On the final night of their UK tour, Paramore singer Hayley Williams playfully asks for a show of hands: those who have never been to a Paramore show before. Half the venue, it seems, raise theirs. Even Williams looks taken aback.
She shouldn’t be surprised. The US band’s last appearance here was five years ago; against the odds, a new generation of Paramore fans has come on stream. This has been the much-maligned 00s pop-punk pioneers’ fastest-selling tour ever. Their most recent album, the serrated, punk-funk-tinged This Is Why, went to No 1 in the UK in February,Paramore’s first top spot in a decade.
It was good, too, channelling grownup concerns and Talking Heads rather than the more formulaic emo bounce of their earlier work. Running Out of Time, in which Williams castigates herself for her good intentions and bad timekeeping, finds her mock-running across the stage, wondering “what if I’m just a selfish prick, no regard?”
Paramore end the show with a new tune, rather than an old hit – the new album’s title track, which deals with post-pandemic overwhelm (“This is why I don’t leave the house!”). The Pop Group, whose frontman Mark Stewart died earlier this month, subtly echo across the song’s curt guitar work and borderline paranoia. Paramore’s influences have a way of surprising. Bloc Party are the support – a band, Williams says, without which there would have been no Paramore. Williams brings Kele Okereke on stage for a stripped-down duet of Bloc Party’s Blue Light. “I used to cry to that song all the time in my car,” she blurts.
Throughout a set that draws from all corners of the band’s near-two decades together, and features Williams repeatedly gushing about how everyone in the room is “family”, it’s clear that Paramore are currently in the throes of a resurgence. There’s a wider wave of ongoing nostalgia for the 00s, particularly among thirtysomething fans presumably fed up of adulting like crazy. My Chemical Romance also reunited and toured recently. A slew of new artists are harking back to the millennial sound. Major new star Olivia Rodrigo’s 2021 hit Good 4 U sounded so similar to a foundational Paramore hit called Misery Business that Rodrigo eventually gave the band a writing credit, after numerous TikTok mashups made the similarities plain.
All sorts of younger artists have been namechecking Paramore – and Williams in particular – as inspirations. The fanclub runs the gamut from Steve Lacy to Billie Eilish – who duetted with Williams at 2022’s Coachella festival – via PinkPantheress and Phoebe Bridgers. Last month, Paramore supported Taylor Swift on her US tour. Swift and Williams go back a long way: roughly the same age, the two songwriters came up alongside one another in Tennessee.
Like Swift, Paramore also grew up in public. They were squeaky-clean practising Christians, which did not sit well in the punk world. As a female-fronted band in a testosterone-fuelled environment, all sorts of unpleasantness was thrown at Williams. Despite label pressure to write with professional songwriters, she was a teenage girl writing about being a teenage girl. Williams took to wearing T-shirts that said “Paramore is a band”, quoting Blondie’s assertion a couple of generations before. (Paramore’s Hard Times interpolates Blondie’s Heart of Glass tonight.)
Despite that, Paramore nearly split, often. In 2010, founding members Josh and Zac Farro left; an online post by Josh Farro made the acrimony very public. Williams regrouped with touring guitarist Taylor York; in 2016, drummer Zac Farro rejoined. After 2017’s successful After Laughter album began a new era, Paramore went on hiatus in 2018 so that everyone could focus on their other lives. Williams was going through a difficult divorce; she was eventually diagnosed with PTSD. Her two very good solo albums, which processed her own history of trauma, came out during the pandemic. Zac Farro worked with his other band, HalfNoise. Both solo ventures get one track on the set list tonight. On hiatus, Paramore’s streaming numbers went up, not down.
While Williams’s star power remains constant, the band’s defining old songs really haven’t aged wildly well. The tracks that resonate most tonight are actually from the latter, funkier half of their career, with the pop-funk of Hard Times from After Laughter making a snarky earworm out of her turmoil. For Rose-Colored Boy, Williams dons shades and ponders the gap between optimism and toxic positivity as the band pump out more persuasive light funk.
They retired their biggest hit, Misery Business, some time ago, citing discomfort at the song’s internalised misogyny – the song pits girl against girl over a boy. (“Once a whore, you’re nothing more,” it sneers; hilariously, Paramore also got stick from Christians for taking the Lord’s name in vain in the chorus.)
But recently they’ve been playing it again, largely due to all this new interest, recognising its role in their story. Tonight they choose three young women from the audience of placard-waving fans to sing it on stage, a frenzy of wish-fulfilment that echoes the wider revivalist mood. Ironically, though, Paramore aren’t that band any more, and they are the better for it.