This is Why: Paramore's New Album Failed Fans, by GraciAnn Hicks
Updated: Feb 26
I’m going to make some enemies, but Paramore’s newest release, This is Why, deeply disappointed me. I’ve only seen maybe one negative comment about it from fans, though, so I’m wondering: What is everyone else hearing?
The power-house pop-punk band of the 2000s proved it couldn’t be defined by a single sound with 2013’s self-titled Paramore. In 2017, it once again redefined its sound with dreamy ’80s new wave on After Laughter. So, no, the band’s descent into jarring post-punk territory is neither the problem nor unwelcomed.
The problem isn’t even that the band waited more than five years to deliver a 10-song, sub-40-minute album, because, trust me, I’m for quality over quantity all the way.
My criticism boils down to two main things: lack of identity and variety.
During Paramore’s hiatus, frontwoman Hayley Williams released 31 total songs between two albums and two stand-alone singles. That’s an insane amount of songs to release just over the course of 2020 and 2021. It’s no wonder, then, that This is Why is so lackluster and short. Many of the album’s songs feel like leftovers from her solo songwriting sessions that were messily thrown together to fit Paramore’s sound.
The album draws sonically and thematically from both Williams’ and drummer Zac Farro’s solo releases under the name HalfNoise, but these elements often fail to coalesce into a unified “Paramore” sound.
Williams ventured into experimental pop territory with Petals For Armor and FLOWERS for VASES / descansos. These albums were deeply personal, and their lyrics often felt like diary entries of her processing the rage, disappointment and sadness that came with her 2017 divorce.
Farro’s solo work leans more into groovy basslines and rhythms as it jumps between alternative, synth-pop and indie-rock realms. Their focus is more on dance-worthiness than exploration of complex emotions, and tracks often maintain a lighthearted vibe.
This is Why tries to balance components from both solo projects, yet the marriage of playful rhythms and rage-fueled lyrics feels disjointed.
Perhaps fans were spoiled by the back-to-back release of Paramore and After Laughter, both of which are no-skip albums filled with both melodious bops and delicate moments of vulnerability.
And yeah, maybe I’m selfish for wanting another dancey album, but anyone who has heard even one of After Laughter’s singles knows how hard it went, and that’s without getting into deep cuts like “Pool” (aka the album’s best song).
Even After Laughter’s softer, more reflective moments, which mirror This is Why’s sound, deliver so solidly. I’d take “26” over “Liar” any day of the week.
Paramore came out of the gates swinging with the first single and the album’s title track “This is Why.” The vocal style highlighted Williams’ preferred playful delivery that was previously only heard in her live performances. The track teased the experimentation from Farro on drums and from guitarist Taylor York that remain a constant theme across the album. And it’s a lively listen with a catchy hook that hungry fans can sink their teeth into.
Then they came out of the gates with the same thing but worse on “The News.” It brings the anger that resonated with so many fans on past albums, but it doesn’t deliver the same punch.
Williams sings about her disillusionment with the state of the world — a lyrical motif of This is Why as a whole — and the negative impact of the 24-hour news cycle on her mental health. What’s her big solution? Turning it off.
Okay, I get it, especially as a journalism major who tries to keep up-to-date with the news; sometimes we need to know when to turn away. But for a song that builds with such ferocity and intent, I can’t support the line of the track being “turn off the news.” It feels more like a post from a self-help guru than anything from a rock band.
By the time that the third single, “C’est Comme Ça,” rolled around, I heard a snippet on Instagram and put off listening to the full song until the album release. It is one of Paramore’s worst songs ever. The band acted lazily, timidly and in a way that belittles fans with the decision to make it one of the singles.
The repetition of the French phrase “c’est comme ça,” which translates to “it is what it is,” hardly constitutes a chorus. It’s non-melodic and clashes with the spoken poetry of the verses.
It’s as if Paramore was scared that casual listeners would be put off by the verses, so it included a juvenile attempt at a catchy chorus to bribe people to like the song.
I understand that the chorus acts as a reflection of a person trying to cope with an influx of tragedy through sheer willpower, but the idea doesn’t translate as complex; it’s annoying, lazy, and the track would be more impactful without it.
“Running Out Of Time,” the post-album-release single, would have been a much stronger candidate for the third single. It has the album’s catchiest melody, and it brings together the album’s best elements in one bite-size package.
Where “The News” takes itself too seriously, “Running Out of Time” knows exactly what it is: a light-hearted confession of procrastination and tardiness that is widely relatable and comedic in its articulation.
Every drum beat, every half-screamed lyric, every sarcastic pluck of a guitar string moves the song forward, culminating in a tune that fans can easily sing along to and groove to at the same time.
It does feel eerily similar to Aly & AJ’s 2007 single “Like Whoa,” which was released through Disney label Hollywood Records and appeared in Minutemen. It still slaps, but it represents just one moment of how This is Why’s tracklist feels so familiar, yet not like Paramore.
I’ve gone back and forth and back again on the album’s deep cuts. I, in part, blame this on their similarity. Sure, “Big Man, Little Dignity” and “Liar” are more lowkey than the others, and “Your First” and “Figure 8” borrow more from the angsty emo-rock of Paramore’s Brand New Eyes; but as I struggled to decipher my favorites from the bunch and kept changing my mind, I realized it wasn’t because all the tracks were so solid, but rather so alike and so unmemorable.
The songs often stay at the same level the whole time, despite teasing a build-up, and feel generally underdeveloped. Along with that, the lyrics are surface-level compared to After Laughter and Williams’ solo albums.
Even the fan favorite, “Figure 8,” doesn’t really do anything for me. It pays homage to “One Armed Scissor” by At the Drive-In and sounds similar to “Live Like Animals” by Nothing But Thieves, yet both bands execute the style better than this lackluster track. I suspect most fans enjoy how similar it is to older Paramore songs, but subpar mixing dulls the rough edges of the instrumentals, and Williams doesn’t quite bring the vocals I was hoping for.
While the deep cuts have their failings, I have to applaud “You First” and “Thick Skull.”
I have to giggle at the Stranger Things-esque keyboard that precedes the verses of “You First,” but I’m not even angry at it. The song breathes between the chorus’s stronger instrumentation and the verses’ softer presentation. I also love the post-chorus riff; it pays admiration to the blend of the bands that inspired the album (Talking Heads and Bloc Party to name a couple).
“You First” also has the bragging rights as the best lyricism of the album (although it didn’t have that strong of competition.) It finds Williams in turmoil as she struggles between good and bad. She characterizes her inclination toward darkness as an animal with the chorus: “Just like a stray animal / I keep feeding scraps / I give it my energy / And it keeps on coming back.”
And I’m still processing the greatness of the line “Turns out I'm livin' in a horror film / Whеre I'm both the killer and the final girl.” It’s a complex, yet digestible metaphor that will resonate with anyone who has experienced moments of self-sabotage.
Throughout the album, Williams humbles herself as undeniably human and deeply flawed, a common theme with past songs, including After Laughter’s “Idle Worship.” Whereas past songs speak more to the idea of fans viewing her as perfect, “You First” dives into Williams’ view of herself.
The album’s closer, “Thick Skull,” didn’t woo me at all upon first listen, but it has grown to be one of my favorites. It starts out extremely mellow, but it builds into the most explosive moment on the album. Its ending comes full circle with an incredible moment of vocal restraint.
It’s a beautiful use of the experimentation that a post-punk sound lends itself to, and it’s easily Williams’ best vocal delivery from this project. She practices insane control with the softer intro and ending, but her voice soars to superhuman heights on the choruses.
The band shared that “Thick Skull” was the first song written for This is Why. I only wish they had dedicated the same level of care and artistry to the entire album. It’s as if they ran out of steam during the album process, more concerned with finishing their last album under contract with Atlantic than with creating a killer record.
I don’t want to just rain insults on a project that the band displays such clear pride for, and that so many fans have connected with, because I do respect that they were going for a more mature sound that fed into their creative desires. But I will not stand for people calling it their best release.
While This is Why feels like a natural progression of Paramore’s sound as it alludes to past eras well, it ultimately falls flat. It’s not an album you listen to with friends and sing along loudly during car rides. It’s honestly not even an album to listen to during the day, unless it’s raining and gloomy.
I will probably never listen to the entire album front to finish after this review, unless I’m studying and/or sad. I have specific tracks that I’ll return to, but as someone who loves the art of albums and has come to know Paramore as a band that excels in that department, I’ve been let down.
If this were a debut album or a different group, I wouldn’t have been as harsh. But with its impressive discography and talented, experienced line-up, I hold Paramore to high standards. While fans expected a new, complete Paramore album, they instead received a 36-minute hodge-podge of forgettable verses and lazy choruses that feel like they weren’t strong enough to make Williams’ solo albums.