You couldn’t get too far in the mid-2000s without experiencing the dulcet tones of emo pop. Characterized by catchy, hook-filled choruses and a special sort of angst, the rise of emo pop put popular male-dominated acts like Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, and All Time Low on the map. Featuring a lead singer named named Hayley Williams, Paramore was the only emo pop outfit to break into the scene that was fronted by a woman.
After a few lineup changes and moderate success with their debut All We Know is Falling, the band released their sophomore effort Riot! and found a whole new level of popularity in mainstream music. Riot! carved out a spot for Paramore in the music scene, granting them success that has allowed them to grow in a space that’s completely their own.
Riot! is a chaotic burst of emotion, rippling with energy and the familiar and not-so familiar angst of the emo pop scene. The themes are fairly simple, sticking mainly to relationship drama, feeling broken, and a commitment to overcoming both. At the time, Jonathan Bradley of Stylus Magazine described, “Riot! is immediately appealing because it focuses on sounds that have been neglected by the genre’s front-runners. This is an uncomplicated album of strikingly uncomplicated music, entirely lacking in 15 word song titles.” Paramore stuck to catchy lyrics and simple hooks in their early days, setting their work apart from the wordy calisthenics of Fall Out Boy and the dark theatricality of Panic! at the Disco’s early burlesque aesthetic.
As with most emo pop albums, the themes of love and revenge reign supreme. The album was launched to popularity with “Misery Business,” one of Paramore’s most famous songs. The track details a situation in which Williams eventually triumphs over a manipulative girl while competing over a guy. While the slut-shaming nature of the lyrics doesn’t age well, the song is still a jam, positively bursting with fizzy pop and energy perfect for live performances and loud car singing. “Misery Business” was the song that earned Paramore’s mainstream popularity and their highest charting track on the Billboard Hot 100 until they released “Ain’t It Fun” in 2014.
The singles from this album continue in similar veins with slightly different tones. “That’s What You Get” is all about the regret that comes after a co-dependant relationship. Williams beats herself up for letting her emotions take over with lyrics like, “I wonder, how am I supposed to feel when you’re not here/Cause I burned every bridge I ever built when you were here.” On the other hand, “Crushcrushcrush” takes a darker, sexier tone than “That’s What You Get” and the playful “Misery Business.” “We’re all alone now/Give me something to sing about,” Williams sings after expressing her frustration that she can’t be together with the object of her affections.
Another pervasive theme throughout the album is the feeling of being broken. Songs like “Let the Flames Begin,” “Miracle,” and the explicitly named “We Are Broken” all discuss how wrong everything feels, but with a more uplifting message than we’re used to seeing in the emo set. Each song is attempting to find a way to alleviate this feeling, rather than truly wallowing in it. “We’ve I’ve gone far too long/Living like I’m not alive…I don’t want to run from/Anything uncomfortable,” Williams sings during “Miracle.” There’s an agency that sets these songs apart.
Some of these songs go as far as to explore a feeling of triumph over hardships. “Let the Flames Begin” may start with feeling broken, but quickly leverages an underdog camaraderie to declare that they’ll face anything to stick around. “Born For This” is the most overt in its autobiographical roots; the track references songs like “All We Know,” “Misery Business,” and “Pressure” to discuss the various pressures of fame and relationships the band faced throughout their early days. In the end, the song serves as a declaration that they were born to be doing this, regardless of all the hardship they’re facing.
Ten years later, Riot! stands as a solid emo pop album that stands out for its slightly more positive spin, bright tones, and lady power on the vocals lending a voice to girls in a male-dominated music genre. However, it’s not Paramore at their peak; they have continued to grow and develop as artists in spite of a lot of upheaval in the band’s lineup and ever-changing music scene. It’s almost as if Ed Thompson was forseeing the future with his IGN review of the album: “This is by no means a must-have album and is not going to be remembered as the band’s defining moment by any stretch of the imagination. But what Riot! will do is serve as a foundation from which the kids can continue to learn, grow, and improve.” What may sound like a subtle dig is actually a compliment–who wants to peak at their second album? Paramore has only made themselves better over the years, continuing to achieve success up through their latest album, the highly anticipated After Laughter. The success of Riot! and their indomitable spirit has carried them through five studio albums to date.