For those not familiar with the Nashville Curse, a little history: Back in the early '80s, Jason & the Nashville Scorchers were going to be the next big thing, and everyone knew it. There was just one problem, according to the major-label gatekeepers—the "Nashville" in their name. This band resembled Kenny Rogers and other Nashville commodities of the day about as much as Belle Meade resembles Brooklyn. So how to better position a Nashville band that sounded nothing like the Nashville Sound? Take the "Nashville" out of their name. So it went, and though the Scorchers garnered both a cult following and critical acclaim, they never broke through to the superstardom that seemed to be their birthright. And so the Nashville Curse was born.
No rock band from Nashville would ever sell a million records, said the Curse, which stood for over 20 years until it was finally broken in 2008—not by an alt-country band or an Americana band, not by a Coldpraise band, not by a songwriter-led Grey's-Anatomy-song-placement-whore band, not even by a certain band of brothers and their cousin. No, the dreaded and to that point very real-seeming Nashville Curse was broken, as fate would have it, by an emo-pop band from Franklin who had logged about as much shoulder time with the Nashville rock scene as, well, a certain band of brothers and their cousin.
Not that Paramore have invested much in the idea of curses, though they might concede that their success—platinum and counting for their sophomore album Riot!—is beyond both their control and their reckoning. "We're a bunch of lucky dorks," frontwoman Hayley Williams confided on Twitter in September, after remarking how bemusing she found it, still, that some people choose to adorn their walls with posters of her band. About a week later, Paramore sold out their Dec. 18 headlining concert at London's Wembley Arenacapacity: 12,000-plusin a single day.
The band's success, which has catapulted them from Warped Tour mainstays to red carpet invitees thanks to their breakthrough hit "Misery Business" and an appearance on the Twilight soundtrack ("Decode"), has taken them well beyond the Middle Tennessee suburbs where they formed, but it has not taken the small town out of the band. In a recent video series on MTV, the band show off their favorite Franklin haunts, including Puckett's Grocery and a local Salvation Army thrift store where they enumerate the props they've bought there and used for various photo shoots. Williams explains that she bought her car—now covered in band stickers representing everyone from Sunny Day Real Estate to her own band—from her mother, who was going to get rid of it. "I guess I'm just a simple person," she says.
Williams, whose outsized charisma and Clarksonesque vocal power belie her age (20) and relatively diminutive stature, has inevitably become a focal point of the band—and not just because her hair is normally dyed a color somewhere between Cheetos and Flamin' Hot Cheetos (though that might have something to do with it). She and her bandmates are quick to emphasize that Paramore is a cohesive unit, and not a Hayley Williams vehicle. Suggesting otherwise can be a touchy matter indeed.
When it was revealed in July that Williams had contributed a song under her own name to the soundtrack for the Megan Fox boy-eater flick Jennifer's Body, I wrote on the Scene's music blog, Nashville Cream: "So what does Williams' foray into first-name-last-name solo recordings for soundtracks to vampire movies say about the rising of her star vs. the star of her band? Maybe nothing. But it's hard not to see the parallels with Paramore's current tour partners, No Doubt." Both bands had their frontwoman singled out by press as a star among lesser stars, both bands struggled with that fact, both bands experienced strain when an intraband romance terminated. A solo appearance by Williams, coinciding as it did with Paramore's support slot with No Doubt, only reinforced the symmetry—to a point, at least.
While the post didn't say (or imply) that Williams was about to quit, just raising the No Doubt parallel struck a nerve with Paramore fans. Even Williams herself rose to defend the band's status as...well, a band. On the band's LiveJournal page—yes, apparently people still use LiveJournal—she wrote that the post was "a waste of paper and ink. Or disk space," while assuring fans that Paramore "isn't going anywhere." (An email interview asking Williams about these comments was not returned before press time.)
Fair enough. But it is true that Williams' dynamism keeps Paramore visible above the fray of similarly equipped bands formed in the fin de siècle emo-pop mold. If anything, the band's latest effort, Brand New Eyes, reflects a digging in of the heels and a refusal to sally much beyond the pale of their genre's stock in trade. The band may still be plagued by speculation about their singer's career trajectory—could that be the new Nashville Curse?—but they've been up against similar specters before and bested them.