December 15, 2015


Paramore, Panic! At the Disco & What Happens When Singers Eclipse Their Bands

Getty Images
Getty Images

On Monday, December 14, Paramore announced that founding bassist Jeremy Davis left the band. His departure arrived five years after Josh and Zac Farro left the group, making Hayley Williams the only original member left. The timing is interesting: The Farros left after their third album, Brand New Eyes, but before their most recent, 2013's Self-Titled. The latter record is one the group is most proud of, one they named after themselves to represent who they are. It's also the first that made mainstream music media consider the group to be a real pop-rock act worth discussing... not just the popular kids on the Warped Tour.

If Paramore is the album the band is most proud of, we're talking about the band as it stood yesterday: the trio of Williams, guitarist Taylor York and Davis. Let's be honest: With Davis out of the picture, talking about Paramore truly feels like talking about Hayley Williams. In a way, it always has. 

Williams first signed a production deal at the age of 14. Her then-managers, Dave Steunebrink and father Richard Williams, introduced her to some folks at Atlantic Records who wanted to sign her then and there. She objected, sighting a love for playing punk in bands. Even then, she knew her talent was best served as a frontperson, not as a solo artist.

There's a logical reason for this. Women have always been a minority in the pop-punk world (and in music in general, but there's a very specific misogyny in that subsect of rock), so being in a band is often viewed as more musically "credible" than being a solo artist (which usually makes people think an artist is more "pop" and less "punk.") Williams was also entering a music world in which very few female-fronted bands were being recognized, but tons of pop-rock solo artists were finding radio play. She was doing something different, even then. It's hard to think she would've had the same success as a solo artist instead of as the leader of Paramore, even with the band's revolving door of members, each beloved in their own ways.

Another example of a band from the same world making this move of front-personality-as-band in recent history is Panic! at the Disco (don't believe me? Just check out the Panic! cover story in Alternative Press below. It's Brendon Urie solo.) Panic! at the Disco has also featured a lot of different members, but Brendon Urie has always been the charge at the source, and remains the focus. (Don't believe me? Just check out the Panic! cover story in Alternative Press below. It's Urie solo on the cover, and no one else.)

Their story is somewhat similar to Paramore's: Urie joined the band in 2004, when they were effectively just a Blink-182 cover band. Founding member Ryan Ross was singing at the time, but once the group recognized Brendon's talent, the rest was history. There's an inherent charisma to the guy, so it makes sense that in 2016, he's planning on releasing a new Panic! album...even though he's truly the only member of the band (former bassist Dallon Weekes tours with Urie, but doesn't identify as a creator in the group).

The group's upcoming Death of a Bachelor album will be a Panic! album, not a Brendon Urie solo album. The band name is a time-honored institution, and the album will sell more as a Panic! album than a Urie album. But Urie is that band, in the same way that Williams is Paramore.

Clearly this isn't the case for all bands in that space that were started by one person with people coming in and out of the lineup as time progresses. Think of Twenty One Pilots: Though the group is very much the duo of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun, the Ohio band is truly a product of Joseph's mind (Dun joined after the group's first album.) TOP is very much the outpouring of Mr. Joseph's mind, but it's hard to believe the band would exist now without Dun. It's a real example of a band having co-frontmen, or being built in a way that allows the music to exist in a co-partnership, after an initial lineup that needed to be re-jiggered. Paramore and Panic! don't really seem to have that luxury. 

This is not a manifesto on the importance of a strong personality dictating a band's career--many bands are viewed as whole entities to even the most casual listener--but in this "scene," this pop-punk world, many acts can't live without that one distinct person being used as the engine. Paramore feels like Hayley Williams, but will always be Paramore. Same goes for Urie and Panic! at the Disco. It will be interesting to see if this tradition continues, but for now, it feels like it might be unique to them... at least, because no one else has done it and survived for this long. What if Dun were to leave Twenty One Pilots, hypothetically? What then? 

As for Paramore's future, the answer feels simple: As long as Hayley is calling the shots and Taylor York is still standing tall, their plot for world domination will continue. At the very least, it won't slow down as much as fans fear.