Paramore Powers Up: Hayley & The Guys Sell Out Arenas, Top Festival Bills
Time is a funny thing.
It’s linear – minutes are built from seconds, Tuesday follows Monday, 2023 came along once 2022 completed its allotment. We’re sophisticated people in a rational age who understand this. Humans have a great capacity for reason and we’re oh-so-proud of ourselves for it.
But time – or at least our perception of it – also stretches and bends and warps and speeds up and slows down and we say things like, “It seems like only yesterday” when talking about events from a quarter-century ago.
Consider this: it’s been almost 18 years since the release of Paramore’s debut album, All We Know Is Falling.
It was the height of what people who study such things consider the third wave of emo. The more casual or less obsessive listener – in other words, a normal person – is likely to consider the emo of the first decade of the 21st century as emo sine qua non. And into a world where emo and its officemate pop-punk were having heretofore unseen commercial success, Paramore delivered something different enough to set it apart.
In a genre where the stereotypical lead singer is a broody young man, Paramore was fronted by Hayley Williams, a young woman, at the time shy of her 17th birthday.
Chew on that for a moment: Paramore has been part of our lives for more than half of Williams’ own.
Two years later, the band – still teens – released Riot! and the single “Misery Business.” The disc went platinum – eventually triple – and the then-quartet from Franklin, Tennessee, broke the so-called Nashville Curse, a persistent folk belief that because seminal, critical-darling cowpunk band Jason & The Scorchers acquiesced to a major label demand to drop “Nashville” from their name in 1983, no Middle Tennessee rockers would have commercial success in America.
Long-term success indeed eluded a generation of Nashville rock bands – it was soundtracks or TV ads or early opening spots for Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies and The Features and Celebrity and Bare Jr, beloved as they all were – but, well, none of them had Williams, whose dynamism as a frontwoman was apparent enough that UTA agent Ken Fermaglich signed her at 14, and none of them had the made-for-screaming-in-the-car banger that was and remains “Misery Business.”
Critical and commercial acclaim followed with each of the band’s subsequent releases, even as the lineup changed, sometimes amicably, sometimes acrimoniously (and, in at least one case, litigiously). Paramore’s not exactly a Ship of Theseus, because the band has always been fronted by Williams, drummer Zac Farro was there at the start (though he’s come and gone and come back again) and Taylor York’s been with the band in various capacities from the beginning, but there’s been plenty of change and it’s all played out in public. It’s not Fleetwood Mac-level drama – what is? – but, befitting the genre that launched the band and the generational cohort to which they belong, much of the drama has been public and extremely online.
Williams released well-regarded solo projects that become adored during COVID-tide and became a trusted voice for her generation’s feminism, admitting that parts of “Misery Business” – which she started writing when she was 14 – could be read as misogynistic, taking the risky step of removing the band’s signature song from the live set in 2018.
But the song and the albums never left the radio or playlists of decades’ worth of fans – and plenty more who discovered them more recently.
Now, suddenly, it’s 2023 (time’s a funny thing, remember?). The plucky, precocious teens of Paramore are now in their thirties and dealing with all that entails, as Williams learned during the theater shows.
“I had a pinched nerve,” she says. “So I was wondering ‘How do I move and still look cool and not hurt myself?’”
Now, they are selling out arenas as headliners and topping festival bills.
It would have been an easy thing to become an emo legacy act. Plenty of their genre-mates have done so and who can blame them? The teens of 2007 are old enough to have disposable income (not to mention reliable transportation). The success of emo nights and the When We Were Young festival demonstrate that elder Millennials are ready for nostalgia. But Paramore’s new music feels as vital in 2023 as their older tracks felt 15 years ago. Why trade in nostalgia when you still have more to offer?
“There’s never been a temptation to re-
create anything we’ve ever done. We understood that pressure would be there from some people,” Williams tells Pollstar. “We get bored too easily. We have to find new things that we can get good at. The curiosity is the key there and we stay open to new things. Thom Yorke was talking to someone about learning and
playing on new equipment, whether that’s a
guitar or playing with loops, he said when you get good at one thing, you move to the next thing. That resonates with me. That’s how Paramore creates. … If you stay curious, the world opens itself up to you. That’s what keeps us making records. If it came to making Riot! 2.0, we’d stop doing it.”
There’s no need to make Riot! a second time because the original still resonates and there’s clearly no reason to “stop doing it,” especially when, 17 years in, the band is able to carry an arena tour, though Paramore’s been a bankable act for a long time. In 325 Pollstar Boxoffice reports starting in 2005, the band has grossed nearly $68 million and sold more than 1.5 million tickets as a headliner.
Paramore’s live schedule looks downright daunting.
After a spot atop a night of the Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest in Phoenix, the band will play seven South American dates before coming back stateside as an opener for the first two nights of the highly anticipated Taylor Swift “Eras Tour” in Glendale. Then it’s off to the UK and Ireland for seven shows.
Following a headlining spot alongside Red Hot Chili Peppers and SZA at Hangout Music Fest in Gulf Shores, Alabama, the U.S. arena run begins at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center May 23. The run hits Madison Square Garden, the Kia Forum -– both for two nights – and the usual smattering of must-stops before wrapping Aug. 2 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
As if that wasn’t enough, the band will headline the first night of Atlantic City’s emo- and pop-punk-driven Adjacent Festival and the third night of Boston Calling. And they lead the second line for the last day of Bonnaroo, the band’s hometown festival of sorts, where they’ll be the penultimate performance, followed by Foo Fighters.
Williams says jumping in with both feet into a formidable schedule after four years off is “terrifying.”
“Why not be very brutally honest about it?” she says, laughing. “We’ve been home. We took time off voluntarily and it was good for us. It’s easy to get used to being home. And most of our life was not being home. The last few years was important to us growing and just being home as adults. We’d never been home as adults. I’m nervous and I’m excited to see people’s faces. The fans are 100% why these shows are happening. We are so pumped to reconnect with people. It gives me hope that the world is not bullshit when you see people dancing and singing together.”
If it feels like the routing is aiming for different audiences, it’s because the band and agent Fermaglich were intentional about doing so.
“They wanted to show continued growth and evolution,” UTA’s Fermaglich tells Pollstar. “That’s one of the reasons that, while we played When We Were Young, we also went after different things like the Austin City Limits festival. That’s an important part of the maturation.”
So there’s still a nod to the band’s past at Adjacent Festival, but Boston Calling, the very next night, is a little more musically mature (the band shares top billing with Queens of the Stone Age, after all). There’s Bonnaroo and the chance to open for arguably the most revered rockers of the last 25 or 30 years. Williams says the band is thrilled, of course, to play with Foo Fighters who “have always been so cool to us.”
“The fact that they still are doing it is incredible. I’m gonna cry the entire set. I’m so thankful for them and I want to celebrate them,” she says.
Fermaglich says discussions about this tour – the band’s first since 2018 – started when Paramore went into the studio to start work on its new album, This Is Why.
“These conversations started in the backside of 2021. I went to the studio where they were making the record and we started talking about what it was they wanted to do,” he says. “But we had to talk about the timeline, because the first single was going to come out months before the record itself was going to come out, so it was going to be a tiered approach.”
And indeed, the title track was released in late September, but the album isn’t due until Feb. 10.
The preface to this year’s big tour and festival hits was a series of underplays in theaters, which solidified for Fermaglich what he already suspected: Paramore was going to be a hot ticket.
“The streaming numbers in COVID and coming out of COVID had multiplied exponentially,” he says. “The band had grown even without touring or releasing music.”
The band’s team was able to determine by registrations via Ticketmaster Verified Fan that there was a huge base of demand they’d never be able to meet in theaters. Indeed, the shows – at Los Angeles’ Wiltern, New York’s Beacon, The Chicago Theatre, among others – sold out. The 3,553-ticket sellout in Chicago Nov. 9 grossed more than $292,000, according to Pollstar Boxoffice data.
Fermaglich felt confident the arena move would be a successful one, but what was a surprise was the speed the tickets sold during November’s on-sale.
By then, the single had been out for six weeks or so, plenty of time for fans to digest the band’s musical evolution. The new disc is more post-punk than pop-punk, drawing on the dance-flecked urgency of early 2000s sweatcore rather than the emotional rawness of emo. There’s elements of math rock, not known as a particularly accessible genre. Williams said, in particular, the band was influenced by English art punks Bloc Party and their 2005 album, Silent Alarm. Not coincidentally, Bloc Party is opening for Paramore this summer.
It’s unmistakable musical growth, but would the audience come along?
“What we’re seeing is the audience is growing up with the band. Earlier in the career, we would see an audience of 14- to 22-year-olds. I would say now the audience is 20- to 38-year-olds. The band is getting a little bit older and the audience is getting a little bit older,” Fermaglich said. “‘Adulting up,’ there’s a little bit of that happening.”
This Is Why is Paramore’s sixth studio album in 18 years. The band has a voluminous catalog, like the rockers of the 1970s, when putting out albums on a regular and frequent basis was the norm.
“They are a little bit of a throwback,” Fermaglich says. “They subscribe to releasing albums and touring an album and taking that album as a body of work. … It’s a really rewarding thing to watch them grow up and evolve and mature … They’ve had drama and issues and things to deal with, but they are still vibrant and we still have goals and things we want to achieve. You don’t see a band with this kind of career with this many albums often.”
And yes, “Misery Business” is back in the set. Williams joined Billie Eilish for an acoustic version at Coachella in 2022 and the band has worked it back in. It’s a little unusual for an artist to be so honest that they are doing something purely for fan service, but Williams doesn’t shy away from it. She said there are fans who discovered the band through streaming during the pandemic when Paramore “had a pop culture moment.”
“We feel obligated to people coming out and spending, in my opinion, way too much money to come to a show and committing time and energy. We want them to have the show they dream about. The selfish part is experimenting. All the old songs were joyous. It was a celebration,” she says. “So it’s an interesting type of pressure. All these new fans are going to expect us to play what they’ve heard, so how do we make them feel welcome? It’s embracing our entire journey. It’s not about shitting on ourselves or saying we weren’t good enough [then]. [“Misery Business”] was foundational for us and it’s an opportunity for the new and old fans to enjoy something together.”
But, as Fermaglich said, the band’s fans have grown up too, so what song got the loudest response on the theater run? Williams said it was “This Is Why,” proof the fans are on this journey with them, nearly two decades later.
Time is indeed a funny thing.