By Lily Hoveke
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 15 years, you’ve probably heard of Paramore’s album Riot!. At the very least, most people are familiar with the most popular single on the album “Misery Business”. This album was not critically acclaimed at the time, and many of the reviews of the album stated that this album was not going to be a foundational one for the band, or that it would be a stepping stone for them to transition to newer sounds. However, as time has gone on, Riot! has become a fan favorite, certified quadruple platinum in the U.S, and has topped many charts as one of the best pop-punk albums of the early 2000s. This year marks the 15th anniversary of its release, and as someone who was deeply impacted by Paramore’s music, and this album in specific, I want to go back and reflect on the album as a whole, taking a look at it from a modern perspective. My goals are to see if this album really is as good as I first remember it, and take a deeper dive into the songs individually from an older perspective.
Most of the album was written when both Hayley Williams, the lead singer, and the rest of the band were teenagers. This aspect reflects in quite a few lyrics, and gives the album that angsty feeling that pop-punk is known for. The album opens with “For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic,” a song about putting your faith into another person and having them let you down. It’s not the strongest song on the album, but as an opener, it solidifies the pop-punk sound that the rest of the album has.
“That’s What You Get” follows immediately after. Right off the bat, the drums come in heavy – followed by Williams’ strong vocals. The song is about the consequences of thinking with your heart instead of your head, and the emotional aspects of the song can be felt all the way through. The line “This heart will start a riot in me” perfectly plays on the feeling of an emotional outburst as the result of heartbreak. The album’s title was meant to be about an outburst of various emotions, and this track is one of the perfect ones to support that. “Hallelujah” follows, showcasing Williams’ range with her ability to belt and hit high notes. It’s a perfect song to listen to when you need a burst of motivation to help you through a tough time. It’s about having faith in yourself and pushing forward even when it seems impossible.
Next comes the big song: “Misery Business.” This song became Paramore’s breakthrough that pushed them into the mainstream, while garnering some controversy for some of the lyrics. “Once a whore you’re nothing more” is the line in question, but Williams herself has denounced it, and even vowed to stop playing it live due to the misogynistic tone it has. “Misery Business” is the perfect song for the early 2000s, having plenty of angst and catchy instrumentals, and is even more impressive when looking at the fact that the band were mostly teenagers when the song came out. It’s also the perfect example that as times change, artists are able to reflect that they have changed as well. Hayley Williams stating that she doesn’t agree with the song anymore was one of the better ways to prove that (and personally one of the most mature ways of handling controversy in my opinion).
“When It Rains” slows things down, talking about the mindset of someone who has committed suicide. It’s a powerful and emotional song about mourning and being confused and blindsided by the actions of someone who you never expected to lose that way. The narrator is desperately seeking closure and answers, even though they know they won’t receive much. The ending bridge, “Take these chances and turn it around / take these chances we’ll make it somehow” reflects on words they wish they said before losing a loved one. This emotional track is a beautiful example of how simple songwriting can be some of the best.
“Let the Flames Begin” is a hugely underrated track from this album about keeping faith in tough times. While creating the Riot! album, there were a bunch of external factors such as pressure from record labels, and public criticism that made creating this album a difficult process. The band did not think the album was going to be successful publicly, but still carried on with its release because it was the kind of music they wanted to make. It’s a powerful song and it shows through in both the vocals and instrumentals, and I genuinely wish it got more attention. “Miracle” is another really underrated song from the album, and some of Williams’ best vocals on the album are found within. It’s a high energy pop-punk track about facing your own internal struggles and not giving up on yourself in hard times. I will admit, I did not give this song the time of day when I was younger, but listening to it now, I really wish I had. The lyrics speak to me at a very emotional level, and it’s genuinely a very good song that I want to keep listening to because it feels like one listen just isn’t enough.
“crushcrushcrush” is another song that got very popular after the release of the album. A song about the dark side of having a crush on someone, it explores the idea of insecurities and anxieties preventing someone from confessing their feelings for another person. Everything about this song makes it a perfect pop-punk track, from the angsty lyrics to the guitars to the fast-paced nature of the song, and it’s no wonder that it’s one of the band’s most popular tracks to this day.
“We Are Broken” is about praying to make a person whole again. This song has a ton of religious imagery, which is pretty unusual for a non-religious band, but it works well in their favor. The song is very emotional, like many others on the album, while being a desperate plea for the chance to restart and try again.
“Fences” is the second to last song on the album. This song explores a lack of privacy that many celebrities and public figures experience. Cameras follow them everywhere and catch every moment of their lives. This song is completely separate from everything else on the album, and it predicted Paramore’s rise to fame after the release of the album. It also shines a light on the fact that paparazzi and social media as a whole treat celebrities less like human beings and more like animals on display at a zoo. It’s a powerful song and one of the best songs on the album, in my opinion.
Closer “Born For This” pushes back at criticism, and solidifies the fact that the band is making music for themselves and their fans, not for the praise and fame. It talks a lot about the pressure they feel from the outside, but they double down and keep doing what they feel most comfortable doing. This song still has not received the appreciation it deserves, but I truly stand by the fact that it’s one of Paramore’s best songs on any album they’ve made. The song is sure of itself and confident, just as they are.
Overall, this album has aged pretty well aside from the one lyric in “Misery Business”. The album is just as good as it was 15 years ago, and some of the lyrics can even be interpreted to take on a more modern context. It’s definitely one of the best pop-punk albums of the 2000s and if you haven’t checked it out by now, I would highly recommend it.