By Mia Hughes
(Image c/o Eleanor Osada)
‘Reality will break your heart / Survival will not be the hardest part / It’s keeping all your hopes alive / When all the rest of you has died / So let it break your heart.’
The evening of January 19th, 17,000 people sang those words along with their author, Paramore’s Hayley Williams. And then, 17,000 people were silent. No shushes came from stage, nor so much as a subtle hand gesture. The silence that fell was one maybe of awe, or of appreciation, or of respect – truthfully, it was probably the result of 17,000 people falling silent for 17,000 different reasons. But I would hazard a guess that in that moment, every thought of the room was one of hope.
Paramore’s night at the Manchester Arena this January brought all the energy and pop-rock bangers we as fans have come to expect from them. To anyone paying attention only to the surface, that’s the foundation of a Paramore show; and sure, the band’s stage presence and ability to craft perfect pop songs is up there with the best of them. But that night in Manchester, when Paramore paused, took out a couple of chairs and an acoustic guitar, and sang the ode to hope and vulnerability that is After Laughter‘s 26, we were all forced to look deeper.
Eight months previously, twenty-three people lost their lives in that same venue when a suicide bomber targeted Ariana Grande’s concert, and for the first time ever I watched Manchester fall to its knees. It always hurts to try to make sense of terrorism, but when I woke up on the morning of May 23rd to find that it had hit the city I’ve loved for as long as I’ve been old enough to process my surroundings, the city I’d always admired for so steadfastly refusing to relinquish its smirk or its swagger, it felt particularly bewildering.
About a month later – June 18th – was to be the date of my first Paramore show, and that all of a sudden meant a lot more to me than it had when the show was announced in April. There’s something deeply healing, no matter the circumstances, about thousands of people standing in a room together singing the same words. Thousands of strangers in that moment are connected; hearts unknown to each other beat together, and that’s something very few things can make happen. I knew, in all the confusion and disheartenment of that morning, that that human connection was what I needed to make sense of it all.
I still struggle to find the words for everything that that show last June meant to me. I have been to countless gigs across countless venues, some massive and some tiny, and not one has ever come close to possessing the same magical emotional energy as the average Paramore show, let alone the particularly emotionally charged Manchester gig that night. With every show, Paramore creates such a sense of community, empathy and unity that when the show comes to a close, tradition dictates that every person in the room roars ‘We are Paramore!’ in unison – and it feels as though every person in the crowd is being just as truthful as the band members themselves.
That night, declaring that ‘we are Paramore’ meant embracing hope in the hopeless, because in some ways that is at the core of everything Paramore stands for. Take Riot!’s ‘Let The Flames Begin’; in a song about brokenness, about the trials of existence, comes the line: ‘I believe that there’s hope buried beneath it all.’ And in the self-titled Paramore’s ‘Last Hope’, Williams sings, “It’s just a spark, but it’s enough to keep me going”. After Laughter features some of the most hopeless moments of Paramore’s discography (“All that I want is a hole in the ground” doesn’t exactly inspire fist-pumping), but still at its heart lies ‘26’, with its broken-heartedly anthemic chorus: “Hold onto hope if you got it / Don’t let it go for nobody”.
Williams’ lyrics about hope are more often than not entangled with lyrics about pain and sadness and anger, and they never negate each other. Those things can go together, and they should go together. Pain and sadness and anger alone only breed. Pain and sadness and anger and hope? That can change things. At the very least, it can keep you going
The show at the arena this January was my second time seeing Paramore, and my first hearing ‘26’ live. As I processed that song on a new level, in the way that only comes from hearing a song live, I understood all of these things more than I had before, and came to realise more than I had even at the time just how much I had needed that June show. It’s hard to hold onto hope in the face of tragedy, but Paramore gave me that spark, and that was enough. That’s a testament to just how important Paramore is to a scene – fuck that, to a world – that all too often favours pessimism and hopelessness. There’s something to be said, of course, for catharsis, for rage at the brokenness of the world, but I think there’s more to be said for digging that little bit deeper to find the hope.