Hard Times by Paramore music video
Screenshot: "Hard Times" by Paramore
Culture

How Paramore Captured the Hearts of Black Teens

With their Christian background and vocalist Hayley Williams' showings of solidarity, the emo-rock trailblazers have a unique connection to their young Black fans.
18 June 2020, 11:53am

When you hear the words "stan culture", there are usually a few key groups that spring to mind. The Beyhive, for example, are so known for their fierce allegiance to Queen Bey that a simple bee emoji in the face of any criticism will have you running for the hills. Yet there’s one group of stans who stand head and shoulders above the rest. More united and passionate than the Juggalos could ever be. Those stans are the Black fans of emo-rock trailblazers Paramore.

An all-white band from Franklin, Tennessee wouldn’t necessarily come across as pioneers of Black music at face value, but to many Black fans Paramore has provided solace in what have truly been “hard times”. To find out a little bit more about why Black people are so connected to Paramore and why the band brings them so much joy, I decided to chat to a few members of the worldwide community known as #ParamoreHive.

“Right now people are really into nostalgia, and I think Paramore points to a very particular kind of nostalgia for Black people,” argues Chase, a 27 year-old writer from Michigan. “Even though at the time it was a bit of a secret amongst Black kids, we all grew up with them.”

For 24 year-old Habiba, Paramore was one of the few bands she could be open about listening to due to her upbringing. “I wasn’t allowed to listen to music that had swear words when I was younger,” she begins. “But I felt like I could listen to them because they came from a Christian background and didn’t swear.”

A Track-by-Track of Paramore's 'Riot!' Read Through Emo Teen Memories

Paramore’s Christian background, whilst not the focal point of their work today, is arguably a key reason why so many young Black people gravitated towards them in the late 00s and 2010s. With rock music historically being linked to Satanism and devil worship, having a rock band that had Christian values allowed some young Black people to connect. “With them being Southern and Christian, there’s a certain energy that Black people can sense,” suggests Alegria, a 28 year-old filmmaker from London. “If you close your eyes, some of the early stuff could be Hillsong.”

With parents across the diaspora fearing that their Westernised children were turning away from God and towards a world filled with sin, Paramore’s Christian roots acted somewhat as a trump card. “The Christian ties made it easier to justify why you listened to them,” says Adrie, a 26 year-old writer from Pittsburgh. “We had that in our back pocket to show that they were acceptable.”

All that said, liking Paramore or other decidedly "emo" bands has typically been a sign of "whiteness’ within the Black community, with these bands comically being referred to as ‘turn around and die’ music. “When I was in high school, I grew up in a mostly white area and so I was exposed to white ideals of music,” Chase reveals. “I started listening to them to get closer to my friends. I wanted to be part of something.”

In their attempts to be accepted by white peers, many Black Paramore fans eventually discovered that they were part of their own little community – they just didn’t know it yet. “I had people say that I was weird or ‘too white’ when I was younger because I liked Paramore,” Habiba starts. “But it wasn’t until I came on Twitter years later and saw how many other Black people did that I now say I love them with my whole chest!”

The notion of race and its relation to music is a storied one, but for many Black Paramore fans it’s clear that the band mirrored the very real and specific identity crisis many Black teenagers go through. “Music was your identity when you were younger,” says Alegria. “You could tell what group you belonged to based on what you listened to and you’re put in a box. I liked so much stuff from all genres, so liking Paramore made me give less of a shit about boxes.”

Alegria feels that their prominence on the soundtrack of cinematic masterpiece, Twilight, marked a particular turning point for the band along with their Black audience. “’Decode’ made people really pay attention,” she argues. “Twilight was such a cultural event and the soundtrack was so good that people didn’t really care about the genre. Tribalism really started to disintegrate. You have people moshing at Kendrick Lamar gigs now!”

With tensions high and morale low within the Black community in recent weeks, we need to know who has our back and if the musicians we love are also advocating for us. With many celebrities displaying their subpar comprehension skills when it comes to reading the room, one of the few who has continually shown up to support us is the Queen herself, Hayley Williams.

“She’s been really vocal recently and even in the last few years about social justice when it comes to Black people,” Adrie says. “Particularly within that subculture, you don’t see loads of artists making the same comments.” It’s clear for some fans that Williams knows the line between appreciation and appropriation, which has been noted in Paramore’s ever evolving sound. “I read that for their last album [_After Laughter_], they drew a bit of influence from afrobeats,” Habiba says excitedly. “How lit is that?”

For Chase, this all goes back to the idiosyncratic journey into coming of age that young Black people have. “Black people go through a very particular form of self discovery, and I guess that's reflected in Paramore's music and how it evolved over the years.”

With #ParamoreHive regaining intensity in recent weeks, will Paramore earn a spot in the canon of great Black music? Not necessarily, though this hasn’t stopped some Paramore fans from making sure their influence on the wider Black community is known. “I’m dying to see a Paramore vs Fall Out Boy episode of NS10v10,” reveals Alegria. “It’s the hill I’ll die on!”

@jumiaa