When two of the founding members of Paramore received songwriting credits on Olivia Rodrigo’s Grammy-nominated Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single “good 4 u,” the moment served as a reminder of the band’s remarkable longevity and indelible impact on the pop music scene across the 2000s, 2010s, and, now with the imminent release of This Is Why, the 2020s. For nearly two decades, Paramore has ruled the hearts of millions of fans around the world with their sleek blend of pointed, gut-wrenching lyricism and an ever-expanding sonic profile that pulls from influences as disparate as Aretha Franklin and blink-182.
Hayley Williams, the only member of the band to appear on all six of their studio albums, is more than Paramore’s glue; she is the band’s life force. In all of its iterations, the band’s lineup has provided Hayley with gorgeous soundscapes for her voice to soar over. Whether they’re shredding through punk-pop anthems like “That’s What You Get” or cooing over quieter art-rock-indebted ballads like “Forgiveness,” it is Hayley’s voice that makes Paramore what it is. Her belts cut through the most frenetic drum arrangements, and her expressive tone can simultaneously highlight the blistering defiance and wistful self-reflection that ground so many of the band’s songs.
Upon of the release of their sixth studio album, This Is Why, Uproxx has ranked the 40 best Paramore songs of their career so far.
40. “Be Alone”
Before the pandemic forced us all to spend more time with ourselves in the quiet, as the band smartly sums up on “This Is Why,” Hayley & Co. toyed with the merits of loneliness on this track from their 2013 self-titled album. Here, the band takes pride in being alone and explores how spending time with yourself can transform you into a better friend and partner. Like any great Paramore track, the lyrical narrative is gorgeously reflected through a sleek tradeoff between half-time drum breakdowns and ebullient ’80s-esque background synths.
There’s nothing better than when a song proudly wears its influences on its sleeve, and that’s exactly what “Daydreaming” does. Standing in the legacy of both Blondie and the Goo Goo Dolls, “Daydreaming” balances cascading synths with brash drums to breathe new life into the song’s tried and true subject matter of trying to find your footing in a new and unfamiliar place. The thunderous chorus adds some edge to the whimsy of those synths, but it’s the undercurrent of verve in Hayley’s voice that does the heavy lifting.
38. “For A Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic”
Vivacious guitars and an acerbic vocal performance ground this rumination on the disappointment that comes with witnessing a person fumble the faith that you poured into them. Nonetheless, as the title denotes, simply having the capacity to even put faith in another person marks some level of optimism — and that’s a win for a band whose discography is so thoroughly enthralled with the trappings of pessimism.
Formative moments and influences from Hayley’s childhood have found their way into many a Paramore song, and “Emergency” is no different. A melancholy banger that relays the volatility of love through a recounting of Hayley’s parents’ divorce, “Emergency” is easily one of the more memorable tracks from the band’s debut album.
Another example of Paramore’s slick contrast of their soundscapes and songwriting, “Fences” finds the band balancing jaunty chord progressions and Hayley’s sardonic vocal performance with a scathing narrative that offers insight into the cripplingly stifling nature of celebrity in the age of paparazzi, specifically for public figures in the midst of their breakout moment. The song’s closing line, “you’ll go out in style,” gets its edge from the context of the derisive chorus, but it’s Hayley’s penchant for legato-as-emphasis vocal approaches that gives the line some true bite.
Resistance and defiance are grounding principles of the punk-pop tradition, and that’s what “Careful” is all about. With a playful guitar melody and drums that are equal part militant and freewheeling, “Careful” finds Hayley prioritizing her own personal truth to access the freedom that she’s been denied whenever she tries to conform to truths that are not hers.
34. “Let The Flames Begin”
Yet another anthem of defiance, “Let The Flames Begin” smartly balances softer verses with an anthemic chorus that nods to the less obvious throughline of Christian sonic and lyrical references in the band’s discography. The song finds the band at odds with an unspecified “they,” but it’s probably the same group of people that they refuse to conform to — hence Hayley’s impassioned vocal performance.
Paramore’s rejection of conformity and commitment to the freedom of individualism have allowed them to transform into countless versions of themselves over the years, both aesthetically and sonically. These allegiances, or lack thereof, have also provided their discography with a clear lyrical throughline of thinking for yourself even if it means going against what the majority believes or does. Enter “Anklebiters,” a rambunctious ode to people who struggle to form their own identities outside of collectives. Complete with catchy chants and screams sprinkled throughout the background, “Anklebiters” revels in its brashness in a way that feels, against all odds, quite welcoming.
32. “Caught In The Middle”
How does a singer who rose to fame in a genre that’s so often connected to the angst of adolescence grapple with getting older in the public eye? By making a song like “Caught In The Middle,” of course. With a chorus that pulls from the most commercial edges of reggae to a vocal performance that balances fatigue with quiet audaciousness, “Caught In The Middle” is a gem.
31. “Where The Lines Overlap”
The turbulent nature of Paramore’s interpersonal relationships hasn’t been all doom and gloom. “Where The Lines Overlap,” a joyous ode to working through issues and coming out stronger and closer than ever before, is a reminder that the band’s open communication has always been their secret weapon. For example, the song’s bridge works because you truly believe Hayley when she sings “Now I’ve got a feeling if I sang this loud enough / You would sing it back to me.” She delivers that line with the emotional heft of someone who has been through both a separation and a reconciliation. Given that previous member Zac Farro has since rejoined the band, it’s safe to say that Hayley was right.
On this dedication to their hometown, Paramore leans more toward the literal and less into the metaphorical. Although the song may feel a bit sappy, there’s a mournful quality to Josh’s background vocals that gives the song some much-needed depth.
29. “Escape Route”
Initially left off their self-titled album because the band felt it was too reminiscent of their older sound, “Escape Route” is one of the hidden gems in Paramore’s discography. What’s interesting here is the song’s strikingly rapid pace. It’s almost as if Paramore’s new (at the time) lineup was trying to outrun their feelings about the departures of older members, as well as the memories attached to those former members. Sonically, the track is in line with much of the ground the band covered on their first three albums, but Hayley’s frantic vocal offers something a bit more sinister.
When it comes to love songs, Paramore is more likely to give you a close look at the more ominous undercurrents of those feelings than maudlin puppy-eyed schmaltz. While the song’s production is just as playful as the rest of After Laughter, it’s Hayley’s characterization of a pool as an all-consuming pressure cooker of desire that exposes the darkness of love.
Sometimes, when we get older, we finally understand the value of things we derided in our youth. For Paramore, that thing is the utility of dreams. “26” reverses course from “Brick By Boring Brick” by way of a delicate acoustic guitar that soundtracks Hayley’s renewed loyalty to the concept of hope after dealing with people that kept her chained to the darkness of this plane of existence.
26. “Grow Up”
With Rick Rubin-esque snares and a poppier melody than their earlier songs, “Grow Up” is emblematic of the bouncier feel of the band’s eponymous 2013 album. For Paramore, lack of growth is reason enough to leave someone behind because they refuse to be caught in a mode of stasis due to someone else’s lack of maturity. It’s an unsuspectingly harsh lyric that pairs well with the song’s spirited synth outro.
Nearly twenty years later, Paramore’s debut single still holds up. Sonically, the single is firmly entrenched in the band’s punk-pop roots, and Hayley’s voice sounds markedly younger and more nasal. Nonetheless, the band’s promise and genius courses through the song. Their knack for dynamics manifests itself through the twinkling acoustic guitar in the background of the bridge, while the extra syllables Hayley adds to the word “pressure” lay the foundation for her peerless manipulation of her voice on later records.
It’s only fitting that the first song recorded for what is arguably the band’s best record is also one of their most stunning songwriting achievements. A song that intentionally submits to the power of love instead of basking in the bitterness that often accompanies a breakup, “Proof” finds vulnerability through casting away fear, ego, and pride. Over an ascending melody that recalls the most chipper of British folk songs, Hayley sings “If I’m half the man I say I am / If I’m a woman with no fear just like I claim I am / Then I’ll believe in what you say.” Indeed, Hayley. Indeed.
23. “Told You So”
In both Paramore’s discography and Hayley Williams’ two solo albums, her anxiety has been a source of the band’s literal and musical evolution. With this track from After Laughter, Paramore pulls off one of their most familiar songwriting hattricks: flipping idioms into incisive, cutting lyricism. Here, the band flips the overdone adage “I hate to say I told you so,” into an unlikely anthem of resilience steeped in the kooky gloss of After Laughter’s take on new wave. The track’s production is decidedly ebullient, but the grim imagery of the song’s lyrics (“Throw me into the fire / Throw me in, pull me out again”) offer a sharp and welcome contrast.
22. “Hallelujah (Live from Chicago)”
One of the more exhilarating live acts of the past decade and a half, no list of this nature is complete without at least one of Paramore’s live tracks. This live recording of “Hallelujah” blends Leonard Cohen’s classic with the band’s own song of the same name. The interlocked themes of steadfast faith in one’s own self, purpose, and destiny could easily read as saccharine, but the band’s frenetic energy and crowd interaction prioritizes hope and community above all else.
21. “Idle Worship”
Honestly, this might be the best commentary on stan culture from a popular musician since Eminem’s own “Stan.” That might be an overzealous take, but “Idle Worship,” with its rejection of mindless celebrity worship and embrace of not just imperfection, but also some level of villainy, is worthy of that kind of praise. Less in the new wave vein than most of After Laughter, “Idle Worship” blends the more forceful sounds of Paramore’s earlier records with the trenchant songwriting of their later work.
The emo lead single from the soundtrack for the first Twilight movie is a modern classic many younger millennials and elder members of Gen Z. Hayley’s vocal performance and lyrics expertly encapsulate the fraught love triangle of the film’s protagonists, but the band’s rousing Evanescence-esque instrumental arrangement is what truly drives the high drama of the whole affair.
Upon reflection, it’s almost chilling how much of Paramore’s lyrical identity was established with the very first song they’d ever written. “Conspiracy,” which predictably details an alleged conspiracy against Hayley’s way of existence, sets up the conflict between Paramore and those who want to control them — the same conflict that can be traced all the way to “The News,” the second promotional single from This Is Why. While the lyrics are commendable, it’s Hayley’s otherworldly vocal performance that allows the song to rise above the general punk-pop clutter of the mid-aughts.
You didn’t seriously think a Paramore song about crushes would be all rainbows and butterflies, did you? “Crushcrushcrush,” which served as the second single from the band’s sophomore album, utilizes some of their best guitar licks, as well as vocals that range from menacing whispers to mordant talk-singing to electrifying belts. Perhaps one of their more lyrically ambitious songs, the relative incoherence of the song’s structure only bolsters the overarching narratives of two could-have-been lovers getting in the way of their own happiness.
17. “Playing God”
In a way, the sonic-lyrical contrast of “Playing God” foreshadows the bulk of After Laughter. With a bassline that recalls the best of Jimmy Eat World, “Playing God” finds Hayley ripping into the self-righteous people who seek to control her life and her decisions. It’s a decidedly angry vocal performance that, oddly enough, plays perfectly against the bouncy effervescence of the song’s instrumentation.
The changes in Paramore’s lineup have been a dominant narrative in both the band’s musical evolution and their public perception. With this song, the band wrestles with the concept of forgiveness in the context of professional and romantic relationships. With nods to ska and a striking staccato delivery in the verses, “Forgiveness” effectively relays how thorny, non-linear, and, at times, cyclical the processes of forgiveness and closure are.
One of the more overtly angry tracks on an album that is comparatively lighter, “Now” is an anthem of reclamation. Written, recorded, and released during a period of time that marked several conflicting narratives surrounding the truth behind the changes in the band’s lineup, Paramore use corybantic guitars and Hayley’s just-short-of-unhinged vocal performance to take hold of their own narrative. “Now” charts a path that is chiefly concerned with looking toward the future instead of dwelling on the past.
14. “Still Into You”
This song houses one of Hayley’s most nuanced vocal performances — at least in terms of her work with Paramore — and you might miss it because of how sugary sweet the song is. In Hayley’s voice lies the guilty glee of giving into a crush, the exasperation of unsuccessfully fighting off infatuation, and the sheer reverence of the staying power of feelings of love. Easily one of the band’s more middle-of-the-road pop records in both lyric and structure, Hayley’s voice elevates “Still Into You” to a place beyond sappiness — a feat that has stumped many a punk-pop love song.
13. “Misguided Ghosts”
One of the quieter and more subdued moments in Paramore’s discography, “Misguided Ghosts” taps into the listless meandering that can characterize some pockets of the curve of maturity. When Hayley drags out each line in the final chorus into a despondent descending melody, the song truly hits its stride. The acoustic guitar cradles her restrained vocal in the same way that the bombast of the band’s biggest hits boost her belts into the stratosphere.
12. “This Is Why”
Upon release, critics lauded the lead single and title track for Paramore’s latest studio album — and for good reason. At once a succinct analysis of the pandemic’s impact on social anxiety and a darker take on the funky new wave soundscapes that reverberated across After Laughter, “This Is Why” is a yet another maker of maturity for Paramore in a genre that, at times, feels too reliant of the tropes of adolescence.
11. “Brick By Boring Brick”
Instead of subverting familiar idioms, “Brick By Boring Brick” finds Paramore adopting a third-person narrative perspective as they relay the story of a girl who finds escape through fairytales. With a snarling vocal performance from Hayley and hair-raising chords from guitarist Josh Farro, the band slyly recreates the darkness of the song’s lyrics in the actual music of the track. The song’s abrupt ending robs us of closure (does the girl ever end up burying the castle?), but that stark break after the increasingly intense “ba-ba-ba’s” that close the song lift Paramore to an emotional apex that accentuates the power of their songcraft.
10. “The Only Exception”
A crowning achievement in songwriting in Paramore’s discography, “The Only Exception” finds the band expertly toeing the line between a mawkish love song and vulnerability that disarms both Hayley and, more importantly, her listeners. Dreamy acoustic guitars give way to twinkling organ keys in an arrangement that sonically replicates the throes of accepting and internalizing what love truly looks like.
9. “Misery Business”
Probably the most contentious song in Paramore’s discography, “Misery Business” has lived many lives. The lead single from their sophomore album doubled as their worldwide breakthrough hit, sold over six million copies, was later removed from their live performance setlists due to a second verse widely deemed as anti-feminist, and, most recently, spawned a widely successful spin-off in Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u.” Yeah, one song did all that — and it’s easy to see why. A chugging, insidious slow-burn that deliciously rips into an ex’s old flame, “Misery Business” finds Hayley narrating, belting, and outright screaming through her side of the story. Soundtracked by one of the band’s most raucous instrumental arrangements, “Misery Business” is the kind of no-holds-barred headbanger that solidified Paramore’s position in the punk-pop pantheon.
8. “Hard Times”
Released as the lead single for the band’s fifth studio album After Laughter, “Hard Times” marked Paramore’s shift from overt punk influences to a glossier new-wave sound. The song’s balance of funk and restraint echoes the impasse of Hayley and Taylor York’s lyrics. “Hard times / Gonna make you wonder why you even try,” Hayley croons in the song’s chorus. Colored by her own battle with depression, tensions between band members, and the general tumult of growing up and the feelings of uselessness that come with all of these things, “Hard Times” is a shining jewel in Paramore’s discography.
7. “Turn It Off”
Any song that opens with “I scraped my knees while I was praying / And found a demon in my safest haven” has got to be in the conversation for Paramore’s best songs. A refreshingly honest look at the tiresome reality of reconciling belief in Jesus with the more unsavory ways in which religion interacts with the world around us, “Turn It Off” reaches its towering peak in its bridge. In that section of the song, Hayley launches into one of the most unfathomable vocal performances of her career. It’s not just a moment of technical brilliance, she’s conveying so much emotion and turmoil in those belts that you just want to hand her an Oscar.
6. “All I Wanted”
An acoustic ditty that morphs into a raging wail-fest through which Hayley attempts to make sense of the perils of a dangerously all-consuming love, “All I Wanted” is one of those moments of histrionic heightened emotion that feels completely natural and justified. This is probably the greatest example of how Paramore is unafraid to dive into the inherent ugliness of truly feeling and internalizing every facet of emotion that racks the mind and heart.
5. “That’s What You Get”
The third single from their sophomore album and one the band’s signature songs, “That’s What You Get” deftly displays Paramore’s grasp of dynamics and how effortless the essence of punk-pop is for them. The track leans more into emo than their recent offerings, and that darkness grounds the band’s exploration of what it means to take responsibility for yourself. Instead of pointing the finger elsewhere, what does it mean to accept that you thought with your heart and didn’t use your head? From the dashes of disco in the verses to the arena-ready breakdown in the refrain leading into the final chorus, “That’s What You Get” is a punk-pop masterclass.
4. “Fake Happy”
“Fake Happy” is one of Paramore’s best songs for the simple fact that it effortlessly showcases the band’s ability to synthesize their core ethos — exploring the emotionally vulnerable, and sometimes obsidian, underbelly of punk-pop — into a sound that sits lightyears away from that which made them household names. Beginning with dry acoustic guitar before morphing into a mélange of new wave, synth-pop, and a roaring behemoth of a chorus, “Fake Happy” folds all of Paramore’s chameleonic identities into just under four minutes of a cathartic rebuttal of performing happiness.
3. “Rose-Colored Boy”
Paramore’s pessimism has offered the band a throughline to connect most of their albums. Simply put, optimism isn’t really the band’s ministry, and “Rose-Colored Boy” continued that trend on After Laughter. Further dabbling in that album’s new-wave soundscape, Paramore expands on the colloquialism of “rose-colored glasses” and delivers a song that yearns for the hopefulness of a rose-colored boy, but ultimately sits in the peace of accepting a moodier state of being.
2. “Hate To See Your Heart Break”
The band’s most tender ballad, “Hate To See Your Heart Break” features not only one of Hayley’s most somber vocal performances, but also some of the band’s most lush production. Hayley’s lower register and wistful tone pair beautifully with the pensive string arrangements that provide the song with its emotional anchor. Eventually, the song builds into a fervent bridge that ultimately gives way to the restraint that initially gifted the song its beauty.
1. “Ain’t It Fun”
A pristine mixture of the band’s punk-pop foundation, the formative gospel music influence of Hayley’s childhood, and the slick pop sensibilities of their songwriting, “Ain’t It Fun” is the crown jewel of Paramore’s discography. It’s not often that a commercial peak so elegantly aligns with a band’s most singular idiosyncrasies, but “Ain’t It Fun” pulls it off. The slightly bratty rhetorical question that gifts the song its title and hook recalls Paramore’s penchant for spinning crushing truths out of age-old idioms. Moreover, the song’s instrumentation and Hayley’s vocal performance find each band member firing at all cylinders. Rollicking drums, spirited handclaps, wailing guitar, and an ardent backing choir all combine to create a definitive anthem about what a shitshow growing up is. What more could you ask for?
Paramore is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.