IIf anyone knows how emo music spans generations, it’s Hayley Williams. The musician has been at the forefront of angsty music since 2004 when she was 15, playing with her band Paramore, and more recently as a solo artist. Just last weekend, she performed with Gen-Z scion Billie Eilish at the Coachella festival to duet an acoustic version of Paramore’s song “Misery Business,” the breakthrough hit that launched her around the world. With the lines between pop and rock blurring and Y2K throwbacks at their peak, it makes sense that the American star would put out a podcast dedicated to emo, past and present. “There’s so much frustration in the air right now,” she says, “and I think some people want to go back to a time that, in hindsight, feels like a simpler time.”
Williams, 34, speaks from Los Angeles, where she is recording Paramore’s sixth album – her first in five years. In between there have been breakups, bankruptcies and lawsuits, but they seem to be a refreshed band and Williams is in good spirits. It’s early for her and she’s brandishing a cup of coffee like a gun as if a productive morning depended on it. The last time she was in the press it was for her 2020 solo album. armor petals, Interviews for which she dealt with difficult topics such as affairs, marriage, depression and divorce. Surprisingly, she’s not in a cautious mood today either: “I haven’t done any interviews in a long time, so I’m excited!”
Her outspokenness not only makes Williams one of the best frontwomen of the last decade, but also an amazing podcast host. everything is emo, which launched this week on BBC Sounds, guides listeners through first-hand anecdotes about their careers and their favorite bands. In the first episode, we hear her thoughts on the Twilight franchise (Paramore’s “Decode” in the soundtrack) and how she thinks it was emo’s biggest mainstream moment. Every generation has an opinion on emo, the style of emotional rock music that emerged in the US in the mid-’80s in response to the hyper-macho, violent, hardcore punk movement. It was most ubiquitous in the mid-noughties, when bands like My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy and Paramore became global phenomena, fusing their sound with pop-punk and alt-rock. More recently, the late rappers Lil Peep, XXXTentacion, and Juice Wrld are among those credited with starting the emo rap movement.
everything is emo has an impressionistic approach to the genre and is littered with new bands like Wet Leg and acts often associated with indie rock like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. “If you want to be technical,” Williams says, emo is “emotional post-hardcore that came from bands like Rites of Spring and the mid-’80s Washington DC scene.” But as the podcast title suggests, Williams sees emo more as a state of mind. And you only have to look at what’s on the current pop charts to see its elements being redrawn for a new generation: the upbeat tune of Willow Smith’s 2021 single “Transparentsoul,” for example, or the likes of Machine Gun Kelly and Yungblud dress like this They shopped at Cyberdog in Camden in the mid-noughties. “We were able to put so much raw energy and youth into a time capsule that younger musicians tap into,” says Williams.
But sometimes this “tapping” is a balancing act. Last year, Paramore got caught up in a copyright debate when recent pop star Olivia Rodrigo released her hit song “Good 4 U.” Fans quickly noticed the track’s resemblance to “Misery Business.” Paramore later officially received writing credits for the song, to which Williams posted a triumphant TikTok about how her publisher was very happy indeed. But today she offers a measured reflection on the controversy, noting her own influences: “All I ever wanted to do was write a song like Blondie’s ‘Dreaming’.” having copied the music videos I’ve been working on Armor Petals, and I was amazed,” she continues (a 2020 claim by Swedish artist iamamiwhoami). “I wish I had a better answer, but I hope it doesn’t stifle people’s creativity… Of course we’re going to hear something and be reminded of something else, but what interests me is that people keep coming up with original ways.” to say things and make noises.”
Although she has been in the public eye since she was young, it took Williams a while to find her voice. Born and raised in Mississippi, Tennessee, she was originally signed as a solo artist to a major label that wanted her to be pop. She declined, insisting they also sign her rock band, with whom she wanted to write her own songs. After four albums and various internal line-up changes, Williams made a solo album that paid tribute to her youth as a punk rock princess but catapulted her to the forefront of pop. Emo and pop-punk have always been worlds where there have been strict rules of style. But Williams never seemed to care much about her.
“I’ve always felt punk rock guilt,” she says today. “Like when I wanted to wear something ‘nice’ instead of Goodwill clothes and ratty sneakers.” Interestingly, in the early days she was ashamed of her now-characteristic vocal abilities. In one of the band’s first interviews, a reporter questioned their credibility. “They said, ‘You sing really well and that’s not really punk,’ and I was confused because … should I sing badly? I grew up in church and on gospel music. i have always loved Yes, really good singers and I wanted to emulate that.”
Fortunately, things have moved on. This generation of music fans isn’t so stuck in genre forms: they tear it up and start over. Williams says she takes inspiration from them in other ways too. “Social media sucks by and large, but I find it interesting to see how emotionally aware people are that are much younger than the Paramore generation,” she says.
Social media has also revealed a somewhat surprising facet of Paramore’s fan base – the band’s legion of black fans from around the world. “I had no idea until I saw tweets and posts from all these people, and it’s an honor,” she says. Offline, the emo scene had felt overbearing white, which was the opposite of the environment she grew up in in the deep south. “Most [the lack of diversity] I didn’t register at the time, but there were a few moments where I thought, ‘yeah, the world doesn’t look like this and we’re definitely in a bubble,'” she says.
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But diversity is the biggest change she’s seen in the emo and alternative scene in recent years, with much more representation on stage and in the audience and featuring acts like Bartees Strange, Big Joanie, Nova Twins and Meet Me @ The altar at the top. For Williams, she says there’s always been an element in her songs that appeals to minority fans, though it may not be obvious. “Subconsciously for us, I know there is a message [in] our music [that] our shows are an open floor and everyone is equal and welcome.”
It’s one of the reasons Paramore is still relevant after almost 20 years. And why Williams is now the perfect Elder Stateswoman, passing her wisdom and emo crackers on to the next generation. She takes her role as a role model seriously. “I find it amazing that someone would look at me and say, ‘You inspired me to step into my power,'” she says. What would she say to her 18 year old self? “I’d say, ‘I’m sorry I made you feel like you had to be small to fit in,'” she says. Now, of course, she’s bigger than ever.
Everything is Emo with Hayley Williams is available now on Back to Back Sounds: Amplified on BBC Sounds
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/hayley-williams-interview-paramore-podcast-b2068274.html Hayley Williams: ‘I’ve always felt punk rock guilt’