How Paramore’s Album 'Riot' Became A Soundboard For Fans 15 Years Later

For many, the energy of the band's music provided a much-needed outlet for pent-up emotions.
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Paramore's album "Riot!" remains a favorite among fans, often bringing up nostalgic feelings.
Paramore's album "Riot!" remains a favorite among fans, often bringing up nostalgic feelings.
Illustration: Chris McGonigal/HuffPost; Photos: Getty Images/Fueled by Ramen

“Fuck it,” Hayley Williams says at the opening night of Paramore’s 2022 tour. On cue, the band, Taylor York and Zac Farro, launches into the opening notes of the 2007 breakthrough song “Misery Business.” The crowd roars as the band members, who are performing live together for the first time since 2018, play the only song they’d banned from their set list.

The controversial song, which calls another woman “once a whore, you’re nothing more,” was penned by Williams and her former bandmate Josh Farro. In 2018, Williams said the band would stop playing the song live after years of people referring to it as “anti-feminist,” and in 2020, she doubled down, saying she didn’t want it on playlists at all. This was met with both applause and chagrin from the band’s community.

Still, “Misery Business” and its accompanying angst-filled album “Riot!” are what made Paramore famous. It’s not often that a sophomore album puts any artist on the map, but after “Misery Business” reached the Top 100 songs, it cemented Paramore’s place in music history. As longtime fan Megan Mann puts it, “This wasn’t a sophomore slump; it was a triumph that catapulted them.”

Fellow emo kid Christina Orlando feels the same way, saying “Riot!” is a “no skips album” — high praise in the music world in which every single song on a stand-alone album is so good that you listen to it the whole way through without skipping any.

Hayley Williams of Paramore performs onstage during the 2018 Bonnaroo Arts And Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.
Hayley Williams of Paramore performs onstage during the 2018 Bonnaroo Arts And Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.
Jeff Kravitz via Getty Images

Eventually, they’d go on to tour with greats like No Doubt and Green Day, and win over a dozen awards for their work as a group. Even the famed Gen Z artist Billie Eilish was inspired by Williams growing up and invited her to sing with her at Coachella in early 2022. This was the first time Williams would sing “Misery Business” live since banning it, and she perhaps only agreed since Eilish omitted the word “whore” during their duet.

Paramore’s success seems easy, almost assured even, but when the band formed in 2004, having a frontwoman at the helm of a rock band was rare — and still is all these years later. That didn’t stop the orange-haired Williams from pursuing her dreams and inspiring entire generations of women to chase after the things they want most, even when the world tells them not to.

“The thing is that Hayley was [one of] the only women in an incredibly male-dominated genre. I can’t imagine what kind of shit she had to go through,” Orlando says. “No one could even compare with Hayley’s talent. She is incredible on stage, her voice is undeniable ... so many of those bands died out after an album or two, but Paramore has had staying power, and so much of that is because Hayley is a fucking star. There’s so much emotionality in her voice, so much power. There’s no one else like her.”

Fifteen years later, “Riot!” remains a soundboard for fans who express themselves through music. For many, it’s Paramore’s particularly poignant lyrics that reflect a certain unease of the early aughts and for others it was the energy of the music that provided a much-needed outlet for pent-up emotions.

“I think for girls especially, Paramore just encapsulated a lot of feminine angst and rage that was simmering beneath the surface,” journalist De Elizabeth reflects. “Coming of age in the 2000s was a really unique and challenging time to be a girl, and I feel like Hayley Williams understood that. Her music felt like an olive branch to all of us, or a show of solidarity in some way.”

And this is a legacy Williams has inadvertently continued to this day. Almost 20 years later, through the band’s hiatus and her own solo career, the lead singer intertwined her own conversations around mental health and childhood trauma into music that would define an entire generation. At a time when “TRL” and CDs ruled the music scene, it was a miracle for any band to find fame — remember, this was back when MP3s reigned supreme, iPods were barely trending, and SoundCloud didn’t even exist ... yet.

Williams performs at Radio 104.5 Performance Theater in 2017 in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.
Williams performs at Radio 104.5 Performance Theater in 2017 in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.
Bill McCay via Getty Images

Author and self-described superfan Alicia Thompson first heard Paramore’s “Riot!” on a burned CD with a Sharpie-adorned track list scribbled atop it. She tells HuffPost this was a pivotal moment for her as a fan, so much so that she still has the cherished bootleg album and frequently listens to “Riot!” and other Paramore albums on repeat all these years later. In fact, she credits the band as “very instrumental” in establishing her career as a romance novelist, inspiring her to challenge herself to build characters and stories “around passion and yearning and anger and regret, because their songs are so emotional.”

Meanwhile, fans like Anna Osinska, who manages Paramore-Music.com, one of the band’s oldest fan sites, have transformed their love of “Riot!” into a worldwide connection between fans.

“It’s been a journey with Paramore, the fan site I run was launched in 2009. Being around the band for like 15 years, growing up with them, being able to interpret the lyrics differently now and then when I was 14 is a gift I haven’t had with any other band on such a level. I met so many amazing people thanks to the popularity of ‘Riot!’ So many friendships wouldn’t have happened,” she says.

For many, the Parafamily is just another reason they’ve dedicated their time and money to supporting the band.

“Paramore has given us one of the most supportive and inviting fandoms that has ever existed and I am so grateful for it each and every day,” Cosmopolitan entertainment editor Tamara Fuentes tells HuffPost.

Like many others, Fuentes still listens to Paramore on repeat all these years later, a true testament to the timelessness of the album and band itself. Still, when you find a band during a particularly vulnerable moment in your life, it can make nostalgic feelings bittersweet.

“‘Riot!’ came out right before a big moment in my life. I was getting heavily bullied at school and it was a very very rough time for me mentally,” Fuentes says. “‘Riot!’ allowed me to be able to channel that anger, pain, and even some of the happiness of the time over the years. ... It’s one of the reasons why listening to the album alone can be hard because it brings up some of those memories, but it also shows me how much I’ve changed and persevered since then.”

These are feelings Zach D. Humphrey knows all too well. Although a fan of the band, Zach listens to “Riot!” very occasionally due to the album’s power to “jettison” them back to the past. “[It] makes the emotions of back then feel still so real and present, so I’m careful about when to revisit those,” they say. Humphrey was raised in a “very far-right Christian environment,” and Paramore was one of the few bands that was considered “safe” to listen to and not considered “blasphemous.”

“‘Riot!” was like this beacon that other teenagers were as fed up as I was. I felt very much like ‘a different kind of girl’ even when I still identified as male and ‘Riot!’ was a great avenue for a lot of those feelings,” they say. “Williams, like me, ended up divorcing herself from a lot of the toxic bits of Christianity that had ended up oppressing her so I’ve related as she and Paramore changed things up so much every few years.”

Williams, Zac Farro and Taylor York of Paramore perform on ABC's "Good Morning America" at Rumsey Playfield in 2017 in New York City.
Williams, Zac Farro and Taylor York of Paramore perform on ABC's "Good Morning America" at Rumsey Playfield in 2017 in New York City.
Roy Rochlin via Getty Images

Almost all fans of the group have one thing in common: They find inspiration in the band’s lead singer. For Fuentes and Humphrey, it was discovering their identities when it comes to faith. For Elizabeth, it was Williams’ transparency surrounding mental health. For fans like Tiera DiGiorgio and M.K. Lobb, the album was the power to get through the worst parts of adolescence.

“I got my dad to download [“Riot!”] on my pink iPod nano and it quickly became my favorite,” Lobb recalls of the album that fans have designated as one of the most iconic of all time. “It’s still one of the few albums I listen to without skipping a single song.”

She remembers blasting songs like “Fences” and “We Are Broken” in the back seat of her parent’s car “bemoaning” the fact that her ninth grade crush didn’t like her anymore. “‘Riot!’ brings back all the big feelings of being a teen. It accompanied me through so many rough times, but the songs also have the kind of power that made me feel like I could get through it,” she says.

For DiGiorgio, who was a freshman in high school when the album came out, “Riot!” was a “bright spot in an otherwise dark time.” In fact, the band was so pivotal in her own coming-of-age story that she says she isn’t sure where she’d be today if she hadn’t found it.

Paramore was also a way for “outsiders” to unite with others like them. “I was a very lonely kid,” Orlando says. “I was a little punk-goth weirdo at a prep school, but Paramore and similar bands brought me to My People.” They used to attend local shows as a teen and found a safe space away from the “bullying and estrangement” they felt at their high school. To this day, Orlando is still friends with some of the people they met at these shows.

“Riot! was a lot of things to me at the time ... but mostly it was a connection with my friends,” Orlando says. “Emo was always about community for me. I felt so at home there.”

The timelessness of “Riot!” endures all these years later. And, if fans have their way, Paramore’s legacy will last long after we’re all gone — a classic like The Rolling Stones or The Beatles for future generations to lament teenage woes and understand their own emotions during the early stages of puberty and beyond. As Lobb puts it, “There are bands you grow out of as you get older, but this is not one of them.”

CORRECTION: A prior headline for this story incorrectly referred to “Riot” as Paramore’s debut album.

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