Paramore were mere teenagers when they exploded onto the pop-punk scene in 2005. But not only did they have a savvy songwriting aptitude that bellied their tender years, they also had a fearless, flame-haired frontwoman in Hayley Williams. One of the most influential female musicians of her era, Williams immediately proved herself capable of playing more established male peers at their own game, and she flipped an entire genre – in danger of becoming sexist and at times outright misogynistic – on its head. Today Paramore have outlasted their contemporaries and outgrown a flailing pop-punk scene. The best Paramore songs are the final nails in its coffin.
20: Pressure (from ‘All We Know Is Falling’, 2005)
When Paramore burst onto the pop-punk scene in the mid-2000s, it was a genre dominated by men who, for the most part, sang about broken hearts and how rubbish girls could be; at times it would border on the misogynistic. Paramore were fronted by a teenage Hayley Williams, a diminutive powerhouse with a shock of red hair and the gumption to up the ante on her male counterparts. One of the best Paramore songs of this era, Pressure was the group’s first single.
19: Rose-Colored Boy (from ‘After Laughter’, 2017)
By their fifth album, After Laughter, Paramore were veering away from their rock roots and heading ever more into pop territory. Rose-Colored Boy has a heavy 80s vibe, not a million miles from novelty hits such as Hey Mickey by Toni Basil. But there’s an underlying darkness to its lyrics: “I’m right at the end of my rope/A half empty girl/Don’t make me laugh, I’ll choke” suggest Williams wasn’t quite done with her teen angst.
18: Monster (from ‘Transformers: Dark Of The Moon’, 2011)
As 2011 approached, Paramore found themselves without two of its founding members, brothers Josh and Zac Farro. By way of announcing they had no intention of breaking up, the remaining trio recorded and released Monster, for the Transformers: Dark Of The Moon soundtrack. Featuring a darker, more grunge-like vibe, it marked a departure from the pop-punk usually associated with the best Paramore songs to date.
17: For A Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic (from ‘Riot!’, 2007)
Landing squarely in the emo camp, For A Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic is proper teen angst, with Williams squaring her wrath toward a non-committal confidante. She said of recording the song, “I was pissed that day in the studio but really stoked and confident about the record. We had no time left to name songs. Hence this title and let the flames begin. We always wait too long.”
16: Hate To See Your Heart Break (from ‘Paramore’, 2013)
A full-on ballad complete with string section, the stripped-back nature of Hate To See Your Heart Break gives Williams the platform to show off the exceptional vocal skills that have made her one of the best female singers of all time. Guitarist Taylor York said, “People obviously give Hayley credit for being an amazing singer, but I don’t think they really understand how versatile she is and how much her voice can do. You really hear different sides of her on this album.” This song reflects that through its stark vulnerability.
15: Told You So (from ‘After Laughter’, 2017)
Fame hasn’t been an easy ride for Williams, and this pop-rock entry among the best Paramore songs addresses living her life under a microscope. As she revealed to Zane Lowe, “It started being much more with me trying to pinpoint moments in my life where I followed my heart or gut and it did end up getting me into trouble. Had we not been through everything we’ve been through to this point, we wouldn’t be here, and we wouldn’t have the deep, honest friendships that we have now that feel life-giving.”
14: Brick By Boring Brick (from ‘Brand New Eyes’, 2009)
A fairy tale skewered with a heavy dose of Paramore’s pop-punk reality. Williams told Kerrang!, “This song is about people who cover up their reality with frills and make out like they’re living a fantasy life… It’s one thing to have goals and dreams but it’s another thing when you never know where you’re standing in the real world. People can be hurt by that.”
13: This Is Why (from ‘This Is Why’, 2023)
Hayley Williams and co have matured to the point where the best Paramore songs now feature a much broader world view than the one found in their unashamedly emo roots. After a period of focusing on herself across two solo albums, Williams now reflects on her exasperation at the human race. She said of This Is Why, “It summarises the plethora of ridiculous emotions, the rollercoaster of being alive in 2022, having survived even just the last three or four years. You’d think after… [the] impending doom of a dying planet, that humans would have found it deep within themselves to be kinder or more empathetic, or something.”
12: Ignorance (from ‘Brand New Eyes’, 2009)
Growing up is never easy, even when you front a million-selling pop-punk band. “In my eyes, this song is a huge turning point for the band,” Williams explained to Kerrang! in 2009. “There were a lot of times when I felt really alone or angry or insecure. I don’t always feel good at confronting people, especially people that I love, like these guys. Sometimes it takes songs to get the point across.”
11. Still Into You (from ‘Paramore’, 2013)
A love song, Paramore-style. That’s to say it’s a bouncy, pop-rock track that reflects on the ups and downs of relationships, instead of just the sickly sweet stuff. Written while Williams was in the dating phase with now ex-husband Chad Gilbert from New Found Glory, Still Into You recalls the time she first met his mum. She told Spin magazine, “Still Into You is definitely a love song. It’s definitely happy. But to me anyway – and obviously I wrote it so maybe I’m biased, but – it’s not a sappy love song.”
10: Fake Happy (from ‘After Laughter’, 2017)
Juxtaposing upbeat pop-punk melodies and sometimes dark lyrical angst is central to the emo genre. But no one takes those to opposite extremes quite like Hayley Williams, and nowhere is it more evident than on Fake Happy. After the Farro brothers’ departure from the group, Williams was forced to put on a happy face for the media in order to mask her upset about the split. As painful as that time was, at least she got a one of the best Paramore songs out of it.
9: crushcrushcrush (from ‘Riot!’, 2007)
Some early critics were bothered by Paramore erring more on the poppier end of the rock mainstream, alongside the likes of Avril Lavigne and P!nk, rather than embrace the harder sound of contemporaries such as Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance. crushcrushcrush is nevertheless on the heavier end of the spectrum. The path to true love never runs smoothly, and this song reflects the tribulations of teenage crushes.
8: The Only Exception (from ‘Brand New Eyes’, 2009)
An acoustic ballad on which Williams gets to lay her soul bare. There is nowhere to hide here, and she pours her heart out about the vulnerability of love. Williams said of The Only Exception, “I’ve never written lyrics like this before. The first verse is about where I think the fear to be open or vulnerable started… Everyone has known about my family issues and domestic whatever; it’s something that’s kinda stayed with me and I’ve learned from. I played this song to my mum and there were tears.”
7: Hard Times (from ‘After Laughter’, 2017)
By the end of the 2010s, Paramore had fully embraced their poppiness, and the best Paramore songs began to draw upon influences from as far back as 80s synth-pop. Yet the tropical carnival bounce of Hard Times masked something much darker: Williams’ battle with depression. She explained, “It’s crucial for me to write as a form of therapy. It shows me things about my life and emotional landscape I might otherwise overlook.”
6: Decode (from ‘Twilight: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack’, 2008)
Decode was written specifically for the Twilight franchise and is every bit as cinematic as the best movie songs should be. But instead of drawing from her own experiences, Williams looked toward the film’s central characters for inspiration for the track. She said, “[It’s] about the building tension, awkwardness, anger and confusion between Bella and Edward. Bella’s is the only mind Edward can’t read and I feel like that’s a big part of the first book and one of the obstacles for them to overcome. It’s one added tension that makes the story even better.”
5: Renegade (from the ‘Singles Club’ EP, 2011)
After the departure of the Farro brothers, fans were left wondering what direction Paramore would go in musically. In response, the remaining trio released a series of four tracks later gathered together as the Singles Club EP. Following on from Monster, Renegade appeased fans’ desire for spiky punk but with a heavy dose of melody and the venomous lyrics they’ve come to expect from the best Paramore songs. Williams was clearly still dealing with her former bandmates’ exit.
4: That’s What You Get (from ‘Riot!’, 2007)
There’s something undeniably cathartic about screaming out all your adolescent problems to bouncy pop-punk. A highlight from Paramore’s second album, Riot!, That’s What You Get is about the pain that can come from letting your heart rule your head. As former guitarist Josh Farro said, “It’s a pretty self-explanatory song. The lyrics are really simple: that’s what you get when you let your heart win and you don’t really think with your head. You’re more thinking based on a feeling.”
3: Misery Business (from ‘Riot!’, 2007)
We probably all did things as teenagers that we’re not so proud of in the cold light of adulthood. None of them, however, are quite so public as the lyrics Williams wrote for the multi-platinum Misery Business when she was 17. Throw in some adolescent heartbreak and her choice of words didn’t reflect well on a love rival. The frontwoman’s later regret at being so mean to someone she actually considered to be a good person led to the song’s retirement from Paramore’s live set for four years, until Coachella in 2022.
2: Ain’t It Fun (from ‘Paramore’, 2013)
By their fourth, self-titled album, Paramore were challenging themselves to push their creativity in more diverse directions. Ain’t It Fun harks back to Williams’ church-going childhood by throwing a gospel choir into the mix alongside the pop, funk and soul she would listen to in her formative years. The band’s then bassist, Jeremy Davis, explained, “After we started writing weird stuff like Ain’t It Fun, we got nervous. But that was a comfort. We’ve grown and we don’t like the same music we liked, so why would [our fans] not? That idea kept us pushing ourselves.”
1: Emergency (from ‘All We Know Is Falling’, 2005)
When Paramore burst onto the emo scene in 2005, Williams brought with her a songwriting nous that belied her teenage years. Even their debut album was packed full of arena-filling hooks and a fearlessness to tackle subjects such as her parents’ divorce. As embryonic as it sounds against the group’s more adventurous material, Emergency still packs a mighty punch, and it more than earns its place at the top of our list of the best Paramore songs.
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