I always used music to travel. I’d trawl forums for albums which, a dodgy download later, would transport me a continent across the world and to lives alien to my own. Growing up in the sweet spot between Edinburgh, West Lothian and Fife, it didn’t take much to feel gloriously consumed by things bigger than me. I never felt trapped by the confines of my small town because I was spending my formative years getting to know what was beyond, content knowing that there was plenty out there waiting for me.
So while I was a silent spectator, it was Paramore who signalled back. As an insecure preteen, it felt like going from being the seer to being the seen. I wasn’t eavesdropping on conversations any more but being reached out to and invited to the dialogue.
I remember quite vividly buying Riot! on CD (round, shiny, plays music without eating up your data). I was at the top end of twelve, maybe just thirteen, on a Saturday afternoon trip into town with friends. One of my first without parental supervision. I had birthday money to spend and, like we did back then, headed straight to HMV.
What I don’t remember is getting to know it, identifying favourite tracks early on, growing accustomed to the lulls and rises of it between pressing play over and over again. I, quite honestly, don’t remember much of myself before that album. Music is a great way of characterising chapters in life but I struggle to remember Riot! just not being there. Sometimes you’ll meet people who, when you cross paths, it’s like they walked in and switched the light on. Very quickly you forget that moments ago you were sitting alone in a dark room, and that you were ever unaware of their impending arrival. There aren’t many albums I’d apply that experience to, but Riot! is one of them.
While All We Know Is Falling lamented betrayals it didn’t understand, Riot! had found its fight. It pointed the finger with more righteousness but really earmarked a visceral kind of introspection that’s now so characteristic of Paramore. Hayley always gave herself a hard time lyrically, and gave herself a hard time for giving herself a hard time – a teen just like the rest of us, she was navigating the waters of self worth at an age when we don’t really have the means.
It’s a lesson I’m still learning today, and one in a series to which I didn’t really connect until Hayley wrote them. She demonstrated that the best of us can struggle to keep our heads above water during periods of figuring-ourselves-out, but that we can find peace in it too – that we don’t need to make it to the other side before we can see value in ourselves.
To be a young girl knee deep in a genre so saturated with men, men’s takes and men’s talents and men’s power, having Paramore in my emotional arsenal was a game changer. That Hayley became an icon for girls and women is no breaking news, and she’s already up there with the Gwen Stefanis and Shirley Mansons and Joan Jetts.
She isn’t the Patti Smith of my generation, though. She’s the Hayley Williams of my generation. Right place, right time, right message. The fact that thousands of us feel so similarly shaped by having the privilege of growing up alongside her is, on one hand, a sad indictment of the genres we grew up on and the gender imbalance of platforms held. But god, it has been a privilege.
I was young, still developing my world view and my view of myself, and I heard Hayley feeling things like I did. I also saw her as an incredible, creative, stomping and unapologetic force. That she didn’t shy away from vulnerability, championed the weird and cultivated self expression as no less than a moral stance completely set me up for adolescence.
Riot!, now, represents painful adolescent experiences that I wish I could live all over again. It’s not my favourite of theirs – if they’d stagnated over the past decade I likely wouldn’t be writing this – but it was a vehicle for my own development like no other Paramore record. You don’t realise, at that point in your life, that you’re feeling things in the most raw and earnest way you ever will.
I’m ten years older now, hopefully ten years wiser. I still turn to Paramore in the knowledge that they’ll hold a mirror up to me until I’ve had a chance to put myself back together. Next week I’ll be spending my twenty third birthday at one of their shows with my best friend, a girl who accompanied me to HMV and spent the subsequent years by my side listening to Riot!, traversing our emotional common ground. I expect those on stage will strike me as old friends, too.