How ‘After Laughter’ became Paramore’s saving grace
Have we retired the “ahead of its time” cliché yet? Granted, nowadays it is grossly misused for releases that barely scratch the surface even at their best. But on its five-year anniversary, if we take a look back at Paramore’s 2017 record After Laughter, there really is no other release in their discography that better emphasizes that sentiment. Though not entirely groundbreaking for the vast landscape of music in that time period, After Laughter became the saving grace for a band unraveling at the seams.
Following a near-decade shrouded by strained friendships and very public legal feuds that had members walking in and out like a revolving door, After Laughter sought to relish in the sadness as a means of healing. As Hayley Williams says in an interview with The New York Times, “This now feels like a beginning. Whereas honestly, months before we released After Laughter, it felt like an ending.” The bedroom-pop boiling pot of dark optimism and catchy choruses was just as needed for the band as it was for eagerly awaiting fans.
After Laughter is the cathartic aftermath of gradual turmoil and torn friendships. As if the uneasy departure of Josh Farro in 2010 didn’t already leave them on unsteady territory, the ground crumbling beneath them only found itself worsening with the departure of bassist Jeremy Davis in 2015. Paramore fans will remember the drawn-out legal battle that ensued; it’d been impossible to escape the media onslaught of it all.
Things hit their breaking point in 2017 following the termination of Williams' long-term relationship. In an interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music, Paramore admit they were ready to call it quits. "I think that if it weren't for Taylor, the band would be over. I'm tired of losing friends; I'm tired of doubting myself,” Williams says. With Josh's absence on their last two albums, Taylor York’s role as a songwriter in the band became even more poignant. It coincided with the return of drummer Zac Farro just before the After Laughter era. While everything they knew fell apart, those crumbling pieces began to form an entirely new terrain beneath that they could rebuild and thrive with the release of that album.
Sonically, it also delivered a great development from the band’s 2013 self-titled album. After Laughter took the bleak undertones from their emo roots and paired it with a fluttery bubblegum-pop sound that jelled well with the climate of music but allowed it to age gracefully. It bled nicely into the bedroom-pop explosion of 2017 led by Clairo, Rex Orange County, Cavetown and beabadoobee. Equally, it still toed the line of indie rock enough in its overwhelmingly sad lyrics and vivacious drums to hark back to a vague semblance of their pop-punk roots, also becoming somewhat of a precursor to 2019’s dark pop with the duality of gloomy lyrics and bright instrumentals from artists such as Billie Eilish.
After treating bullet holes with bandaids, staring down a pit of despair with self-accepting optimism ultimately helped the band heal. “You can run on the fumes of being a teenager for as long as you want, but eventually life hits you really hard,” Williams told The New York Times. Following their tumultuous few years, Williams says she wasn’t even sure if she wanted to make this album.
“There was a moment when I didn’t even want it to happen," she continues. "Then it was like, I want it to happen, but I don’t know how we’re going to do it.” Perhaps it’s best put in her essay for Paper Magazine, saying that “writing opened my heart to healing” after her divorce. She also says “Zac Farro bolted back into mine and Taylor's daily lives like lightning. Now every night on tour, I turn around, and there's my brother back on the drums again.”
While we rightfully praise Paramore’s earlier works for their contribution to 2000s pop punk, it’s time we pay flowers to an album that became its own career-defining, make-or-break moment for the band. Right now there might not be a Paramore as we know it, but with Zac’s return, York’s incredible talents and Williams having a place to confront her emotions, this album not only earns its acclaim for its chart-topping successes but is as crucial to the band’s growth as Riot! or brand new eyes. As we celebrate its five-year anniversary, lest we forget: With no After Laughter, there would be no Paramore.