For those of a certain age, Paramore represents the best case scenario for what a band they followed from youth could be—a group in constant self-consideration and reevaluation, never content to rest on their laurels, while also unafraid to be critical about how they could keep improving. For an even younger listenership, they embody something else entirely: a roadmap for a sound and lyrical vulnerability that still reverberates in emerging artists from Olivia Rodrigo to Meet Me @ the Altar.
This multiplicity is, at its core, a perfect analogue for Paramore’s own penchant for major divergences from their past with each album. The band has been through its fair share of tumultuous lineup shifts, interpersonal spats, and near-derailments, yet currently exists healthier and more stable than ever—the less said about the spotty personalities of its former members, the better. After several shake-ups to who constituted Paramore, the group is now a trio composed of vocalist Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York, and drummer Zac Farro, whose dynamic has already yielded two wholly distinct consecutive albums since 2017, without ever feeling too far divorced from what endeared Paramore to fans in the first place.
With the release of Paramore’s sixth studio album This Is Why last week, we’re taking a comprehensive look at each record to date and ranking them, from the teenage origins of the group on 2005’s All We Know Is Falling to their latest. As with any band this popular, a list like this is prone to fervent debate and dissent—many of the people this writer polled in drafting this list offered wildly different takes from my own, naming some of the lower entries here as the best that Paramore has ever made. Though everything the group has put out so far has much to love, let’s get into this ranking of every Paramore record, considering what makes for a strong album on its own terms, and what best exemplifies all that Paramore can be.
6. All We Know Is Falling (2005)
It’s a story common to the emo/pop punk scene of the 2000s: firebrand new band gets signed young, put onto the hip new label Fueled By Ramen, and cuts a record within a couple years built on the endearing passion of musically driven teens giving it their all. Williams’ own place in the Paramore origin story has been widely relayed—pressured to sign as a solo artist at 14, but refusing unless allowed to be a part of a band and performing pop-punk specifically. This initial act of narrative ownership is key to both Williams’ persistent artistic integrity and how their debut laid the groundwork for everything to come, and, without it, it’s hard to imagine the Paramore as we know it existing in quite the same way.
All We Know Is Falling lands at the unenviable last spot here not because of a lack of quality, but merely for how it hints at all the ways Paramore would come to continually improve over the years. There’s still an undeniable spark to the group’s energy and Williams’ vocal presence is commanding even at the age of 16, and some tracks already showcase the band’s knack for compelling twists in song structure. Post-hardcore electronic squelching forms the beat of top track “Emergency,” while opener “All We Know” breathes life into its bridge by going mellower before returning to a chorus full of whining guitars. “Conspiracy” even melds drumwork akin to an adolescent take on the Dismemberment Plan, accompanied by Midwest emo vocal harmonies. The foundations are all here, but the songwriting and instrumentation is—understandably—more rudimentary than the adventurous territory Paramore would soon find themselves frequently pursuing. Their hooks also still have yet to hit the balance of deft lyricism and catchiness that drive their best work, and—through no fault of the band—the cheap production renders the sound alternatingly thin and overdriven. But all bands have to start somewhere, and All We Know Is Falling is still a debut worth celebrating in its own right—for what Paramore was able to accomplish so early, and for how it paved the way for everything that followed.
5. Riot! (2007)
In an alternate reality, a band like Paramore would break out with an album like Riot! and never fully move on from the sound that defined them earliest. The subsequent records would be diminishing returns of a style that felt organic and fresh in the group’s lived-in youth. It’s maybe the greatest argument in favor of Riot!’s power that it now stands as a document of a band in flux, a compelling snapshot of their passion that’s also a vivid illustration of how far they’ve come since its release.
Instrumentally, Riot! cuts along a similar vein as Paramore’s contemporaries in emo and pop-punk throughout the 2000s: riff-heavy and anthemic, anchored by Williams’ boisterous vocals equally adept at handling wordy verses and chorus singalongs. Like the best of its peers, it still holds a certain catharsis for listeners seeking to tap into their Livejournal-era angsty teenage girlhood, with the band’s strong knack for tight hooks on tracks like “Let the Flames Begin” and “That’s What You Get” still carrying a potency that makes you feel like you’re back in your childhood bedroom, in aHot Topic hoodie;, belting each lyric out into a hairbrush. That said, Riot! does have its stumbles that often come with a band still finding their footing: of-its-time lyrics that Williams has since disavowed;, a bland lighter-core ballad misstep in “We Are Broken,” and somewhat of a growing monotony in sound and structure even with its relatively short length. But at its best, as when “crushcrushcrush” draws from a heavier sonic palette, it produces the exact kind of “raw energy;” Williams described went into writing and recording.
Paramore could have just as easily produced nothing but records like Riot! for the rest of their career and coasted on legacy alone. It’s a testament to the band’s maturity and evolution that they kept pushing themselves from here, with the hindsight to draw upon its indelible appeal.
4. This Is Why; (2023)
As the rest of this list will attest, the Paramore of the 2010s and beyond has been a repeated saga of a band reinventing itself from album to album, with each release signaling a new signature sound to accompany the era. In the case of their latest album This Is Why, the influence is drawn squarely from the post-punk revival of the 2000s, right down to Williams talking in press about pulling from the “urgency” of Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm;. Much of the immediate appeal of This Is Why rests in this shift, with York’s guitars more jagged and effect-laden than ever, and Zac Farro’s percussion often landing with emphatic force or leaning on quick hi-hat dance-punk beats. At its core, it’s a breezy pop-rock record that feels like it has genuine life breathed into it, the result of the group’s lineup remaining unchanging between albums for the first time since its formation.
As solid as This Is Why is as an affirmation of Paramore’s consistency over the years, the shift isn’t without its stumbles. Williams’ skill at emphatic introspection doesn’t particularly translate to some songs’ attempts at topicality, and the sophomoric put-downs and straightforward melody of “Big Man, Little Dignity” don’t offer much to chew on beyond Williams’ strong vocal performance. However, when the album hews closer to Paramore’s strengths, as on the jokingly self-critical “Running Out of Time” playing with shifts in dynamics, or “You First” taking on a lyrical reflexivity harkening to Brand New Eyes, it embodies the group’s most exciting attempts to broach new territory nearly two decades into their existence. Sometimes, they even cut the balance between their fresh influences and their older style seamlessly—“Figure 8” circles an ascending guitar loop that could fit right into Foals’ Antidotes, only to launch into a classic Williams howler of a chorus. This Is Why may not fully match the highs of the Paramore in the years before, but it holds plenty of promise to ensure the band’s fruitful future.
3. After Laughter (2017)
This Is Why is far from the first time Paramore introduced a bold stylistic pivot into a new era of the band. In fact, the most fully realized reinvention came just from the group’s previous release: the sunny New Wave throwback After Laughter.
Far from being mere pastiche, this sonic distinction is something Paramore completely embraces from the inside-out in their pop songwriting, from the radiant tones of York’s guitars to the synths and marimbas often populating the mix. Williams’ presence translates perfectly to this change in mode—boisterous and cheerful on disco-pop highlight “Rose-Colored Boy,” meditative and reserved on mid-record ballad “26,” and even punctuating choruses with knowingly goofy pitch-shifted grunts on lead single “Hard Times.”
At its best, though, After Laughter is just a damn fun pop album, and the most unabashed good time Paramore have put into a record to date. In cheery earworms like “Caught in the Middle” and “Idle Worship,” the group craft an album as ready-made for dancing as their early years were for emo festival pits. Chalk it up to the trio rekindling their joy in each other’s company with Zac Farro rejoining, but the enthusiasm is contagious. The experience is so compact that even brief detours that may not entirely gel with the overall sound—like more contemporaneous New Wave of “Fake Happy” or the Aaron Weiss-led interlude “No Friend”—are mere speed bumps in the summery road trip vibes their surroundings cultivate. More than anything else, After Laughter is confirmation of Paramore’s versatility and continued relevance, a stellar revitalization that stands as one of the band’s most cohesive statements to date.
2. Brand New Eyes (2009)
Where Riot! feels like Paramore’s proof of concept, its follow-up Brand New Eyes is the band making the most of that potential. Coming only two years after the group’s breakthrough, Brand New Eyes is a remarkable refinement of Paramore’s pop-punk foundations, reflecting a budding maturity in the group and deepening of the dimensions their sound could take. Where Riot! existed mainly within a single sound, Brand New Eyes thrives on its ability to weave together everything from pop-punk to acoustic ballads to crisp alt-pop, all while Williams embraced working “heavier emotions;” than ever before into her songwriting.
Take, for example, the sheer number of vocal modes Williams traverses on “Ignorance” alone: she sneers, she shouts, she cries out in the shattering highs of the chorus, she spits out a post-chorus refrain (“Ignorance is your new best friend”) with palpable venom in each syllable. On “Turn It Off,” the band shifts from emotive clean guitars to Williams pushing the upper limits of her voice to launch the chorus into the stratosphere. Meanwhile, “Feeling Sorry” makes the most of a stuttering 3/4 time signature, its stressed beats switching off with every measure to forge a compelling rhythm unlike anything else on the album.
Thematically, the record slyly builds from the impassioned lyricism of Riot!, complicating the already messy subject matter of its predecessor with the added wisdom of a couple years and Williams’ greater vulnerability. “The Only Exception” often rightfully gets singled out for this, with Williams offering a tender narrative of how her parents’ own relationship difficulties feed into her guardedness with romantic love. But “Playing God” is just as worthy of attention here as well, using its gentle guitar arpeggios to build to a kiss-off chorus where Williams carries multiple expressions at once—disdain at egomaniacal manipulation, playful glee at just retribution, and even mocking irony that allows her to verbally reclaim autonomy in the face of another’s control.
Brand New Eyes, in many ways, is the most perfect a Paramore album has ever been. Every track carves out a vital new angle in the overall emotional arc of the record, while carrying enough nuances to remain distinct and complete in their own right. On some days, I may even argue this is the best Paramore album—concise and eminently relistenable, while putting the listener through a veritable emotional wringer in just about 40 minutes. Yet, I find myself more frequently arguing that Paramore’s greatest accomplishment is one that’s a step more ambitious than this, an achievement they would make with their very next record.
1. Paramore (2013)
Much as every album on this list has its individual strengths and virtues, Paramore’s self-titled remains exceptional for one crucial reason: it marks the exact point where the band’s future seemed widest and boldest. The group’s longest LP to date, Paramore is an album whose sprawl made anything and everything feel tangibly possible for an act who refused to let their past pigeonhole them, a declaration that only they would get to decide how their path ahead would be forged.
What drives Paramore, even with its extended runtime, is the band’s restless branching out into sounds they never previously ventured. While the album starts with a one-two of “Fast In My Car” and “Now” that draws influence from the bass-heavy alt-rock of Shiny Toy Guns and Metric, respectively, it quickly veers off into elements of power pop (“Anklebiters”), xylophone-and-keyboard-infused pop-funk (“Ain’t It Fun”), and doo-wop (“(One of Those) Crazy Girls”). But the sonic switches never feel too far removed thanks to Paramore’s selective applications of the elements that always endeared the band to its listeners: namely Williams’ vocal acrobatics and York’s cutting guitar work. “Let the Flames Begin” sequel “Part II” opens with York laying down atmospheric shoegaze textures, before Williams bursts the doors of the track wide open with a belter of an emo chorus befitting the song’s roots in Riot!. On standout single “Still Into You,” York and drummer Ilan Rubin playfully punctuate Williams’ soaring tour de force of staggering, bright highs;. Here, Paramore proved the mantra they’ve repeated to this very day: they’re a band most driven by what new ground they can break, while never truly losing sight of what their best qualities were all along.
In the press for this record, Williams stated that she saw the change in direction for Paramore as the band “reintroducing ourselves to the world and to our fans;,” an aim reflected in their choice to make this LP—their fourth—their self-titled album. Across the record, in each new pathway the band takes or expansion on an idea only hinted at in their nascent years, they seem to announce themselves as growing artists several times over, more fearless than ever, as if to say, “We’re not just confined to our past—this is everything we can be, because there’s so much more that we can be.” Even elements that don’t entirely work, namely the three surface-level ukulele interludes on breakups and “adulting,” still embody the group’s wholistic approach to reconsidering themselves—throwing in every messy, uneven part of the process in the midst of seeking who they are at a critical junction.
But if there’s one song above all else that best exemplifies what Paramore excels at—in sound, in theme, in execution—it’s the stellar closer “Future.” Beginning as a soft gallop of York’s clean guitars, Williams—in muted vocals—ruminates on her own relationship with time, and how looking ahead offers more promise than dwelling on the past (“Don’t get lost in the memories / Keep your eyes on a new prize”). Then, the mix begins to shift, and Rubin’s drums—booming, cavernous—gradually fade in. So, too, does a new guitar part from York, buzzing around fuzzed-out chords like a post-rock crescendo. The track, fully consumed by this shift, hovers and fades, before it reveals its fade as a false ending, bringing its instrumental roar back for a coda, as if to suggest that the shift is here to stay, long after the album concludes. “Future” is the closest to a definitive statement Paramore has ever made about what propels them with each new album, and the most fully realized swing for the fences they’ve made to date. And in it is the secret to their longevity and continued thriving: “Don’t get lost in the memories / Keep your eyes on a new prize.” Since then, Paramore have never looked back, and they’ve never been in a better state as a band.
Natalie Marlin is a freelance music and film writer based in Minneapolis who has contributed to sites such as Stereogum, Little White Lies and Bitch Media, and previously wrote as a staff writer at Allston Pudding. She also regularly appears on the Indieheads Podcast. Follow her on Twitter at @NataliesNotInIt.