It has been two years (May 12 2017) since Paramore released their fifth studio album, the highly acclaimed “After Laughter”. The album was a departure from the band’s previous pop punk and emo sound, opting for a more 80’s influenced synthpop and new wave sound. The album’s songs may seem sunny and upbeat, but a closer look at the lyrics paints a different picture – lyrics of sadness, heartache, anxiety, despair. The album is a reflection of the tough time that the band’s lead singer, Hayley Williams, went through during the recording process of the album.
Moreover, many fans have come forward with how the album has made an impact on them: some fans have spoken about how they have suffered through their own struggles and how they’ve been able to relate to the album.
To celebrate both the two year anniversary of the album, as well as Mental Health Awareness Week, we at CelebMix decided to review the album’s 12 tracks.
1. “Hard Times”
The album’s lead single and opening track, “Hard Times” is a glitzy disco-tinged synthpop song that is catchy and will make anyone want to get up and dance. The lyrics, in contrast, aren’t as glitzy.
The song lyrically describes the depressive state Hayley experienced during the recording process of the album, amidst personal issues and dealing with growing up (“all that I want, is to wake up fine” and “hard times, gonna make you wonder why you even try”).
However, this is also a song that anyone who has suffered through hard times themselves can relate to – we all have times in our life where we feel as if there is no way out, and the lyrics reflect this. Accompanied by the brilliant composition of the song, from the tropical-esque intro, that upbeat chorus, to the robotic vocal breakdown toward the end of the track, this was a perfect lead single for the album, and a perfect opening track.
The song’s music video is a colourful explosion of 80’s inspired backgrounds, backdrops and animation effects as the band perform the song in a studio. It is colourful, funky and embodies the 80’s sound of the song (and the album in general) very well.
2. “Rose-Colored Boy”
The album’s fourth single. This is a brilliant song. Not only musically, but lyrically. If we had to sum up “After Laughter” in one song, it would be this. The song is literally an 80’s synthpop affair, from the moment you hear the guitar and those synths kick in, it’s almost like you’ve been transported back in time. And then comes the infectious chant of “LOWKEY, NO PRESSURE, JUST HANG WITH ME AND MY WEATHER!!!”
Again, like with “Hard Times”, the lyrics are the exact opposite of the song’s vibrant and uptempo instrumental. As summed up perfectly by a tweet by the band back in 2018, “Rose-Colored Boy” is a song about how society expects people to be optimistic, but Hayley (and others) fail to do so in a world they feel hopeless in.
Rose-Colored Boy is a song about feeling pressured to look at the world with blind optimism when you actually feel very hopeless about the world & your part in it. there is so much social pressure to be (or appear to be) “happy” that we can actually feel shame when we aren’t. 1/3 pic.twitter.com/STiu3U44eZ
— paramore (@paramore) May 3, 2018
The lyrics also deal with the idea of this ‘rose-colored boy’ who is annoying Hayley because of his constant positive outlook on life, when she does not feel the same way (“I’m so annoyed cause I just killed off what was left of the optimist in me”). Hayley then goes on to sing in the chorus about how she is over the idea of optimism and will continue to be sad (“just let me cry a little bit longer, I ain’t gon’ smile if I don’t want to”).
This is a really well written song, as it is not often in music you hear songs talking about people who are aware of their sad and depressive nature, but do not want to look on the bright side, or for others to try and change that. Anyone who has been through depression or similar issues will definitely be able to relate to this song. By far one of the best songs on this album.
This song also had one of the band’s best music videos. The video sees the band as hosts of the fictional 80’s talk show “Good Morning Roseville”, however they refuse to show enthusiasm as they present, annoying the executives. Not only was the music video creative, but it also conveys the song’s 80’s sound and the lyricism very well.
3. “Told You So”
The album’s second single, “Told You So” is a breezy tropical new wave and indie-pop song that is lyrically anxiety driven. The song discusses people watching your every move, waiting for you to make a mistake. The song was built around the phrase of “hate to say I told you so”.
Hayley sings about how she keeps making decisions in life, but isn’t sure what people are going to think of them. She is worried that everything will start to crumble around her (“for all I know, the best is over and the worst is yet to come” and “I know you like when I admit that I was wrong and you were right”). This relates to the many line-up changes and near-breakups that Paramore as a band have had over the years. This song is a clear introspective into the anxiety Hayley has had to suffer, and anyone who has also worried a lot about decisions they have made, the paths they have taken, and what people have thought, will also be able to feel the same way about this song.
The highlight of this song, to us, is the middle 8, where Hayley repeats the line “throw me into the fire, throw me in and pull me out again”. A very suspenseful moment in the song, where Hayley iterates the idea that she is prone to making mistakes over and over again.
The song’s music video, which was directed by drummer Zac Farro, features the band driving around in a car (Zac’s actual car). The video was inspired by the car rides the band would take after recording sessions for the album, where Zac noted that Hayley’s mind was more at ease during these journeys. These scenes also contrast against dark, suspenseful scenes of Hayley alone in a house. We also can’t get enough of Hayley’s look in this video!
Fun fact: this was the first song written for the album. The song is a beautiful, lush midtempo composition that speaks about a turbulent time in Hayley’s relationship with her ex-husband, Chad Gilbert, whom she separated from not long after the album’s release. Hayley and Chad were having issues in their relationship when Hayley wrote this song in the summer of 2015 (“you hurt me bad this time, no coming back”), and as Hayley sings about him wanting forgiveness, she feels she cannot reciprocate the feeling (“you, you want forgiveness, but I, I just can’t do it yet”).
This song is interesting as it could also be interpreted to be about Hayley’s relationship with her Paramore bandmates, and how after losing several of her bandmates along the way, Hayley felt unable to find peace with them, and was unwilling to give them forgiveness if they ever came back. This is also prevalent in the lyric “if it’s all up to us, we might as well give up”. However, Hayley was able to be redeemed after Zac Farro returned to the band in 2016, having previously quit in 2010.
Whatever way you want to look at the song, there is no denying that underneath that beautiful, summer-esque instrumental that takes you to places, there is a lot of hurt and sadness in the lyrics. And that’s what makes this song all the more beautiful.
5. “Fake Happy”
The album’s third single, “Fake Happy”, starts off with an acoustic intro, almost a ballad, but before you know it, those synths kick in and you’re once again in synthpop and new wave heaven.
Once again, the song is uptempo, but the lyrics don’t seem so happy. This song is about how Hayley portrays herself as an outgoing, bubbly, happy person to the public (“so I’ve been doing a good job of making them think, I’m quite alright, better hope I don’t blink”), but underneath it all, she is really sad and lonely, and is just ‘faking’ a smile so that people will eventually believe that she is happy (“if I smile, with my teeth, bet you’d believe me”). She also comes to the conclusion that everyone else, in one way or another, is ‘fake happy’ (“oh please, I bet everybody here is fake happy too”).
This is yet another track on the album that people will be able to draw a connection with. Many who have suffered from mental health issues usually conceal their feelings so that they can pretend that everything is fine, and that others won’t have to worry about them. We’ve all also probably experienced at least one time in our life where we’ve had to pretend being happy so others would not have to bother us about our problems. Accompanied by the catchy nature of the song, and the glorious ‘ba da ba da ba da’ hook, this makes the song all the more special, and one of the best songs that “After Laughter” has to offer.
The song’s music video also illustrates the idea that everyone is ‘fake happy’. Filmed in New York City, it shows Hayley wearing a glittery bodysuit, wondering around the city whilst everyone else is portrayed with an upside-down smiley face. The video ends with Hayley turning to the camera, and crying ‘glitter tears’. A simple video with a brilliant execution.
This song is very special, and has been a fan favourite since the album was released. An acoustic-driven ballad, with strings throughout, the song is about being a dreamer, and to never lose hope.
The song makes reference, and is a complete opposite, to the band’s previous hit “Brick By Boring Brick” (from the band’s third studio album, “Brand New Eyes”), with the lyric “I’ve been chasing after dreamers in the clouds, after all wasn’t I the one who said to keep your feet on the ground?”. Compare this to this lyric from “Brick By Boring Brick”: “keep your feet on the ground, when your head’s in the clouds”. In “Brick By Boring Brick”, Hayley was criticising those who chased after unattainable dreams, but this time around, SHE is the one who is dreaming.
Moreover, the song sees Hayley encouraging herself and others that if you continue to dream and not to lose faith, then you will be able to overcome tough times (“hold onto hope if you got it, don’t let it go for nobody”). Hayley also goes on to sing that however hard life may be, keeping yourself together and carrying on is harder, but we have to survive to prove reality wrong (“reality will break your heart, survival will not be the hardest part”).
Hayley wrote this song whilst suffering from depression, and it’s this type of song that helped her, and Paramore, to carry on, especially when Hayley felt like ending the band for a brief period of time. Anyone who has suffered from mental health issues will also be able to associate with the message of the song, which is a constant reminder to keep dreaming and never lose hope. It will keep us going.
Not only is the song so well written, but the hauntingly beautiful tear-jerking composition: That subtle acoustic guitar, those alluring strings, Hayley’s heart-breaking vocals. We wouldn’t be surprised if you cried whilst listening to this song.
“Pool” is a stunningly gorgeous song, that has a glistening new wave sound that literally transports you to a swimming pool at a hotel resort on a hot summer’s day. However, the lyrics are much darker.
The song is lyrically about Hayley’s relationship with Chad Gilbert, with ‘diving into a pool’ being used as a metaphor for continuing to go back into a toxic relationship (“I dove in again cause I’m not into giving up”), as no matter how hard someone hurts you and you know you’re better off without them, you continue to love said person (“as if the first blood didn’t thrill enough, I went further out to see what else was left of us”). Hayley believes that if she and her lover overcome their problems, she can continue to love him (“if I survive, I’ll dive back in”), but all the same she finds herself in an endless cycle of giving him another chance after being hurt (“dive back into, right back into, dive right back into you, and now I know you”).
The dark and haunting nature of the song’s lyrics contrasts against the beautiful landscape of the song’s composition: that shimmering instrumental is so beautiful and perfect for summer, but the lyrics are a different story. The song is an introspective insight into the relationship between Hayley and her ex-husband, and anyone else who has been through a toxic relationship will also be able to sympathise.
In comparison to the rest of the album, “Grudges” is a more positive note. The bouncy up-tempo pop-rock song sees Hayley singing about restarting her friendship with Zac Farro, who re-joined the band in 2016.
The song is a sheer joy of nostalgia, as Hayley sings about being reunited from Zac after so long (he previously left the band with his brother, Josh Farro, in 2010) but excited to start their friendship over. However, in order to do so, they should not dwell on the past (“we just pick up, pick up and start again, cause we can’t keep holding on to grudges”). And regardless of what has happened to them in the past, Hayley reminds Zac that she will always be there for him as a friend, just like when they were younger (“if you wanna call me up or come over, come on, we’ll laugh till we cry, like we did when we were kids”).
Zac himself was also heavily involved in this song, providing backing vocals on the middle 8, as he ponders about why it talk so long for him and Hayley to rebuild their friendship (“why did it take so long, to just let it go?”). But Hayley reminds him, after repeating the chorus, that that doesn’t matter anymore (“stop asking why, why we had to waste so much time”). What matters is that Hayley and Zac were able to rekindle their friendship and make amazing music together again.
Not only does this song have such a sentimental feeling to it, but it’s so fast-paced and energetic, it can anyone want to get up and start headbanging. The little voice going ‘woo’ before the chorus makes this song even more thrilling and exciting.
9. “Caught in the Middle”
The album’s fifth and final single, and one of the highlights of the entire album. “Caught in the Middle” is a midtempo reggae and ska track, which is reminiscent of the earlier works of No Doubt.
The song speaks about anxiety and the stress that comes of thinking of the future, and the idea of getting older (“I can’t think of getting old, it only makes me want to die”). The lyrics also touch on depression, as Hayley admits being torn in her current state of mind and emotions, as she is unsure how to proceed: should she carry on, or should she just give up? (“I’m just a little bit caught in the middle, I try to keep going but it’s not that simple”). Hayley also reminds listeners not to stay stuck in the past; it will only bring you down (“nostalgia’s cool, but it won’t help you now”).
In the song’s middle 8, Hayley has come to the conclusion that she is her own worst enemy, and only she is responsible for the negative things that have happened in her life, as sadness and anger overcome her (“No, I don’t need no help, I can sabotage me by myself”).
We think this is one of the more relatable songs the album has to offer. Many people suffer from anxiety and anxious thoughts, and go through periods where they feel stuck with how to proceed with life: they are scared for the future, but keep dwelling on the past too much as a way of comfort. These sad lyrics are compared against a tropical ska-fused instrumental.
The song’s music video is a throwback to 80’s VHS visuals, and a homage to the video for A-Ha’s “Take On Me”. The band are seen in an animated world, even dancing on oranges in some scenes. It is a weird and wacky video that is also an array of 80’s aesthetics.
10. “Idle Worship”
This song is an interesting take on fame, and what it means to be idolised. The pop-rock song sees Hayley sings about how she is not the person that fans perceive her to be, and therefore she cannot be ‘idolised’ for that reason.
Hayley has long been portrayed as an energetic, charismatic and talented performer known for her brightly coloured hair, which has led to people idolising her. But in this song, Hayley mentions that at the end of the day, she is human like everyone else, and she has her own problems (“you’ll see you’re not the only one who’s hopeless”). She was not put on this world to ‘save lives’ like how some fans expect her to (“hey baby I’m not your superhuman, and if that’s want you want, I hate to let you down”).
Hayley argues that she has been put on a pedestal by fans, as if she is not allowed to make mistakes like anyone else due to her celebrity status (“what if I fall on my face? What if I make a mistake? If it’s okay a little grace would be appreciated”). In conclusion, Hayley is saying that she is not the person in the media that fans think they are looking up to, and that you should not put her faith in her (“oh no I ain’t your hero, you’re wasting all your faith on me”).
The song’s title , “Idle Worship”, is also a play on the phrase ‘idol worship. ‘Idle’ means to ‘spend time doing nothing’, also ‘pointless’, so in this context it means that someone should not waste their time on ‘worshipping’ someone.
It’s not often you hear of celebrities speaking about fame in this way, so we have to applaud the band for this song. It’s fine to be a fan of a celebrity, but we have to remember that they are humans just like us, prone to messing up, and we should not put our faith into someone that is portrayed a certain way in the media.
This song was also brought to life by a unique instrumental, sampled from wind howling through the Beetham Tower building in Manchester.
11. “No Friend”
This song is, in a way, a conclusion to “Idle Worship” (fun fact: it was originally titled “Idle Worship Outro”) and it is Paramore’s only song to not feature vocals from Hayley. Instead, Aaron Weiss, the lead singer of band mewithoutyou (who have been an influence to Paramore) takes centre stage, providing a spoken monologue.
The post-hardcore song makes reference to several of Paramore’s older songs, as Aaron tells the history of the band (for example, “God knows no one needs more misguided ghosts” is a reference to both “Looking Up” and “Misguided Ghosts” from “Brand New Eyes”). The song even makes reference to the fact that Paramore’s name was based on a misspelling of the word ‘paramour’.
The song also picks off where “Idle Worship” left off, as Aaron uses these song references to link back to several of the lyrical themes present in “Idle Worship” (“so throw your pedestal of stone in the forgetful sea, as protection from the paper-thin” and “I’d hate to let you down, so I’ll let the waters rise”). The monologue concludes with the lyrics “I’m no saviour of yours and you’re no friend of mine”: there is no connection between a band and a fan, you don’t really know each other. The themes of “Idle Worship” are also iterated in the line: “I see myself in the reflection of people’s eyes, realising that what they see may not even be close to the image I see in myself” – again, stressing the idea that a celebrity is not who they really appear to be to fans.
The song’s outro describes the rocky relationship that the band had along the way, with the idea of grabbing onto a fur coat as a metaphor for taking a chance (i.e. to pursue success with the band), and the second idea of trying to let go of the fur coat (“I let go of the coat but the coat won’t let go of me”) being used as a metaphor for the idea no matter how many times they may have tried, Paramore have not given up as a band (this could also reference Zac’s departure and then-return to the band).
Lyrically this song is very well written, and gives a brilliant insight into the history of Paramore, and their hardships along the way. However, the weird nature of the song, the almost inaudible vocals from Aaron, and the lack of vocals from Hayley, brings our score down for this one, as we don’t think the song is as good as the others on the album. However, we have to commend both Hayley and Aaron’s efforts on their collaboration for this song, and of course, the instrumental, which more or less is a continuation of the “Idle Worship” instrumental. This song also comes more alive when performed live.
12. “Tell Me How”
The album’s closing track, “Tell Me How” is stunning. A sombre piano-led ballad, with subtle hints of R&B and Drake influences, and heartbreaking lyrics.
The song is about losing friends along the way. Most notably, the song can be interpreted to be about founding Paramore member Jeremy Davis, who left the band in 2015. Hayley was distraught at his departure, and although they may now longer be on speaking terms, Hayley feels as if she cannot hate or ‘replace’ him – after all, he was a member of the band for so long (“you may hate me but I can’t hate you, and I won’t replace you”).
Hayley also admits being in limbo over the constant line-up changes the band has had, and feels as if that maybe it is now time for her to quit too (“I think I’m tired of getting over it, just starting something new again”).
The song’s middle 8 is the most poignant part of the song, with the heart-wrenching lyrics “of all the weapons you fight with, your silence is the most violent”. This references the lawsuit that Jeremy filed against Hayley after leaving the band, but how his silence and distance towards her since leaving hurts her the most.
The song ends with the phrase “I can still believe”. Despite all of the members who have quit Paramore and the friends Hayley has lost along the way, she still feels a sense of optimism for the band’s future.
This album could not have ended with a better closing track. Not only is it hauntingly beautiful, but Hayley’s vocal performance on this song is flawless.
Final album average: 9.0
Final verdict: This album is a masterpiece. Not only because of the band’s more mature, sonic 80’s influenced direction, but the fact that the album’s heavy upbeat synths contrast against such dark and depressing lyrics – faultless lyrics that are so autobiographical. We cannot applaud Hayley, as well as guitarist Taylor York enough for their songwriting efforts, and for Hayley to sing so openly about her struggles with her mental health. It is so inspiring to hear that someone, who so many people have looked up to for so long, is human just like us, and is able to show the world the hardships she has faced along the way. The fact that so many other fans have come forward about how they too have had struggles with mental health and “After Laughter” has been a body of work that they have been able to connect with. The only slight criticism is that “No Friend” is not as good as the rest of the album’s tracks, but we still highly regard the lyrics and the story telling in the song. We also have to thank both Taylor and Zac for their brilliant efforts throughout the album, and their amazing compositions that brought “After Laughter” to life.
Remember, if you are struggling with mental heath issues, don’t be afraid to speak up.
If you want to listen to “After Laughter” for yourself, you can stream it below:
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