How Paramore became a vital band for the Black rock community

Ahead of the trio's new album in February, NME explores why Black music fans have embraced Paramore and frontwoman Hayley Williams' inclusive, universal sound and appeal

Does any rockstar have as consistently high an approval rating as Paramore’s Hayley Williams? The frontwoman has not only enjoyed a largely controversy-free career – a harder feat than you might think – but her influence as a playful, creative and unmissable force is ringing louder than ever before in all kinds of communities, especially among Black music fans.

There have been numerous think pieces on this topic since Clarissa Brooks’ 2018 piece Why Black People Love Paramore, while in recent months memes comparing Williams to viral US rapper Ice Spice and TikTok clips highlighting the singer’s on-stage dance moves have caught the eye on social media. To quote Ronnica of the rising Boston alt band Mint Green: “Paramore are more than a band: they’re a movement.”

Everyone has an emo phase – being a teenager is too much of an emotional rollercoaster to not have one – and for Black teenagers who might not have as strong an affinity to the stereotypical genres that are ascribed to the Black community (rap, R&B, jazz), the desire to listen to heavy guitar music can feel like the equivalent of damning your own culture. But in contrast to the gothic-leaning emo and heavy rock bands who occupied the scene upon Paramore’s emergence in the mid-to-late 00s, the band’s pure-hearted yet outspoken teen aesthetic felt entirely relatable, and quickly earned the trust of numerous Black music fans.

Shama Nasinde, a journalist based in Essex, says that her musical upbringing was broadened by going against the stereotypes. “Growing up in the suburbs, you end up being exposed to and appreciating every genre,” she tells NME. “Stars these days don’t deliver consistently as [Williams] does vocally. When I was in Year 7 I was watching the music channel and [Paramore’s 2007 breakthrough single] ‘Misery Business’ came on, and it was an apparent bop.”

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The song served up a slice of social justice that struck a chord far and wide: after all, who wouldn’t want to stick it to their nemesis? Its confrontational content, however, subsequently made the self-aware Williams uncomfortable (“‘Misery Business’ is not a set of lyrics that I relate to as a 26-year-old woman,” she admitted), and the song was dropped from the band’s setlist in 2018 before making a return earlier this year.

Having had their curiosity aroused by the band’s 2007 LP ‘Riot!’, Black Paramore fans quickly latched onto the hope that could be found in Williams’ universal lyrics about justice and redemption. 2009’s ‘Brand New Eyes’ featured frank and poetic one-liners that came across like fun-size sermons for their listeners to reflect on themselves. “Make sure to build your heart brick by boring brick, or the wolf’s gonna blow it down,” Williams warned on ‘Brick By Boring Brick’.

Los Angeles creative and Black People Love Paramore podcast host Sequoia Holmes is an avid Paramore fan. “Paramore’s lyrics are often vulnerable and triumphant; an underdog story,” she explains. “As someone who often feels discounted, I can relate to much of their music.” It’s a sentiment that Ronnica passionately agrees with, likening the band to “a religion”. While their music is “as angsty and angry as the next punk band”, Ronnica says that Paramore’s “refreshing sense of hope in their lyrics” and forward-thinking approach are key reasons for why the band has attracted such a diverse fanbase.

“Other bands at the time were like, ‘I hate my mom and I hate the suburbs!’ [While that sentiment] can last for a while, at the end of the day it’s not [universally] relatable,” she adds. “Whereas Paramore are talking about hope and getting through dark times: as a Black woman, hope is very important [to me] and gets me through things.”

Paramore's H
Paramore’s Hayley Williams (Picture: Jenn Five for NME)

Paramore’s influence has also transcended guitar music, with both PinkPantheress and Lil Uzi Vert citing their love for the band. While the latter’s invitation to collaborate was turned down by Williams (“I wrote to him on Instagram, ‘Buddy, I love you so much, but I don’t want to be that famous'”), PinkPantheress – who sampled Paramore’s ‘Never Let This Go’ on her viral WILLOW collaboration ‘Where You Are’ – joined the band on-stage at Austin City Limits in October to perform ‘Misery Business’.

Speaking to NME last year, the Bath artist recalled seeing Paramore live at Reading Festival and hailed the “amazing” Williams as “one of my favourites in this game”. She added: “I have never seen someone have so much fun on stage and look so effortless while doing it. I was so jealous of her.”

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Asked why Williams has such a broad appeal, Nasinde says: “She makes music so good that it crosses all cultural barriers. Hayley Williams is especially loved in hip-hop because we really honour a good vocalist. The gospel influences in her [vocal] performance also help her, as they encourage a lot of individuals who wouldn’t really listen to bands like Paramore to expand their palette.”

Williams has also been highlighted by some Black fans as an ally who hasn’t been shy to champion equality in the past. A recent viral TikTok about Williams used audio from a 2013 radio interview in which she responded to Miley Cyrusperformance at the VMAs, which was criticised for objectification and cultural appropriation. Discussing the moment Cyrus twerked on Robin Thicke during the performance, Williams said she was “uncomfortable with the racial aspect of it… there were Black women on stage, and they kind of felt like accessories than anything else”.

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♬ original sound – Ayisah Yusuf

Black rock and alternative music fans were legitimate in feeling othered by the performance, so seeing one of pop-punk’s biggest names openly standing up for them and their community felt like an unusually bold move at the time. “The actual true meaning of punk,” Ronnica says now of Williams’ Cyrus comments. “I think Williams always stood by the message, acceptance and anti-establishment of it all.”

Despite increased representation, being Black, alternative and expressive sowever hasn’t been wholly normalised within Black communities. But the community of Black Paramore fans that has grown over the years has given Holmes validation: “The community of Black individuals that rally around their affinity for Paramore and Hayley Williams is what makes me feel seen.”

Nasinde believes that the band’s power to enable their fans to be themselves is the truest testament to their musical prowess: “Although I’m very aware that the Black community loves Paramore, my interest and connection to their music began before I knew other individuals in my community loved them just as much as I do. For that reason, I really just see Paramore as a band that makes good music. It’s unrelated to my Blackness, to be completely honest.”

This shared love of Paramore and Williams ultimately boils down to their overarching message of hope and acceptance. In being able to communicate such a powerful message with a mixture of her effortless vocals and personal values, the universal and inclusive approach Williams and her band have taken to creating music is able to celebrated by all cultures and races. Whether by accident or design, Paramore have created a safe space for everyone — especially Black individuals — to join in with the fun.

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