How Hayley Williams Became Emo’s First Heroine

Previously an almost exclusively male domain, the emo-pop scene became blessed with its first true female icon in 2005 when Tennessee quintet Paramore arrived with their debut album, All We Know Is Falling.

Armed with a neon orange and yellow hairstyle, a feisty girl power attitude and a perceived dominance over her four teenage boy bandmates, Hayley Williams was the type of frontwoman that men wanted to be with and girls wanted to be, a position which she has effortlessly continued to hold on to ever since.

Born in 1985, Williams moved from her hometown of Meridian, Mississippi to Franklin, Tennessee following her parents’ divorce, and although she was initially bullied at her new school, she eventually found solace in the shape of brothers Zac and Josh Farro and Jeremy Davis, the latter of whom she briefly played with in funk covers band The Factory.

Aged just 14, she was discovered by Atlantic Records A&R men Dave Steunebrink and Richard Williams, promptly signing to the label whilst she was still at school. Initially intended to be marketed as a solo pop artist, Williams first displayed the kind of no-nonsense attitude she would later become renowned for when she insisted that she wanted a band behind her to play alt-rock music instead.

Teaming up with her school-friends, Paramore were then shifted to the Fueled By Ramen label in an effort to appear more credible and first unleashed their melodic brand of pop-punk on the wider public with an appearance on the Warped tour.

Although Williams has recently claimed that she has no interest in a solo career, she wasted little time in making herself the focal point of the band by appearing in the video for New Found Glory’s “Kiss Me” and contributing vocals to the likes of October Fall’s “Keep Dreaming Upside Down,” The Chariot’s “Then Came To Kill” and Say Anything’s “The Church Channel.”

And by the time 2007 sophomore Riot! had peaked at No.15 on the Billboard charts, Williams was already challenging Evanescence’s Amy Lee in Kerrang! magazine’s annual Sexiest Female Poll, a title she would later go on to win for four of the next five years.

Unafraid to embrace her Christian faith, Williams’ no drink, drugs or swearing policy might not have been typical of the whole punk ethos, but it undoubtedly made her the kind of rock singer that parents were happy to have their children idolize. A role model for a whole army of misfits, Williams has indeed revealed in interviews that she has received many letters from troubled youngsters who claim her music has helped in their battles with depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

Williams’ comfort at being more Miley Cyrus than Courtney Love also endeared her to a more commercial pop audience, with 2009’s Brand New Eyes debuting at No.1 in the UK and No.2 in the US. Whilst alongside statements of admiration from superstars Pink and Lady Gaga, hit single, “The Only Exception,” was even covered by the all-singing, all-dancing Fox spectacle, Glee.

However, after continuing to court the mainstream with a guest solo on B.o.B’s UK chart-topper, “Airplanes,” an appearance in the Guitar Hero World Tour game and the band’s support slot on No Doubt’s US tour, the wheels of the new Gwen Stefani’s career faced falling off.

In 2010, her squeaky-clean image suffered a setback when a hacker published a nude photo online which had been sourced from her mobile phone. Whilst at the end of the same year, the Farro brothers released a stinging attack on Williams and their former record label following their acrimonious departure from the band.

Posted on their official blog, the duo claimed that Paramore only really existed to serve Williams as a solo artist, that they were nothing more than a manufactured product and that her tour manager father had regularly threatened to pull the plug on the whole band if they failed to stop complaining about their unfair treatment.

Williams vehemently denied the accusations that she was a major label puppet but refused to retaliate, instead focusing on the band’s upcoming self-titled fourth studio album. And the fact that lead single, “Now,” has been hailed as one of their best, suggests that the bitter fall-out hasn’t dampened any of her fans’ enthusiasm.

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