that, Black people love Paramore. I wanted to discuss the history of our relationship to this band both as Black women and as Zillennials. But first, let’s get to the reason why we’re really here! What do we think about This Is Why?
Allegra Frank: Excited to talk to you both about this album—I feel like we’ve all been waiting years for this moment. (Or, at least, since the second the album was announced.) I’ve listened to This Is Why twice all the way through thus far, which I feel isn’t enough to merit a real review quite yet, but my first impression is that the album is … fine? It sounds like a natural progression from both After Laughter and Petals for Armor, lead singer Hayley Williams’ first solo album. Which makes sense! Both albums represented a transition from the pop-punk strains of Paramore’s previous records toward something more new wave. Think synths! Jagged drum lines! More major-key melodies! But, what I first fell in love with Paramore for was how it refracted the masculinity of pop-punk through a feminine lens, something that was incredibly rare when the band first debuted. Hayley Williams’ personal lyrics and explosive, range-jumping voice was a powerful contrast to the heavier melodies. And I find that This Is Why has migrated from that sound palette toward something that, to me, feels a bit more familiar and less exciting. The tracklist is dotted with some core singles that represent the unique musical compound Paramore excels at and a bunch of tracks that slot nicely but forgettably into that newer sound. Which all translates to: This Is Fine.
Rachelle Hampton: Bitch, not This Is Fine!
Goffe: “This Is Fine (10 Minute Version) (Allegra’s Version)”
Hampton: I think, of the three of us here, I might be the least well-versed in Paramore’s discography. My primary reference points are the albums of my adolescence (Riot! and a bit of Brand New Eyes) and then After Laughter, which I discovered during the pandemic when I was living with my parents and fully regressed into being a teenager. Within that context, I mostly agree with Allegra’s read on the album. Outside of the title track, the first half felt a bit familiar and I could hear the post-punk influence maybe a bit too much. But the second half and especially the last two songs really encapsulated the promise of the album, which is this era-defining band getting a little older, a little wiser, and a lot more tired, while still possessing and expressing a more mature version of that rage that made their early music so indelible.
That being said, Paramore is one of those bands that I’ll listen to regardless of the quality so this album will be in rotation.
Goffe: Riot! was the watershed album for me—I was introduced to the band via the first Twilight film, which featured their song “Decode.” As I started to dig into the band, I realized that I had also already loved some of their older songs, including one that I’d heard on the soundtrack of The Sims 2 (I know, I know—but have you ever heard Hayley Williams sing in Simlish?). What I loved about Paramore so much began, without a doubt, with Hayley Williams. She possessed the powerful voice that we’re taught to hail as a sort of hallmark of excellent Black singing, but she was laying it over this angsty, bubbly pop-punk music. And, the things she was singing about were deeply relatable because they, as Allegra said, were from a feminine perspective. I think their breakout hit, “Misery Business,” was a perfect testament to that: It’s the “I stole your man” anthem for girls who were raised on JoJo and Avril Lavigne, but aged up just a bit.
I say all of this to say, it may be no surprise that, while I agree the first half of the album feels like much more of a testament to their post-punk roots as Rachelle was saying, there was no way it could be “a bit too much” so for me. My favorites so far are the closer (“Thick Skull”), the title track, and “Running Out of Time.” Partially because they do what Paramore and Hayley do best: speak to a sort of generational angst in a way that feels obvious but not heavy-handed.
Hampton: OK my immediate reaction to both “Running Out of Time” and “The News” was: these were songs I would’ve loved if I heard them as a teenager. As an adult, the lyrics are just slightly too on the nose for me to fully surrender to, but it definitely strikes a chord deep inside me.
What resonated with me when I first heard Paramore was the raw emotional appeal. Like most teenagers, I was a ball of angst and acne. I was also an emo Black girl coming of age in suburban Texas. I didn’t feel like my parents or my peers understood me, but my girl Hayley did.
The Black church’s influence on Hayley’s vocals (which I wasn’t consciously aware of until adulthood) meant that Paramore’s work kind of perfectly slid into the other music I was listening to. It didn’t feel dissonant to switch from “That’s What You Get” and “Here We Go Again” to Luther Vandross.
Frank: I totally agree with both of you about “Thick Skull”—a great composite of everything that Paramore is trying to do here. It’s introspective, and slower, and yet it builds to something cathartic. And I also agree about “The News” … low-key I am bored of white bands talking to me about how the news is so disappointing and annoying. Green Day nailed that idea back in 2004 with “American Idiot.” Hayley isn’t adding anything to that convo.
Goffe: If I could have it one way: I would prefer white bands to tell me they hate the news too often than not at all. But I acknowledge that that could just be me!
Frank: OK, Nadira, that’s real … but tell me why you hate the news!
I love the idea that it’s Hayley’s voice that is so inherent to the appeal of Paramore for us, as Black women. It’s so true! She is a Southern (former?) Christian woman, whose influences aren’t simply emo/punk bands like her contemporaries’ were. I think that’s why I’ve never been “embarrassed” to love Paramore, in the way that I am ashamed of how much I listened to Cobra Starship as a middle schooler. There is a complexity to their sound and an emotional core to their lyrics that really resonated with me so much, and still does, even when lyrically the songs haven’t always matured like I have.
Hampton: So true re: never being embarrassed to listen to Paramore. I think even when I didn’t know what constituted good music, I knew there was something different about Paramore versus, like, Secondhand Serenade. And to be clear I will still listen to “Fall for You” on repeat but I know what I’m doing when I do it.
Goffe: I agree that sometimes the ideas on this album are half-baked, but I think I appreciate Paramore for trying more than I do other bands. And sometimes it works! For example these lyrics from “Running Out of Time” really resonated with me: “Never mind, I hit the snooze on my alarm 20 times/ But I was just so tired/ There was traffic, spilled my coffee, crashed my car, otherwise/ Woulda been here on time … There was a fire (Metaphorically)/ Be there in five (Hyperbolically).” It’s not that they’re not too on the nose, they are. It’s that sometimes someone needs to call a spade a spade and be on the nose. And I think Paramore is really good at that!
Hampton: That’s a really persuasive point, Nadira. I do love me some metaphorical, lyrical wordplay (Hozier hive rise up), but I do think a huge part of the appeal of pop-punk, for me at least, is hearing emotion so plainly stated. This Is Why just makes me excited for their next project.
Goffe: HOZIER HIVE! To be clear, I think this is far from their best album and I completely agree it’s more of a signal of what’s to come. I think what you both might be getting at is that we need something different from them now. What would you say that is? (Not that they have to listen to us, but still.)
Hampton: Importantly, Hayley’s been famous for more than half her life at this point. This album feels like an attempt to reckon both with what she used to represent to all of us and what she wants to represent going forward. I just want to hear her absolutely going for it vocally. Her belt is so powerful and emotive. “Still Into You” is a perfect song because it combines that hit-you-in-the-chest lyricism and the height of Hayley’s vocal abilities. More of that!
Frank: I have to say, Petals for Armor was the kind of interesting but successful change that I’d like more of from Paramore. I want to hear the band playing around with genre more dynamically—I feel like this album isn’t really taking new wave in more unusual directions, rather than just applying its own existing sound onto it. I liked how Hayley was playing with pure pop, and folk, and punk, and even sexy experimental pop on her solo work. Give me more songs like “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris”!
Goffe: Allegra said, “I want botanist Hayley, and nothing else. Stay in the greenhouse, girl!” I would live for a Paramore folk album, but sorry, sometimes I just want what I came for!
Hampton: Hayley did explicitly say that she doesn’t want them to be a nostalgia band, which I respect so much. It would be so, so easy for them to just keep churning out pop-punk bangers that I’d listen to on repeat. And I always appreciate artists who want to grow instead of cashing in on their nostalgia-hungry audience.
Frank: I think I’m cool with one of those boy pop-punk bands being my nostalgia band. Let Fall Out Boy continue to be boring, or whatever. If Paramore started making “Decode” knockoffs for all the TikTok girlies, I’d be out!
Hampton: Also, importantly, we have younger artists who are taking up that pop-punk mantle, like Willow!
Frank: Willow! Meet Me at the Altar! There’s great options now!
Goffe: And Maggie Lindemann and Demi Lovato doing their return to pop-punk. The upcoming generation of pop-punk ladies is strong, for sure.
Frank: And many of them are notably Black—which I definitely think is telling.
Hampton: The surfeit of Black pop-punk acts really does heal something deep in my soul.
Goffe: I want to get back into this thing that we started with, which is: when the internet found out that “Black people love Paramore” (which they seem to do every 3-5 years). It was both a joyous moment and an annoying one for me. It was partially joyous because I love when we get recognition and there were plenty of people who were thinking: “I thought I was the only one!” But the idea that it’s a surprise that Black people, specifically adolescents, would love a female-led pop-punk band that was churning out straight bangers is … woof. It’s a lot! And it feels slightly unfair.
Hampton: As I mentioned, I grew up in suburban Texas, so I was one of those people who thought I was the only one, not least because I was told that over and over and over again. So the “Black people love Paramore” trend was mostly positive for me. I got the same feeling I get when people tell me they were raised on Zutara fanfic. But, I completely get the annoyance. Any kind of gawking at what is objectively an intra-community conversation is annoying. I largely ignored it and communed in TikTok comment sections with the other Black kids who grew up thinking they were weird.
Frank: There remains a persistent mainstream expectation that “Black people like this and white people like that,” which makes it weird when Black people like that. So, while I do feel similarly to you, Rachelle, where there were so few Black people around me anyway, let alone ones who listened to pop-punk, I also understand that celebrating how Paramore is beloved by literally all kinds of people as some surprising revelation is perpetuating a stereotype.
Goffe: To use one of Rachelle’s favorite words: It’s sort of an ouroboros. The notion that “Black people don’t listen to that kind of music” is perpetuated by Black kids not being open about listening to that kind of music because that notion exists.
Hampton: I mostly felt sad that so many of us had this experience of ostracization, especially when listening to a genre that at its core is about telling people they’re not alone.
Frank: That’s such a smart point, Nadira—it’s a circle, a mean cycle, as Hayley would say. I think the real thing worth celebrating is the increasing diversification of pop-punk from a musician standpoint, not from a fanbase perspective—although I think it’s very true that, most regularly, the people who are most public about their pop-punk fandom aren’t the ones who look like us, which is why there are so many stories about how exclusive and alienating it can be for women and people of color and non-cis folks to attend pop-punk concerts.
Goffe: Yeah, I am overall very glad that the revelation happened, to begin an end of that cycle. I like to think that the new acts we just mentioned, like Willow and Meet Me at the Altar, are making sure it never returns.
Frank: Absolutely! They are not the only exception. <3
Hampton: xD rawr