equality factor: describes different facets of feminist identity
producer: Hayley Williams, Taylor York
based in: Nashville, Tennessee
label: Atlantic Records
Hayley Williams has been the frontwoman, singer, and main songwriter of the US-American alternative rock band Paramore for over 16 years now. Today, the long-awaited solo debut album of Hayley Nicole Williams, as she is called by her full name, is released. In this equality record review, learn more about this remarkable work and its empowerment factor!
In the past, there have been numerous rumors about the solo career of the Front Woman of Paramore. Since 2010, Williams has been working regularly with other artists, for instance, B.o. B, Zedd, Chvrches, or New Found Glory, for whom her ex-husband Chad Gilbert plays the guitar. In doing so, she was often confronted with the prejudice of submitting to the mainstream pop industry. But if you take a closer look at Hayley Williams, you will soon realize that prejudices of this kind are completely unfounded. Hayley loves to do things her own way, and so her debut album "Petals for Armor" is anything but common pop - it nearly sounds like a new genre of its own calibre.
Already in February, Hayley Williams had surprisingly decided to release part of the album as an EP. Under the name "Petals for Armor I" the first singles like "Simmer", "Leave Me Alone" and the beat-heavy "Cinnamon" were released. In April the next songs followed with "Petals For Armor II", another 5-track-EP, and now the rest follows. Via Instagram, the Tennessee native explained that she had originally intended to drop the album in three EPs, but later decided to change plans and release songs more spontaneously in the face of the global pandemic.
"I wanted to be more experimental and perform as a musician on this album."
Her band has always respected and even supported this wish. This solo album is the best example of how empowering bandmates can react to the solo career of their lead singer. Guitarist Taylor York co-produced this album and drummer Zac Farro contributed parts for some songs, as well as the touring bassist of the band Joey Howard. In contrast to the music of Paramore, "Petals for Amor" does not feature alternative rock but casual electro-pop with experimental minimalist elements. Courageously and unerringly, Hayley Williams found her new musical sound and manages to reinvent herself musically. As it is her solo debut, the content of this album is completely about her - partially covering sensitive and deeply personal topics like mental disorders, abuse, and drug addiction. So it almost seems as if this album was a way for Hayley Williams to work through personal problems. This openness creates a deep connection between the artist and listener and lets us look deep into our own souls. But for this density of dark themes, this album sounds surprisingly positive. Influences from angry punk, dark emo, and catchy pop meet atmospheric electronic soundscapes.
Lyrically, Hayley Williams presents herself as both strong and vulnerable, more than ever showing her innermost feelings and fears. The title of the album was inspired by a vision she had during massage therapy: she saw roses painfully growing through her skin, wrapping her entire body in beautiful petals. Through the process of recovering from the split with ex-husband Gilbert to overcoming anxiety and fears, William found a way of being strong, yet vulnerable and feminine. Metaphorically, she wrapped herself in (rose) petals for armor, displaying her beautiful softness and still protecting herself. The entire album reflects this attitude - and Hayley Williams coming to terms with her own approach to femininity and womanhood.
"I’ve picked up a lot of flowers for my house since then. I just keep them around me all the time to remind me that I’m moving into femininity and strength and then femininity and aloneness — you know, that power of being self-sufficient, but being soft too, and open."
In the lead single, "Simmer", Hayley deals with themes of rage and instinctive female protection of one's child. "Cinnamon" reflects upon the feeling of solitude, and enjoying the life of a single woman, while "Sudden Desire" describes the conflicted sexual desire in a complicated relationship. In "Dead Horse", Hayley admits to having been the 'other woman' before getting into her longest relationship.
"Singing that was like being in a plastic bag for years and finally poking a hole in it. I had a lot of shame about being the other woman, about being betrayed, about staying. The song is meant for myself."
Not only musically, but also in terms of style, Hayley Williams clearly differentiates herself from her band with her solo project. In the past, colorful hair was her trademark. Pink, orange, blue - this woman can wear any color on her head (which is why she is also co-owner of the hair dye company Good Dye Young). For her solo debut, she has chosen a classically elegant blonde, with a non-dyed backdrop of long locks around the neck. Maybe this is a choice to draw attention away from her appearance and towards her music, or the split symbolizes her coming to terms with different and complex parts of her personality. She presents us with a colorful palette of different elements and styles of electronic music, which in the end come together to form a harmonious whole.
We wouldn't be music is her passion if we didn't also take a close look at the credits of the album in the constant search for women involved in this project. On the musical side, we could find the all-female band boy genius here, who did with "Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris" the only feature part of this album. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus founded the American alternative rock band boy genius in 2018. Their self-titled debut EP Boygenius was written and recorded in four days at Sound City Studios in Los Angeles.
On the technical side, Michelle Freely supported the production of "Petals for Amor" as an assistant engineer. Another fabulous female on the credits to the album is, of course, Lindsey Byrnes, Hayley's good friend, and creative mind behind the video shoots and photo shoots that accompany the artwork that is "Petals For Armor".
"I think of all the wilted women Who crane their necks to reach a window Ripping all their petals off just cause "He loves me now, he loves me not"
I myself was a wilted woman Drowsy in a dark room Forgot my roots Now watch me bloom"
Lyrics from Roses/Violet/Lotus/Iris
With all its complex facets, "Petals for Armor" is more than a debut album turned masterpiece. Lyrically and sonically, it paints a complicated picture of a woman who has, through failed relationships and pain, found herself and taken on femininity on her own terms. Hayley Williams herself said she often struggled to apply the stereotypical concept of womanhood to herself, but she has come to terms with all parts of her personality now. Any woman will be able to recognize herself in one of the many colors of this record. "Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris" marks the feminist pinnacle of the album, reminding us that our femininity is not measured by comparing ourselves to other females, or by male validation. Just like Hayley, we are complicated - and magical.