How artists change their tune over time

Hayley Williams, lead singer of American rock band Paramore, has recently announced that the band will no longer be performing one of their most popular songs ‘Misery Business’ at their live shows. The song is renowned as a powerful hit revelling in the victory of finally winning the affection a long-time crush after he was subject to what she perceived as manipulation by the subject. The song includes lines such as, ‘once a whore you’re nothing more/I’m sorry that’ll never change’, seemingly the main reason Williams has chosen to distance herself from it for some time now. In a 2015 Tumblr post Williams addressed accusations stating that, due to lyrics such as these and the implication the song carries of using men to ‘one up’ other girls is anti-feminist: she stated that these lyrics did not relate to her as a 26-year-old woman, but rather her as a 17-year-old girl, “admittedly, from a very narrow-minded perspective”.

Following this, the band announced in September that they would no longer be performing this song in their live shows. The song is uncomfortably ‘anti-woman’, and so for a girl power figure such as Hayley Williams to come to this decision is fitting. As a standout figure in rock culture (a male-dominated field) Williams is in a somewhat unique position to influence a particular group of people who may not otherwise be reached by positive feminist messages in music. The song contradicts this idea, removing the male subject from the narrative almost entirely and instead assigns full responsibility for the protagonist’s anger with the girl whom the song attacks. Rendering men totally blameless for things which hurt women is a dangerous narrative to be part of, particularly in light of current popular culture movements such as ‘#MeToo’.

While some fans support the progress of their favourite artists, others long for the identities they first became acquainted with

This ties closely into the debate of whether artists can be freed from their musical pasts; something about those cyber bullying warnings one hears in school is reminiscent, stressing that once something is ‘out there’, it is impossible to get it back. Despite Williams’ vow to remove the hit from their live shows, the presence of the song on their repertoire and album is very much irreversible. Thus, the lyrics of the 17-year-old girl remain with Williams almost a decade on.

Artists attempting to escape the consequences of their musical past is not new. Taylor Swift for instance has strived over the last couple of years to escape from her ‘sweet country girl’ vibes and instead explore a darker vibe on her ‘more mature’ songs. The iconic line about the ‘old Taylor’ being ‘dead’ suggests a desire to establish a disconnect from her older material and to alter her musical identity, an idea also adopted by Miley Cyrus, what with the dramatic shift from Hannah Montana to ‘We Can’t Stop’ a few years ago. The reception for these is varied; while some fans support the progress of their favourite artists, others long for the identities they first became acquainted with.

Paramore has attempted to disassociate themselves from a narrative that no longer fits with modern ways

Of course, Paramore’s case is slightly different; rather than modifying their identity in terms of genre, Paramore are attempting to disassociate themselves from a narrative that no longer fits with modern ways of thinking about and perceiving other women. In spite of this, some fans of Paramore have also reached a point of nostalgia, one tweeter claiming that not all music needed to be “political” and Paramore’s decision to remove ‘Misery Business’ from their set list was, rather than making the desired statement, actually just removing the fun from music and eradicating their original success. It’s also important to consider that while music is part of everyday enjoyment, artists have a great deal of influence as part and parcel of popular culture and, by extension, this allows the feminist message to be marketed to fans by those artists such as Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, to name a few. Williams’ move too ties into this culture and by removing the word ‘whore’ from her lyrical vocabulary, she likely influences its removal from the vocabulary of her fanbase too.

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