WORDS: MALVIKA PADIN

Through the looking glass that her own errors, Paramore’s Hayley Williams redefines herself, and the feminist outlook of the 21st century by growing with the times.

It was 2005 and setting a precedent in a space rarely occupied by women, teenager Hayley Williams , from Franklin, Tennessee stepped foot on the Warped Tour stage as the powerhouse front woman of rock band Paramore, which had formed only the year before. Spearheaded by NYC riot grrrl Shira Yevin, that was the year that Warped featured side-stage for female-fronted acts and Williams, then 16,  became part of a “revolution.” In the mid-2000s, she brought a bright spark of emo, mall-punk to the world and carved a niche for herself. Now, 15 years later she continues stands strong as a 21st century influence to women around the world,  doing what very little people managed to do –  she evolved with the times, while still staying true to the teen pop-punk star she will always be at heart.

“SHE EVOLVED WITH THE TIMES…”

One of the first lessons that Williams imparts is about the connotations of being an empowered woman. When Williams began her career, bands were not the place for women to be. Case in point, Baltimore singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan, aka Snail Mail, was quoted saying “Until I saw Paramore, I didn’t know girls were allowed in bands.” Williams was therefore the harbinger of a new era in music and very often she was considered the anchor keeping the band steady. But for every praise that came her way, Williams proved the true meaning of empowerment with her assertive reminders that Paramore was a band first and a “female-fronted” act second. Being empowered tends to titter on the line of arrogance as women who worked to get to a meaningful position in life become possessive, refusing to share credit. Williams’ remains a strong woman who is secure enough to be proud of her bandmates. 

Pride in men shouldn’t give way male dominance, but as a 17-year-old, Williams was an angry teen who couldn’t avoid the misogyny that was rampant by nature within mall-punk. In 2007, Paramore’s most spiteful yet successful eras, came the catchy single “Misery Business”. With lyrics lifted straight out of her own diary, the track is vindictive and bitter in tone with lyrics like – Once a whore, you’re nothing more / I’m sorry, that will never change ‘ – the track was just another unchecked form of patriarchy that pitted women against each other. The cutting, dehumanising language of the track did nothing to deter its success, just as Williams internalized the hostile misogyny, so did the young fans of 2000s of pop-punk. 

The second lesson questions the “right way” to be a feminist, Williams’ ascertains through her own experiences that there isn’t one singular answer.  As Williams grew up the views she had of herself and the world also changed. As the decade drew closer to current times, Williams began speaking out against the message of “Misery Business.” In a 2015 blog post, spurred by comments she read about the ideas of being a “good” feminist, she wrote that as a 26-year-old woman she no longer relates to the narrow-minded narrative of the track.

Hayley Williams at the Hard Rock Cafe Charity launch for Pinktober. Credit/Copyright: Hard Rock International/ Casey  Rodgers AP Images for Invision

“YES I AM A PROUD FEMINIST, JUST MAYBE NOT A PERFECT ONE?”

 The song was quite literally a page in Williams’ diary and as she matured the physical diary of her past was put away for good but the dust kicked up by the song always hung in the air. So in the blog post, and many times in interviews over the years, the singer spoken up against the message of the song asserting that it doesn’t have anything to do female empowerment or solidarity ; banding together and calling out another woman for her choices is not and never will be solidarity. 

In 2018, Paramore announced they will no longer play the song live and in 2020 ahead of her debut solo album Petals For Armor, Williams called for Spotify to remove “Misery Business” from their Women Of Rock playlist, not because she wanted to bury her past but because she wanted to create a more progressive future – still rooted in the band’s original sound but with a revamped outlook towards life.  

If “Misery Business” was a sonic representation of Williams’ angsty-teen cocoon , Petals For Armor, and lead single “Simmer” – which was also including in the Women Of Rock playlist-  is an empowered butterfly emerging to face the world. Exploring the balance between co-existing and individuality, Williams imparts the third take away for every 21st century woman. In this new era, Williams holds onto the pride of being Paramore’s Hayley Williams, while having the confidence to also live life as Hayley Williams ; the artist, the feminist and the person. 

The concept of feminism is misrepresented as an aggressive pursuit of rights, and Williams’ particular ability to acknowledge her past self without shame or regret while still moving forward is a quality that could women of any age should emulate for their own peace ; in the previously mentioned blog Williams explains her outlook towards feminism, “ yes, I am a proud feminist. just maybe not a perfect one?” 

LIKE MOST WOMEN WILLIAMS WASN’T PERFECT IN THE PAST, AND SHE DOESN’T APPEAR TO WANT OR NEED PERFECTION EVEN NOW. SHE EXPECTS THE JOURNEY TO BE ONE OF DISCOMFORT YET JOY.”

Aside from feminism, this imperfection exists as part of Williams’ entire personality, and that’s nothing to be ashamed even if society dictates otherwise. Women are often expected to be perfect but Williams- like most women- wasn’t perfect in the past, and she doesn’t appear to want or need perfection even now, as she begins her new adventure as a solo artist. Fully expecting the journey to be one of discomfort yet joy , Williams serves as a reminder for every woman that true empowerment means embracing your imperfections. 

Having invented a unique presence in the music world and then reinventing herself when the time called for it, Williams is an inspiration for an entire generation of women, embodying the phrase “ Accentuate the positive / Eliminate the negative,” quite literally having tattooed it on left forearm in May 2012. Taken from lyrics of the 1944 Johnny Mercer song “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”, the philosophy is something that Williams clearly manages to live by – it doesn’t matter if it is an errant, insensitive commenter in present-day social media or an angry, close-minded version of herself from decades past, Williams minces no words in setting the course straight for herself, making it an easier path to follow for everyone who looks up to her . 

Petals For Armour II is out now via Atlantic Records.

 

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