Former pop punk princess turned Debbie Harry for millennials Hayley Williams is in the process of a solo reinvention. After years of fronting Paramore through ups and downs, her own music was released mid-February as her Petals for Armor project. It is Part 1 of a full album to be released later in 2020, and represents a very different and intriguing direction for Williams.
First single “Simmer” is more moody Radiohead than Warped Tour. The following singles and accompanying videos and imagery also followed a unifying theme, creating a little Hayley Cinematic Universe. Altogether, this suggests a more fully realised conceptual approach to music than she’s been able to indulge in the past.
Williams explained to Zane Lowe that releasing the music under Paramore’s moniker wouldn’t have done justice to either the songs or the band itself. This also allowed her to explore themes of femininity, grief, anger, and forgiveness on a much more personal and visceral level than before.
While After Laughter (2017) was a welcome rejuvenation for the band, it was yet another chapter in Hayley Williams’ public battles in the spotlight. She also explained to Lowe that that album cycle was truly one of the darkest times in her life. The external pressures of industry and fan expectations combined with the internal pressures of depression and ennui threatened an imminent implosion.
Although Williams is finally enjoying the opportunity to make music on her own terms now, throughout the years her status as frontwoman and questions of will-she-won’t-she-go-solo has seen her as featured artist on varied projects, across different genres, sometimes to diehard fans’ chagrin.
For your reading and listening interest, here are the times Hayley worked apart from Paramore. They also serve as a kind of time capsule of a scene and music genre’s lifetime through the years:
1. Set Your Goals: “The Few That Remain” (2009)
At the height of the pop-punk-hardcore scene’s popularity, this group from San Francisco, California scored a scene kid’s wet dream with a high-octane Hayley Williams gang vocals bridge feature.
2. New Found Glory: “Vicious Love” (2015)
Guitarist Chad Gilbert began a relationship with Williams in 2008, and the two were wedded in 2016. It was a pop punk match made in heaven. This song was released while the two were supposedly still madly in love. However, their ‘vicious love’ was not destined to last, as they divorced just over a year later. This bitter split led to much of her existential crises leading to the dark and introspective lyrical content of After Laughter and beyond.
3. B.o.B.: “Airplanes” (2010)
Before B.o.B. made a name for himself as a flat-earther, he had the hottest hit of 2010. Around this time period, Williams flirted with the idea of being a fully fledged popstar, lending her vocals to the chorus of this Top 40 commercial rap hit. It topped charts all over the world, peaking at number two in the US. Notably, it was Williams’ first official entry into the charts as a solo artist.
4. Zedd: “Stay the Night” (2014)
This mid 2010s saw a surge in pop electronica standards. This classic featured a glammed up Williams on vocals, singing about one night stands.
5. Taylor Swift: “Bad Blood (Remix)” (2015)
Lending her pipes to fellow Tennessean Taylor Swift’s hit single “Bad Blood” was just one part of Hayley Williams’ foray into the pop sphere. She also did a guest spot on Taylor’s Speak Now tour way back in 2011. The 2011 Swift feature was also at the height of Paramore controversy within the band regarding her status as a frontwoman threatening to outshadow their desire to be a single unit.
6. halfnoise: “As U Wave” (2017)
In the latter stages of her career, there were little hints at the true artist beneath the pop music artifice. halfnoise is drummer Zac Farro’s own sideproject and Williams’ surprise feature on his 2017 EP hinted at the reunion that was to come. The good blood between the projects was further emphasised by Paramore including a cover of halfnoise track “Scooby’s in the Back” in their After Laughter tour setlist.
7. mewithoutYou: “Fox’s Dream of The Log Flume” (2012)
As well as collaborating on halfnoise’s 2017 EP, Williams also worked alongside post-hardcore avant-garde group mewithoutYou on their circus concept album Ten Stories. The combination of spoken word and poetic musings again hinted at the depth that she desired to explore.
8. American Football: “Uncomfortably Numb” (2019)
Completing the emo circle of life, this collaboration with scene pioneers American Football is a matured version of the Hayley from the past. Sandwiched between the renewed version of Paramore in 2017 and her newly released solo project in 2020, “Uncomortably Numb” sees Williams explore themes of abandonment, melancholy and alcoholism with a deft touch.
It’s been a long and arduous journey for the young singer from Franklin, Tennessee. After all, they started Paramore when she was barely a teenager. Faced with band turmoil, contractual arguments, divorce, fans’ expectations and more, it seems she has finally found a space to be her own artist. As portrayed in her personally crafted videos, the past 16 years have been but a chrysalid period. The next era for Hayley Williams promises to be one of rebirth and something fans should not be disappointed with.