How Hayley Williams Taught Me the Power in Being Yourself

If I had to reflect on the year I became utterly obsessed with music, it would be 2008. I had just moved from Ohio to Wyoming, I was uncertain of my new home, and would soon discover 6th grade would be the hardest year of my life. I was bullied terribly by some girls in my grade and my teacher, and decided my move away from my hometown was the worst thing that ever happened to me. I felt like an outcast, desperately fighting to fit in wherever I could to make up for the relentless hold my bullies had on my elementary school experience.

Riot! By Paramore was my first recollection of magic. Each song, every lyric, resonated with my 12/13 year old brain, and I was in awe at lead singer Hayley Williams’ voice. She had power, guts, confidence and energy I couldn’t explain, and even now, I can reflect on hearing some of the very first Paramore songs I ever listened to, and how they felt when I heard them for the first time. They pulled anger, tears and laughter from me; every song made me feel something. I would bring my MP3 player just about anywhere, and listen to Paramore all the way to and from school, in line when I had to wait for the bus, in the car with my family and alone in my room when I just wanted to feel the magic again. 

Despite the music, Hayley Williams was everything I wanted to be in 6th grade. She was confident-a badass with bright orange hair, crazy style and a powerhouse of a vocalist. I longed to be her, especially when I was the opposite to the bullies in my grade. She was my role model; I wanted to be her so bad, I would watch Paramore music videos, just oozing with envy that Hayley Williams had it all. The “Misery Business” video had me wishing I had the guts she had to stand up to my bullies. 

I never really did end up with those guts, but eventually, I told myself as time went on, I don’t have to be upset with being the outlier in my classroom at school. Instead, I could own it, because in a way, Hayley owned being different. She wasn’t like the other popular women in music and TV, she wasn’t Hilary Duff or Miley Cyrus, or Selena Gomez. She was in the pop-punk, rock scene with all male bandmates, *fronting* their band and looked so cool while doing it, in all black clothes with intense makeup and crazy hairstyles. She was different, but amazing at it.

I went through junior high and high school with a deeper obsession with Paramore as both Brand New Eyes and Paramore dropped with new batches of songs to find meaning to. As I grew up, I only understood more how much Hayley Williams made her mark in music history. She penned so many hit songs and was arguably the most well-known female in the scene during the mid-to-late 2000s. I mean, she was leading Paramore- that’s a huge band. If you listened to the pop-punk/rock genre, you knew Paramore, and you most certainly knew Hayley Williams.

She was so important to the industry and still is, really. Paramore has hardly lost traction, even with a change in sound, and she is continuously writing new lyrics that blow your mind when you first listen to them. She is so well-versed in her lyrics; she always said what she meant in the most poetic way, all while showing she can’t be pushed around, and for me, that was a role model, that is still a role model. Hayley is a force, and any time I turn on any Paramore song even now, 10 years later, I am immediately taken back to my 6th grade self. I am reminded of how much I needed someone like Hayley Williams to show me that I didn’t have to avoid being different, I just had to embrace who I was. And for that, Hayley is one of my favorite women of all time. I will never forget how much she taught me in Paramore’s music and I feel as though part of my identity today stems from her and her influence on me. Thank you, Hayley, for showing me what it means to be a badass, and how you don’t have to fit in, you just have to be you.