After Laughter, After Angst

Paramore’s latest album, After Laughter, was released this spring. I avoided listening to it for weeks, despite my friends’ recommendations to check it out and the funky gif-sets of their video for “Hard Times” that I saw online. Finally, while stuck on a six-hour plane ride, I gave in and decided to give it a go. Why the hesitation? Because delving into new Paramore music meant reminiscing about their older material, and ultimately confronting some older versions of myself.

At twelve years old, I watched Paramore’s video for “Misery Business” being aired on MTV. I sat, glued to the television as I took in what was surely the greatest song and video I’d ever seen. The video is bright and flashy, with an iconic scene of a gum-popping brunette – apparently the kind of girl who listens to Paramore – cutting off another girl’s shining, platinum-blonde braid. I became a fan right away.

At fourteen years old, I begged my mom to buy me tickets to see them when they toured through our dinky Midwestern town of Rockford, Illinois. They played at the same arena where, on Friday nights, Rockford’s hockey team, the Rockford Ice Hogs, skated and fought to the crowd’s drunken renditions of “We Will Rock You” and “Welcome to the Jungle.” Paramore’s music epitomized the classic pop-punk trope of wanting to “get out of this town,” and I bought it hook, line and sinker.

My friend Katie came over before the show. We preened and posed in front of the mirror and swapped tight fitting Paramore shirts we’d bought from Cherryvale Mall’s Hot Topic. We felt cool and edgy, brushing up against the alternate versions of ourselves as girls who didn’t give a shit, girls who were glamorously misunderstood.

The show was awesome. It was the loudest I’d ever heard music played and Katie and I took turns hoisting each other up on our shoulders to get at better eye-level with Hayley Williams. In the weeks before, I had memorized all the word’s to the group’s latest album, Brand New Eyes, and of course knew Riot! by heart. After the show, my throat ached from screaming the lyrics.

At sixteen years old, my teen angst had formed into a solid shape, something hard and sharp that sat in my chest all the time. I breathed in Paramore like oxygen, and other bands too: Brand New, My Chemical Romance, some old Modest Mouse that was before my time, and a bit of punk music pumped out by the few scruffy, unwashed Rockford bands. When people asked me about my favourite music, I answered, without a trace of irony, “Sad music. Like Paramore, Brand New…”

At eighteen years old, I saw the band again, this time at a theatre in downtown Chicago. My friends and I held hands and danced around, but I wasn’t able to release myself to the music like I had before. The music wasn’t loud enough and I could hear my own voice, off-key and all wrong, singing along. The songs they played from their latest self-titled album were less punky than their previous work, but still meaningful to me. “I’m Not Angry Anymore,” where Hayley Williams sings plainly over a soft ukulele, became a quiet, secretive ballad for me when I still felt the spike of pain that came with hating high school, hating my parents, hating myself, and all the rest.

It’s tough for me to talk about my relationship with music; partly because I cringe at my past melodrama, but also because within music is my relationship with myself. When I listened to Paramore and other bands, I imagined unending scenes of boys fawning over me, my mother admitting she was wrong, and near-future me living in a glimmering world that revolved solely around me. These sorts of fantasies, facilitated by Haley Williams’ spunk, allowed me to, at least in an imagined way, live away from unpleasant realities or to overcome my insecurities.

This process is a rite of passage for nearly everyone as they transition (sometimes painfully) through adolescence, and Paramore’s music, I know, was a salve for many.

Breaking away from my teen angst sometimes, crazily enough, meant changing the music in my ears. When asked  the question of my favourite music, my answer began to change to “Happy music. You know, like pop!”

After Laughter certainly counts as pop. It brings to mind Carly Rae Jepsen and the 80s synth-heavy pop music that everyone can sing along with. I’m happy to be able to bring Paramore back into my musical rotation, listening to their new music alongside guilty-pleasure odes to my teen angst like “Misery Business.” Some of the poppier tracks that I love from After Laughter are “Rose Colored Boy” and “Idle Worship,” each showcasing a kind of “let me be sad and moody in peace” message sung in cheery vocals against a synth and upbeat drums.  By contrast, the album’s penultimate track, “No Friend,” feels like the closest remnant of the band’s overwrought and angsty past, which I’ll always love.

The message of the new album seems to be that the band refuses to fake happiness as they mature, (they even have a song titled “Fake Happy” which deplores the “insincere” people around them) even if they’ve decided to change their tone a bit. Where previous albums dissected angst, anger, and lost love, After Laughter delves into the issues of what to with yourself when you’ve left those supposedly teenage emotions behind. The answer, for them, is to dive into the nuance, but with a cheerily poppy twist. Some people call the switch to pop music that many punk bands eventually make “selling out,” but in this case, Paramore is simply growing up.

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