Desperate times call for desperate measures. And by desperate measures, I mean pulling out my go-to albums for hard times so I can leave them on repeat for comfort.
Paramore’s After Laughter album is a masterclass in sitting with uncomfortable sadness, anger, forgiveness, and difficult times in general but not in a completely hopeless way. Written at a time in Paramore’s band history where a lot of things were in transition, it doesn’t shy away from talking about facing reality and other hard pills to swallow. Considering it’s January and we’re probably in the worst surge we’ve seen of the pandemic, plus I probably have COVID at this point, I need to talk about how much this album is hitting right now. Heck, how much this album has hit for the last few years.
I first heard this album after graduating college in 2018 and as I sat in uncertainty about the future, I listened to it daily and found my points of connection while happily grooving along to some 80s new wave inspired beats. Funnily enough, last Sunday night I found a reflection in my Google Drive from when I had just graduated, recounting how track by track this album was hitting me at the time. A precursor to this blog post? Absolutely. What was not funny from that journal entry was how many of the feelings and the struggles I talked about then are things I’m still struggling with. I also have to admit, I’ve had a blind spot for the last few years and it’s starting to feel clear now as I process life through the lens of this album. So, I’m gonna go track by track and share the arc of how these songs have changed in meaning for me since then.
Hard Times Huh?
“All that I want is to wake up fine. Tell me that I’m all right, that I ain’t gonna die…”– Hard Times
When I graduated college, I was aware that things would not be smooth sailing from then on out. I mean, I was a journalism student in the Trump era, do you think I wanted to read the news everyday? I found comfort in voicing my disillusionment with the world then in “Hard Times”.
Things were uncertain in 2018, but as soon as I started my post-grad job, I felt like I couldn’t stop to acknowledge that things were hard—until I found myself having emotional breakdowns due to unfulfillment in my driveway after work. I had to chug along until I got out.
Fast forward to last January when I was coming up with my “Dancing Through Pain” playlist, I knew I had to include this one. And because January 2021 and 2022 seem to be the exact same, this is what living life in this literal apocalypse feels like. Lately, I’ve been waking up every morning like “ok God you’ve given me breath today for some reason, let’s find out I guess.” I know this is no way to live, but until I’m sure Miss Rona is no longer in my house, this is the best I got.
Just Let Me Cry, Please?
“Just let me cry a little bit longer, I ain’t gonna smile if I don’t want to…”– Rose-Colored Boy
Blame it on generational trauma, but the last time I was emotionally vulnerable in a healthy way with my parents was probably when I was a baby. I got really good at reading rooms from a young age and willingly chose to be the trope of the golden child. Think Isabela in “Encanto.” I love lighting up a room by being my high-achieving, optimistic bubbly self. Somewhere between me majoring in journalism and becoming an adult in the real world though, it became harder to keep up the facade that I was always fine. So I evolved into more of an optimistic realist. On healthy days, I’m balanced. But when I get into a hole, it has been so much harder to get out because I never learned that it was ok to give space to my negative emotions. I’ve become very jaded about a lot of things and it’s a shock to my system when I meet people who are cheerful and optimistic these days. Like “dang, who got you smilin’ like that?” I’ve been telling people that I’ve been feeling like a menace to society because I’m realizing it’s not a bad thing to be sad, mad, or frustrated. I used to shove those feelings away so as not to worry anyone but I’m slowly learning to make space for them, as irrational as they can be. This song reminds me that no one has to understand me and my big emotions for them to be valid. So did I sob while watching Isabela’s song when she learned she could make more than beautiful flowers? OF COURSE I DID because GIRL SAME.
I Hate To Say It But…
“For all I know, the best is over and the worst is yet to come…”– Told You So
On a similar note to “Hard Times”, “Told You So” speaks to so many harsh feelings of the last few years in one. For one, the best has been over for a very long time. Like I’m talking, when did “Wizards of Waverly Place” go off the air? Yikes. Don’t answer that. Secondly, you know that voice of intuition in you that tells you something’s maybe a bad idea? Listen to it!! I wouldn’t have been at my miserable first job for that long (2.5 years) nor would I have wasted my time dating a standup comedian if I had listened to mine. Thirdly, asking to be thrown into the fire is a dangerous prayer, but it’s worth it. The truth is, sometimes you have to go through hard times because it refines your character. On days where I feel a little lighter/am fully in belief that God’s got me, I start to wonder what good is gonna come from these hard times. For one, I know there’s some great art coming out. Somehow there’s still babies being born too…I don’t know, that’s all I got for now lol.
Learning To Forgive?
“Don’t you go and get it twisted: forgiving is not forgetting…”– Forgiveness
Back in my 2018 reflection, I expressed how I knew forgiveness is part of healthy relationships and how I haven’t been in a place to learn to forgive gracefully. Honestly, I still feel like I’m learning how to forgive properly. See, when you’ve had years of purposefully ignoring the ways people have hurt you for the sake of “keeping the peace”, you don’t really know how to forgive properly. What I’ve seen work so far is first you recognize your hurt, second make space to feel hurt, and THEN try to get understanding of what the other person did that hurt you without dismissing how you’ve been hurt. Sometimes it’s worth it to forget the hurt, especially if the other person asks to be held accountable but in some cases you shouldn’t forget. If you can spot a pattern of hurt with no asking to be held accountable, then that’s something that you shouldn’t forget so you don’t keep getting hurt. Something I’m learning, rather painfully I’ll admit.
Ok, You Caught Me Red-Handed Hayley Williams
“If I smile with my teeth, bet you’ll believe me. If I smile with my teeth, I think I believe me…”– Fake Happy
I remember feeling like I’d been shot with an arrow when I first heard this song. I knew then that Hayley Williams had the uncanny ability to say how I truly felt. I was aware of how fake happy I was in 2018 because I was actively struggling with uncertainty of my future and my identity for that matter. Like who was I without school? That fake happiness turned into a powder keg that erupted in a loud way in late 2020. The pandemic exacerbated my feelings of dissatisfaction with my life and my fake happy identity until I ended up opening up to my dad about how unhappy I was. Granted, when I explained it to him, I took the angle of “it’s my job that’s caused all this”. Looking back, that eruption showed me how much I’d been lying to myself and settling for things I didn’t even want, again for the sake of “keeping the peace”. These days, I’m allowing myself to feel all the complex feelings I’ve avoided for so long. I feel like a mess as I pick up the pieces but Jesus Christ, I don’t ever want to be fake happy ever again.
Happy Almost Birthday Kelly, Sorry It Sucks
“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…”– 26
Of all the songs on this album, this one is hitting me the hardest right now. I’m about to turn 26 next month and I am truly shuddering at the thought of it. I was barely ready to turn 25 last year because I stupidly believed the assumption that people in their mid-20s have their shit together (we do not). My career may be in a good place but my friendships are in a weird place, I don’t talk to my parents about important things, I’ve never had a proper boyfriend, I’m still figuring out how to set up my financial future, and oh yeah, we’re stuck in a pandemic that does not seem to be getting better. I feel especially sad because it feels like the pandemic robbed me of almost 3 years of my youth, aka the time I was supposed to be following my dreams with all my energy. This song is giving me the space to grieve and lament all of that like no other song I know. I’m incredibly thankful that in mid-2021 I got a chance to start again with my career but I’m praying and working towards restoration everywhere else. It turns out I don’t want my career to be the only good thing in my life after all. I want so much more for my life: a life filled with music and a loving community, a partner who deeply loves me and a big beautiful wedding to celebrate that love, a better relationship with my parents, a house in LA that’s mine, and maybe a Grammy for songwriting. Hayley Williams said dreaming is free, so I’m gonna do it with the last shreds of hope that I have.
Dive Into Hope
“You are the wave I could never tame. If I survive, I’ll dive back in…”– Pool
In contrast with a lot of the songs on this album, this song has a ray of hope for me. In the last few years, this song has served as a reminder to help me surrender in my faith because that’s what leads to peace. Even in 2018, I saw this song as a worship song, encouraging me to step out in faith wherever I feel afraid. Along the lines of asking to be thrown into the fire a la “Told You So”, this song also makes a dangerous promise: to dive back into something after surviving. For me, this has meant continuing to love others with the knowledge that because we’re human, there is bound to be hurt and disappointment. This is something I know in my head but my heart is having a really hard time sitting with after years of putting people on pedestals, myself included. This song reminds me that I can continue to dive back into loving others because God is my lifeguard, the only person I can depend on when I’m drowning. When others can’t love me well, God’s got me and when I can’t love others well, God loves them more than I could anyway.
Don’t Hold It Against Me
“Well we just pick up, pick up and start again ‘cause we can’t keep holding onto grudges…”– Grudges
Back in 2018, I was recounting how this song captured my feelings about this boy I took a really long time to get over. I remember how proud I was after letting that situation go. (Shameless plug: I’m releasing a song I wrote about that situation at the end of the month! I’m really proud of it.) Nowadays, I don’t necessarily feel like I relate to this song in that way. These days, it feels like an inner dialogue. I mentioned in my 2021 reflection how my adult self has been at odds with my younger self. I tend to be really self-critical and I’ve previously spoken very unkindly to myself when I’ve made mistakes. I’m working on it. A big part of my re-learning is honoring the fact that my love for others has been pure most times, even if it was taken advantage of or if it wasn’t reciprocated. I didn’t know I was getting hurt because I wasn’t paying attention to myself, how would I have known? I’m choosing not to hold grudges against myself anymore.
Middle Child Syndrome
“I can’t think of getting old, it only makes me want to die. And I can’t think of who I was ‘cause it just makes me want to cry…”– Caught in the Middle
As a middle child, this one hits me hard every time because I’ve always been caught in the middle. In 2018, I was thinking kind of abstractly about this with a lot of different tensions. This time around I’m feeling caught in the middle of one of the major tensions I felt then and what this song talks about primarily: the past and the future. On one hand, I hold all the versions of myself that I’m embarrassed by because they didn’t know what they were doing. On the other hand, I hold the versions of myself that I don’t know yet who frankly intimidate me. I’ve previously had a really hard time staying in the present, especially when things are as bad as they are right now. I usually get stuck wherever I have more peace. These days though? It’s like I look back: disappointment. I look forward: I get scared. Is this song about having a quarter life crisis? I mean yeah, totally. Also the bridge: anyone else here an expert in self-sabotage? No? Well, it’s not fun, 0/10 would recommend, don’t do it!!
Savior Complex Bad!
“Be sure to put your faith in something more, I’m just a girl and you’re not as alone as you feel. We all got problems, don’t we? We all need heroes, don’t we? But rest assured, there’s not a single person here who’s worthy…”– Idle Worship
Oof, this one has always made me feel like I’ve just been stabbed. And that’s on being an ex-golden child with a savior complex. Don’t worry, I’m gonna make a playlist with all the songs about that for those of us trying to take Jesus’s wheel. This one made me realize how heavy it really is to carry the weight of people’s expectations. For a lot of my life, I’d felt like I was playing a version of myself for the world. By that I mean I was the model straight A student, not here to ruffle feathers or show any sign that I didn’t have my shit together. Once I entered the real world and started to realize that no one cares or has any expectations of you anymore, I felt free but extremely anxious—who was I supposed to impress now? Yeah, I’m still scared of people being disappointed in me but I’m adamant about how it’s also not fair to idolize flawed humans who are works in progress. I’ve been learning that just as I shouldn’t put others on pedestals, I should not be comfortable with people putting me on a pedestal. And screaming about it is ok!!!! I’m not here to save anyone!!
A Menace to Society
“And I think I might actually be more afraid to let my own self down than anything else…”– No Friend
In this song Paramore talks about how tired they are of their band’s past facades, in a very Pete Wentz poetry way. I never really related to this song when I first heard it, but after reading the lyrics this time around, it speaks to the rising tension I’ve felt over the years and the evolution I’ve been experiencing through therapy. Since starting therapy in September, I’ve felt like a low key menace to society because I’m trying to learn that I deserve to take space for myself. I’m used to listening to everyone else and anticipating people’s needs before I even consider my own. That’s led me to resentment and bitterness and I’m exhausted. I can’t keep living like that. I’m slowly learning how to listen to myself better by recognizing habits that encourage healthy care for myself. My bestie (and our logo designer!) Katie recommended messy emotion dump journaling and it’s really made a difference. I highly recommend it, if you’re in the same boat.
Speak Honestly From Now On
“I guess it’s good to get it off my chest. I guess I can’t believe I haven’t yet…”– Tell Me How
The album really ends on a sad note, but with a necessary statement. This album is an exploration of complex emotions and how hard it can be to rise to people’s expectations. Paramore pulled back the curtain on their painful band history in this album as a way to break down the shiny ideal their fans have idolized. I feel that so deeply because I’ve been in a process of struggling with how to deal with a similar curtain trick. These last few years have darkened the sunny disposition I carried for so long: the nice, bubbly version of me who will give her time to make someone comfortable. Like Paramore, I’m asking that old version of myself: “tell me how to feel about you now.” Not everyone is worth my effort anymore, but also that doesn’t mean I should keep to myself all the time. There’s an art to doing things from a genuine place and it involves self-care as much as it involves giving up the idea that you can do it alone. I’m realizing that to be a light in this world I have to recharge from the source daily — not just when I feel like it or when I’m flickering off.
After graduating in 2018, I expressed a lot about how much uncertainty I was facing. But boy, if that version of me would see 2020-2022, her eyes would widen and her jaw would drop. But the last paragraph of 2018 me’s After Laughter reflection still feels poignant to me as I write this in 2022:
“Overall, every song has lines of hope in them. Jesus is still here. I’m not completely hopeless. Things are good on the outside. But the inside is a mess with confetti on the floor, my makeup cried out, broken glass, and a dark cloud brewing.”
This time, the world around me is a mess that I can’t clean up by myself. But the world inside me has been crying out for care. She deserves to be taken care of and it’s time I started believing that.