The last time I saw Paramore was in 2010.
We were at SM Mall of Asia Concert Grounds, back when the grounds didn’t yet have a roof. Manila emo culture was already on its last legs — Ryan Ross left Panic! at the Disco and the Black Parade aesthetic had long marched out of the trend cycle — and was getting ready to make way for a new wave of indie acts, with bands like Phoenix and Two Door Cinema Club riding the top of that tumblarian crest. I was in high school. Callalily opened for them. It was an interesting time.
So much has changed since then. I’m thinking of all the Paramore fans who outgrew their Skullcandy headphones and Topman plaid polos (you know the ones) and where they are today, so far out into a world that 2010 couldn’t see, and how far Paramore has come, boasting a 14-year career, outlasting the subcultural emo trend that thrust them into the limelight in the first place, eventually reinventing themselves with their fifth studio album, “After Laughter,” into a full-fledged, grown-up rock act. This band has survived internal conflict, battles of creative difference and personal hurt, the profit-driven spiritual leech we call the entertainment industry, the fad of yellow pants. We’ve all come pretty freakin’ far, far enough to see Paramore come back for another show, which apparently has been postponed to August 23rd.
I wasn’t able to buy a ticket for the show when I thought it was happening Feb. 18. So to cope, I dove into their entire body of work and gave myself to the joy of rediscovery and tried to see, with 2018 (brand new) eyes (hehe), how one of the greatest rock acts of our time aged and grew as I aged and grew beside them. That nostalgic deep dive resulted in this: an article ranking all 84 Paramore songs from worst to best.
This isn’t really a competition of tracks, though. What this list aims to do is offer a big picture evaluation of the band’s creative powers, and hopefully provide a deeper understanding of all the themes, tricks, ideas and moments of growth that went into the music, all that heart and soul that came out of Hayley Williams, Josh Farro, Zac Farro, Taylor York, Jeremy Davis, even the unsung John Hembree, Jason Bynum, and Hunter Lamb. So we’re covering two EPs, five studio albums, and an ever-growing, fan-managed compilation of unreleased music called The B Sides. Expect a lot of these songs at the bottom of this list to get harsh critiques (no band is perfect, after all). Also keep in mind that a lot of the judgments behind these entries take into account both songwriting merit and cultural significance, which isn’t the most definite rubric to work with, but it’s what we’ve got.
Some disclaimers before we begin. One, this idea is not original. Writer Nate Jones has done this for Vulture, with Taylor Swift. Two, we’ll only be tackling original songs, so no covers (but let’s set it straight now: Passionfruit was meh, My Hero was pretty good, Bloody Sunday was a gem) or features (Airplanes was pretty bad, Stay the Night was pretty fun). And three, most importantly, my opinion isn’t law. You aren’t obligated to hate what I hate or like what I like, you fragile, broken thing. All that said, let the flames begin.
A mellow cheese block of a ballad that comes up weak, with or without the featured vocals of Joy Williams. Sounding less like a Paramore track and more like a Colbie Caillat b-side, this song is better off in a Starbucks bossa nova playlist.
The oh-oh-oh parts are a little cringey. Like, hey, we don’t know what else to put here, so let’s just put some non-words.
Here, the band sounds like a knockoff of itself, which is understandable. It’s their first album, guys. They’re still figuring shit out.
Some serious post-grunge vibes going on here. That this is a b-side is totally understandable.
A beat you could play over a gang face-off between the Jets and the Sharks, if they were like, scene kids.
Muffled vocal work by mewithoutYou vocalist Aaron Weiss prevents this experimental track from truly standing out.
It’s okay, I guess. Not enough to make up for Michael Bay’s existence, but that’s too big a burden to place on anybody.
There’s something charming about how underproduced this b-side is, even as a b-side. Which is to say, this has more value as an artefact than as an actual artistic experience.
Uncharacteristic of Paramore to even have a song in their oeuvre about demoting the lover to the status of plaything. I mean, it’s okay, but Kehlani does that better with Escape and Distraction.
Pretty unmemorable, but you gotta give credit to the line “I know we’ll stay the same / But repetition ends in failure,” which is the kind of unexpectedly deep statement you’d find in a high quality fortune cookie.
A curious song, in which the jangly rhythm guitars and jerky lead riff in the verse come off as proto-proto-proto “After Laughter” material.
The three interludes on the band’s self-titled pretty much live in their own pocket of space here on this list because well, they’re interludes, they’re supposed to be fillers. But even then they still betray an emotional and creative sophistication that isn’t really there in the songs that come before this. Anyway. This one is fun. Palm trees and coconut juice.
Melancholically chill. “High school drama, graduated / with honors” is… me. It’s me as a lyric.
“I’m not angry anymore / Well, sometimes I am / I don’t think badly of you / Well, sometimes I do” is… also me. Tag yourselves. For real though, dig that thematic thread across all interludes, which is the exertion that comes with keeping chill in times of turbulence. It’s these three tracks that make “Paramore” sound cohesive and thought-out.
The verses sound like the kind of thing a gondola boatman would sing to you on a riviera, but rock.
An interesting case study of a song in which the woah-oh-oh parts are the strongest parts.
The piano playing here is a little cliché, verging into soft melodrama, but hey, it works.
Most of Paramore’s work deals with what it means to say goodbye, whether you’re talking about a failed marriage or a friend parting ways, amicably or otherwise. In either case, as All We Know will tell you, every goodbye is a catastrophic event, in which all reality comes to pieces and leaves you standing helpless in the rubble. Wild, but not the band’s strongest goodbye song for sure.
It was an interesting decision to write a spiritual sequel to Let the Flames Begin. Sure, Hayley’s lyrical powers at this point are notches above her “Riot!” days, but Part II just doesn’t hit you like the original does.
A little higher on the list than most of the band’s b-sides for the refrain alone, which pounds like a hammer as the line “We put the ‘good’ in ‘goodbye’” bleeds clear through.
Those gang chants, though. A little excessive, but excess works if you’re confident enough, and Born For This is confident as all hell.
The instrumentation is so dynamic here. F***ing stroke of genius for Zac to hit the snare on the downbeats. Makes all the difference.
Dynamic verses that beat wild into a chorus tragically lacking in frisson. *liberal arts student voice* Where’s the tension???
Sounds comically similar to “I cut myself,” which is the most emo Freudian slip ever, if I’ve ever heard one. Not the best song the band did for Twilight.
The songwriting trick of making the chorus half-time for POWER is alive and well.
This should’ve been our first clue that Paramore was moving out of more teenage emotional territory, and taking their artistic talents to the realm of adulthood, which houses its own distinct kinds of pain.
The lyrical turn “I don’t wanna feel alone / But now I feel like I don’t know you” is an excellently executed knife twirl in the heart in an otherwise by-the-numbers, clean-verse distorted-chorus situation.
“Next time you point a finger / I’ll point you to the mirror” is the kind of lyric you’d see on someone’s Multiply page, next to an image of, I don’t know, Pon and Zi. Still, Playing God is a satisfyingly vindictive diss against bullies and hypocrites. In an alternative universe, Taylor Swift wrote this.
Y’all remember the word “senti”? This song is senti. Nakaka-fragile.
Have you ever been platonically ghosted? Shit sucks.
The only sin Ignorance commits is that, for all its angst, it’s lyrically clunky (“It’s a circle / I mean a cycle”). And uh, I know poetic license is a thing, but ignoring someone by treating them like a stranger is different from what the word “ignorance” connotes. Is that nitpicky? Ugh. Strunk and White, back me up here.
One of those rare cases where the verses are catchier than the chorus.
Play this over the end credits of a coming-of-age movie in which everyone wins. Also, check out that extremely clever map imagery, which seamlessly moves into a reference to the psychological phenomenon of apophenia. Dude.
A song about stars and wishing, which is usually lame, but it does a wonderful job of teetering on the edge of intensity before launching into a satisfying “I won’t let you fall away!!!”
Some ham-fisted fairytale imagery going on here, and the cliché “magic / tragic” rhyme doesn’t help either. Which is a damn shame, because the “BADAP-BAP” outro is pretty killer.
Paramore with folky fiddles? Sure. This song is so gentle it could make a flower garden bloom from the sound alone.
The first single off “After Laughter” effectively established Paramore’s transformation in the public eye, and the intro alone puts most tropical house tracks to shame. But the low-pitched vocals going on in the chorus are weird and a little too synthetic. A strong track, but not the strongest.
It’s just a fun song about looking forward to better things! God, I just want this band to be happy.
Following the departure of the Farro brothers, the band’s eponymous fourth album was meant to signal a reinvention in both style and identity. And while Now — a song so flammable it deserves a page in The Anarchist Cookbook — could’ve been an adequate debut single in any other context, it just felt like a solid continuation of what the band had already been doing style-wise, unable to bear the weight of Paramore’s intention of making a new, “Hey world, things are different this time!” first impression. Ain’t It Fun was up to the task, but not Now.
A sticky hook with ~relatable~ phone imagery. Also low-key emotionally mature, with a diplomatic persona wishing their ex-lover the best, despite the pain.
“Singles Club” marked Paramore’s foray into their career as a trio, before the release of their self-titled album. So to me, Renegade sounds like a band in the middle of their transformation, rediscovering their footing. What that results in is a braggadocios rocker that almost veers into post-hardcore territory.
The fourth track of “After Laughter” does this weird thing where it starts off waltz-y in the verses then double-times in chorus? And it works? Anyway, get it together, Chad Gilbert.
Part of the juvenile joy that comes with starting a band in your youth — or well, being a teenager in general — is the whole “me against the world” mentality, and that feeling comes through earnest and clear in Conspiracy, the first song Paramore ever wrote. Put it in a playlist next to Urbandub’s Frailty, get yourself in the mood to battle the world.
Paramore has the curious tendency of going semi-meta by referencing the fact they… sing songs. In My Heart, Hayley goes “Will you sing us a song / And we’ll sing it back to you.” In Whoa, they get everybody singing (woah-oh, woah oh oh oh). This is one song though that wishes it didn’t exist, wishes singing was something it couldn’t do, for fear of succumbing to love’s hold. Real pain for anyone who pretends their feelings aren’t real by not saying the words.
Listening to Tell Me It’s Okay is like finding you’ve walked unsuspectedly into a Paramore jam session, the kind meant not so much for songwriting but for releasing stress. *readers in bands nod vigorously*
This one has the kind of hook you’d find in like, a pirate song, or an Irish pub shanty? Big mug of beer, swing with your elbows kinda action.
A highly underrated love song. Excellent promposal material. Boys and girls with guitars, take note.
Throwback to when the word “stalker” was still part of hip millennial parlance and the limited faculties of adolescence led us to assume that obsession equalled love. No matter — leave it to Paramore to turn what could’ve been a creeper into a rock ’n’ roller. Shout out to that tasty bass riff Jeremy does on the pre-chorus.
A song about giving up that still manages to be hopeful and encouraging. Turn It Off is that perfectly empathetic friend who bears the weight of the world with a smile and a shrug.
The laziest adjective you can use to describe Paramore’s sound is “spunky,” but allow me to transgress just this once. This underrated single from the band’s fourth full-length is extra spunky, hummingbird-hyper, Paramore on a sugar rush.
Is it just me or did air-guitaring in public become unfashionable, as compared to shaking your hips or banging your head? Like, just strumming the empty space in front of your body in joy. We should bring that back.
It’s this high on the list for those parts where Hayley’s vox are pitched with extra exasperation. The parts where she kinda breaks. That messes with you. It’s like watching someone get a cry stuck in their throat before the tears come.
If Part II the successor of Let the Flames Begin, then Hello Cold World is Careful revised, which is why it’s bumped up this high in the ranking. Like, life is still a minefield of risk, but that shouldn’t stop you from greeting it with a beaming hello.
There isn’t a lot to Miracle that makes it stand out from the rest of the “Riot!” tracklist, but you need to understand something. This is the song that come one other track after When It Rains, which partly deals with the guilt of being unable to save someone, and here’s Miracle telling you it won’t leave you because it believes in the impossible.
Depending on the artist, the first song of an album can serve a variety of functions. It can be a soft and gradual build-up for what follows. It can go zero to 60 in three and a half. In any case, it can’t afford to be weak. Fast In My Car is strong and actually really sexy. It swaggers out the gate flexing, primarily interested in just having fun.
There’s something to be said about how the lines “For all I know / The best is over and the worst is yet to come” are so fatalistically sung, stark against the kooky disco instrumentation. Most of “After Laughter” is good at making a dance party out of cognitive dissonance, but Told You So serves it up with a heaping side of irreparable despair.
The undercurrent of sorrow that flows through “After Laughter” gives way to the emotional exception of Grudges, a song that sees the opportunity to rebuild broken bridges as a reason to be excited.
What makes Let The Flames Begin so good is that even though it carries a message of hope and glory, it builds a mood of nervous anticipation, as if bracing for the storm before it hits.
An ode to love and throwing caution to the wind — er, into the water. Pool is so naturally charming and flirty and coy that it makes Walk The Moon’s Aquaman, another love song with water and diving and swimming and you-get-what-I-mean, sound like an awkward mess.
No one else — and I mean no one else — can write lyrics “Don’t need no roads / In fact, they follow me.” Hey man, if Bob Dylan can win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Hayley Williams can, too. Kidding. Half-kidding. Half.
Why is it spelled that way? Why isn’t the “h” at the end of the word?! Kidding. Celebratory as f*ck, at its most powerful at a live show and sung along with fellow fans.
I think of Pressure as the song my cooler friends got into Paramore with before the band broke out into the mainstream. Also the song that played in my head during physics class, because, y’know, pressure, force, grams, blah blah blah. Did I mention there’s a version recorded in simlish?
A true power ballad meant to be played on big stages, in front of an ocean of phones and lighters.
There was this weird tendency of a lot of emo and alt rock bands in the aughts to skirt around themes of faith and God, always with a little pulling back, for fear of being labeled full-fledged Christian bands. (Lookin’ at you, Switchfoot and Evanescence.) But here, you get to the lines “Keep me safe inside / Your arms like towers / Tower over me,” which feel like refuge — a direct, on-fire-for-Jesus reassurance that to be vulnerable before something larger than you can mean, perhaps, there is nothing to fear.
The restrained closer of “After Laughter,” the soft song of the twilight hour after the dance party ends. Whether you’ve been ghosted, or have been the one to do the ghosting, this’ll crush you.
I don’t know, man. I just know that when I hear the line “Hold on to hope if you’ve got it,” it feels like the band’s been lookin’ out for me this whole time, going through life’s joys and sorrows in a line running parallel with my life. Doesn’t it make you feel that way too?
Twilight films had a bad rap for being shitty, but it was generally understood that their soundtracks were bangin’, and Decode was evidence of that. Yes, the franchise endorsed a view of romance that was obsessive and toxic, but Decode rolled with these punches nonetheless, arguing a simple thesis: that love can be dark. “There is something I see in you / it might kill me, I want to be true.”
There’s a multitude of coping mechanisms for dealing with disillusionment. What do you do when you open your eyes and find the real world before you? You can go for cynicism. You can insist on hope. Careful sort of straddles the emotional line between both, putting forward the thesis that authentic freedom cannot be found in what we call the truth, but in the self. Jean-Paul Sartre is shaking.
“No, I don’t need no help / I can sabotage me by myself” is a couplet that absolutely nails the twisted way we rationalize isolating ourselves in the name of noble loathing.
An operatic chorus to get you through the violent cry session that’s been building up inside you the whole week. Wins out over Careful by this much for two reasons: 1) The semi-unconventional song structure, which opts for three verses instead of two verses and a refrain, and 2) All I Wanted was a better clincher than Careful was an opener.
“I’ve seen love die way too many times when it deserved to be alive” is an extremely powerful lyric. Too powerful. Every time anybody sings this line, a tree falls, a wolf somewhere howls, an angel in heaven trips and falls.
Written in reference to the band’s Tennessee hometown, it’s a tender ode to the ephemeral that looks at a space as if it were a person, a friend. Josh at the top of his backup vox game here, and a big fat salute is owed to Zac for opting for a drum roll to carry the verses, gifting the song with a sense of ceremony. Man, the Farros really brought it with this one.
If We Are Broken was begging for redemption, Hallelujah is divinely transfigured. “Somehow, everything’s gonna fall / right into place,” Hayley sings, hitting notes so high on hope that no doubt or fear could reach them, and you realize this is Paramore at their most spiritually enraptured, busting out the kind of holy frisson you would encounter in youth ministry worship service. But more, y’know, riotous.
In many ways, Still Into You is an anomaly in the band’s oeuvre. Whereas most of their songs dealt with infatuation, or failed relationships, or the bravery of accepting the love given to you, Still Into You looks into a future where all hurdles have been conquered, looking back from a place of commitment and security. Imagine yourself 60 years from now, in a house in the countryside, softly singing this to your spouse. Ugh. You’re crying, not me.
Man, okay. Fake Happy was the song that really made it sink in for me that Paramore had changed. So the song starts with an introduction of soft vocals and clean guitars, right? Standard pop punk protocol tell us, that’s the point everybody steps on their distortion pedals and the power chords come charging out the gate, but no, what you get instead are sparkly synths leading into a hustle-y groove, wrapped around an emotional core of suspicion and condescending for anybody who puts up a front. It’s a saccharine song that looks down on sugary sweet fakes. Oh, please.
Let’s try imagine for a second why, in a 2010 Alt Press piece, Hayley calls The Only Exception the first love song she’s ever written. Ever since “All We Know Is Falling,” failed love has been a consistent lyrical theme, mostly coming from Hayley’s subject position as a child of a dissolved marriage. There’s a lot that kind of upbringing can do to you, seeing two grown-ups fail at a choice slash feeling you’re still too young to fully comprehend. You’re forced to grow up fast and see love as strange, dangerous terrain, and it takes a lot more to lower your defenses. What we see in The Only Exception, then, is a unlocked door where a barricade used to be. The heart is still guarded, but sometimes one person is enough to make you think that love isn’t always terrifying, that the world won’t hurt you like you think it will.
I’m going to try to explain why there’s more to good guitar-playing than just shredding or fancy chords. While bass and drums are usually obligated to form the rhythmic backbone and the vocals are mostly meant to stand in the front, the guitar sort of carries both burdens, holding the responsibility of searing and soaring while keeping everything steady with timing and phrasing. That said, I personally think Taylor is at the top of his game with Native Tongue, flooring it and pulling back whenever necessary, rhythmically inventive all the way through.
The breakout single that raised a generation of side-swept bangs and skinny jeans. An iconic track for sure, but not unproblematic. Yes, Misery Business was an indignant diatribe aimed at fake-ass bitches, but it was also a tirade laced with slut-shamey vitriol (“Once a whore you’re nothing more”), which worked in 2007, but not so much now in these hella PC times. So yeah, this song didn’t exactly age well. But it goes so hard. Extra points for Hayley’s display of self-reflexivity on the song’s 10th anniversary.
I remember jamming to this with an old friend in high school, on a stone bench, next to one of the audiovisual presentation rooms. We were raving about how the guitars in the verses, though distorted, still managed to be gentle, the two of us riding on the happiness that comes with being two friends who like the same music. But we were both sheltered and naive, too young to fully understand When It Rains, and it would be years before we could bear closer witness to the effects of suicidal ideations. Still, there was that resonance in us, similar to the feeling one could get from Incubus’s Sick Sad Little World, in that we both intuitively knew what it felt like to frustratedly coax a friend out of the storm of their sorrow and into the sunlight of everyday living. Maybe you felt that too. Maybe that friend was you. When It Rains is the epitome of a sad song that feels like a warm hug.
On paper this shouldn’t work. A sarcastic chorus with gospel choir vocals? Turns out that combination — which many have called odd, but really isn’t, considering the band’s funk and soul roots — would break new ground for Paramore, grabbing them their first Grammy win for Best Rock Song, and serving — in retrospect — as the checkpoint marking their sonic transition, one that eschews pop punk conventions for bolder creative choices. Jesus. You could play this in a club and it would still bang. Just make sure it’s the original, and not the horrific EDM remixes.
Even more than Fake Happy, Rose-Colored Boy is the “After Laughter” track that best argues the album’s central thesis: that being honest with yourself sometimes means insisting on the reality of your anguish. Yes, even if it means yelling at some dense dude who Just Doesn’t Get It that you need to cry a little bit longer. Bumped up to the number two spot for also having the best music video.
This song is so freaking great I wrote two paragraphs for it. Here’s the first:
Maybe this isn’t the most obvious choice — That’s What You Get wasn’t the band’s biggest single, Hayley has demonstrated stronger vocal performances, Davis and York and the Farros have been more instrumentally dynamic. But let’s interrogate: why do we like to hurt so much? One could make the argument that Paramore’s whole oeuvre has thematically anchored itself on the conflict between resisting the whims of the heart and letting them claim you. This song right here though, all it tells you is, yup, this is what you get when emotion trumps logic — that age-old dichotomy — and all sense is drowned out by the sound of what keeps us alive. It doesn’t even tell you what you’re getting — just that feeling always has consequences, and it does that while leaving the biggest smile on your face from start to finish.
And here’s the second:
A smattering of sources — Genius and the fan-run Paramore wikia, but not Wikipedia, for some reason — cite a certain Michael Benedict for partial lyrical credit, having won a write-a-song-for-Paramore contest in 2007, basing his lyrics for That’s What You Get on a poem he wrote for his sophomore English class. (I did a lot of research for this article.) I was initially dashed and angry for like five minutes that this song didn’t spring from the Paramore I knew, that my genuine love for a song may or may not have been brought into being by a clever marketing ploy. Then I realized any artistic creation can be partially attributed to the relationship between entertainer and audience; this article wouldn’t be alive without my relationship with Paramore, after all. Whether or not this mysterious Mr. Benedict exists, it gives me joy knowing that some kid in an English class wrote what would eventually become one of the greatest pop punk songs of the f*cking century, that this song whose music video is just a bunch of friends hanging out and having fun is partially owed to a kid I don’t know who was dealing with the joys and perils of his youth, probably caught in his own personal battle of logic versus feeling. I’m caught between belief and non-belief for a song whose origins are almost mythic, trying to decide whether or not I should still love the song for that, and the song proves its point, and I love the song even more. God. Paramore forever.