Nearly three years ago, guitarist Josh Farro and his brother, drummer Zac Farro, issued a statement concerning their decision to leave Paramore — the pop-punk band they founded on the not particularly mean streets of Franklin, Tenn. — and the allegations were brutal. Phrases like "manufactured product of a major label" and "misrepresented our band and what we stood for" were thrown around, insinuating a potent combination of power struggles, hurt feelings, stage parenting run wild and actual, honest-to-God conspiracy.
It was the kind of music industry mudslinging that Behind the Music producers dream of.
And yet, in 2013, Paramore released their highest charting album to date — a self-titled No. 1 record that reset the clock and laid the groundwork for their first headlining arena tour. Any other band would find itself capsized by their creative force and defending against charges of the most deadly phrase in rock 'n' roll: "sell-outs." Not only has Paramore weathered that storm, but they've also come out looking better than ever. Which raises the question: Even if Paramore is a major label "product," does it really matter?
If you asked the hundreds of Paramore fans and curious gawkers who turned out for the band's impromptu acoustic gig and meet-and-greet at Grimey's on Record Store Day in April, you'd likely hear a resounding "no." The connection between Paramore's strong contingent of suburban teens and singer Hayley Williams is intense on a level that's impossible to fake. Williams is the ideal pop star — half squeaky-clean role model, half neon-haired quasi-rebel with a "zero to hero" creation myth that hits her fans right where they live.
It's telling that the first comment on the Farros' video confirmation that they indeed wrote that statement begins with, "How could you do this to us?" — as if the admission and statement were personal attacks on the fan base, and not a dramatic reconsideration of what Paramore's story really is. But realistically, we've always known that Paramore's relationship with their label was unusually symbiotic. You don't need to look much further than their landmark 360 deal with Atlantic Records, a contract that The New York Times labeled "The New Deal," to prove that.
The Farros' 1,435-word statement paints a familiar picture: A teenage garage band is whisked into the harsh world of music as a profession, a world that's caught in the steely grasp of businessmen on Music Row and elsewhere. It's a horror story that we've all heard in one form or another, but it's also a horror story that they signed up for — and one that's engrained into the core of the band. In a 360 deal, wherein the artist trades a cut of all income for increased financial support from the record company, the label is the Fifth Beatle. And whether it was acknowledged or not, fans of the band recognized and accepted it into their mythos.
Or perhaps there's an alternate theory — that Paramore's status as the music industry's new-world case study is more reflective of where the recording industry is failing than we might think. Though Paramore has been touted as a breakthrough for the band, their first album to hit No. 1 in the Billboard 200, it's a success that comes with the footnote of being during an industry lull. In total, the band sold 106,000 copies of Paramore in their first week — almost 70,000 copies less than 2009's Brand New Eyes.
Meanwhile, as the band mounts the stage in venues with names like Grand Prairie Verizon Theatre, The Palace of Auburn Hills and indeed Bridgestone Arena, reports from previous shows have found attendance lacking. Rolling Stone figured Paramore's Seattle kickoff to be three-quarters full, with the arena's upper level curtained off. Their San Jose stop reportedly drew a crowd of 5,000 — the arena's capacity is 17,000.
So maybe the grand Paramore experiment isn't the cash cow that Atlantic and Fueled by Ramen hoped it would be. Maybe Paramore isn't destined for the big leagues and are more suited for playing to hyperventilating die-hards in the mid-majors. Or maybe the inevitable Hayley Williams solo project will do what Paramore couldn't and take the world by storm. There's one thing that you can count on: No matter what obstacles are put in front of them, Paramore fans aren't abandoning ship anytime soon.