Hayley Williams was 17 when she took the controversial lyrics from her diary and put them in one of Paramore’s biggest hits. Twelve years later, she feels differently - and she’s within her rights to reflect that live.
It’s safe to say that, in our younger years, we’ve all written and said things that we now regret. Buckle in for story time, kids – when I was about 15, I wrote a very mean (and musically heinous) song slagging off an actually very nice girl I went to school with because she ‘stole’ the boy I was ‘crushing on’ at the time. Ripped from my incredibly tragic teenage scribbling, it was not really in the spirit of either feminism or being nice to fellow human beings. As Ronan Keating once said, life is a rollercoaster.
Being completely honest I never really fancied him in the first place; this became quickly apparent when I realised I was gay approximately six months later. Whoops. Unlike Hayley Williams, I’m not haunted by my cringey early efforts at setting myself apart as ‘not like the other girls’ – mainly because I have no discernible musical talents. However, it does lend itself to taking a rather more sympathetic view when it comes to the lead singer of Paramore reappraising one of her band’s biggest hits 12 years after she first wrote it.
It’s safe to say that, looking back on your own past social media posts and amateur poetry efforts, you’ve probably got a similar story to tell. Look at the wave of smear-posts written about every single celebrity, ever, and the questionable things they’ve said in the past, and nobody is immune. When you’re super-famous, those mistakes are infinitely harder to erase. Yes, ‘Misery Business’ might be a stone-cold, pop-punk banger, but Hayley Williams is also within her rights to move on from its shoddily delivered message to reflect the way that she feels over a decade later.
A page from a teenage diary
Reevaluating the past is generally a very positive thing to do. Without looking back on old opinions armed with a healthy dose of skepticism, we’d still believe ridiculous things like the earth being a two-dimensional rectangle (sh, don’t tell the flat-earthers) and that cigarettes are really really good for your lungs. It’s safe to say that doctors made the wrong call with that particular piece of medical advice. And when Hayley Williams took the controversial lyric “once a whore, you’re nothing more, I’m sorry that’ll never change” straight from her own diary, she was 17 years old, and an altogether different person.
“‘Misery Business’ is not a set of lyrics that I relate to as a 26 year old woman,” the singer admitted in a blog post three years ago. “I haven’t related to it in a very long time. Those words were written when i was 17… admittedly, from a very narrow-minded perspective. It wasn’t really meant to be this big philosophical statement about anything. It was quite literally a page in my diary about a singular moment I experienced as a high schooler.
That’s the funny part about growing up in a band with any degree of success,” she added. “People still have my diary.”
Censorship or sensitivity?
A fair few Paramore fans have reacted to the news with anger and dismay, bandying around words like “over-sensitive” and “censorship”. Some have pointed out that retiring a song like ‘Misery Business’ – while other artists continue to gleefully perform songs calling women “hoes” and “bitches” without being called out – represents a serious case of double standards. And yet double standards is exactly what this isn’t. Instead, by taking some time away from ‘Misery Business’, Hayley Williams is attempting to lift her own standards instead.
Whether it’s a matter of simply reworking the most problematic lyric (in the past Williams altered the line to “I do like to know at the end of the day that I tried to do the right thing”) or omitting it from the set entirely, it’s her artistic prerogative. Why is it that bands like Radiohead are heaped in praise for being historic mavericks live (until recently they were renowned for performing more obscure songs in place of the hits’) and yet in the same breath, Paramore are accused of caving into pressure because they decide they’ve outgrown a single song? It just doesn’t stack up. “We wrote a song that now, as a 29-year-old woman, I don’t know that I’d use the same language,” she told fans, announcing their decision to axe the track at Art + Friends Festival last weekend. “Calling someone a whore isn’t very cool.”
And as for the argument that ‘Misery Business’ disappearing from setlists represents an act of censorship… well, that’s just not accurate, is it? The song remains fully accessible; it has not been banned. It takes about two seconds to track down; be it on Spotify, or CD. There’s no doubt that ‘Misery Business’ will still blare angrily out the speakers of one million pop-punk nights from Nottingham to Kingston, and nobody is forbidding anybody else from listening to ‘Misery Business’. That isn’t what’s happening here. We do not suddenly live in a dystopian police state that has cracked down on all slightly sexist songs; if that really were the case, we wouldn’t still be listening to the cream of the noughties emo crop whining on and on about the ‘slutty’ girls who wronged them, would we?
As the critic Jessica Hopper details thoroughly in her canonical essay Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t from 2003, emo, and other closely associated genres have long had an poisonous problem when it comes to casual misogyny – treating women like manic pixie dream girls on a pedestal one minute, and threatening violence the next when affection turns out to be unrequited. By choosing to give ‘Misery Business’ a prolonged hiatus, Hayley Williams and Paramore are choosing to remove themselves from that narrative. They’re also choosing to set an example in which casual misogyny no longer gets a free pass. They’re also doing it on their own terms, and owning up to unwise and embarrassing opinions from the past. That can only ever be a good thing.