Hayley Williams, leader of the Nashville-based pop-punk turned synth-wave outfit Paramore, has officially made her solo debut with “Petals for Armor,” which was produced by fellow Paramore groupmate and frequent collaborator Taylor York, and released in three-parts; the first act in February, the second in April, and the project was released in its entirety yesterday with five closing tracks (“Pure Love,” “Taken,” “Sugar on the Rim,” “Watch Me While I Bloom,” “Crystal Clear”).
Williams has stated that writing and recording the album was a form of catharsis for her after going through a divorce and suffering from clinical depression. The result is a Björk/Radiohead-influenced indie pop album that reads as a form of rebirth for Williams after a year of healing and coming to terms with her current state.
The lead single “Simmer” is an up-tempo track about her parents’ divorce and the abuse that many of the women in her family have endured, with lyrics that go “If my child needed protection/From a fucker like that man/I’d sooner gut him/’Cause nothing cuts like a mother.” The track comes to a close with Williams singing “wrap yourself in petals for armor,” a lyric that she revealed in an interview with Beats 1 was a metaphor for the idea that “being vulnerable is a shield.” The remix was produced by synth pop veteran Caroline Polachek, former leader of the band Chairlift.
On “Creepin’” Williams sings about legends of folklore, using vampires, holy water, and witches as metaphors for expressing how she’s fed up with negative people who try to leech off of her energy (“Poor little vampire/Don’t you know?/That I’m a moon in daylight”).
“Over Yet” sounds like a 2020 revamped edition of Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” overlaid with thick synth baselines and Williams encouraging resilience in the midst of depression (“If there’s resistance/If there’s resistance/It makes you stronger/Make it your friend”).
“Roses/Lotus/Violets/Iris” is an ode to individuality that celebrates female strength, rebirth, and divinity. Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus from indie pop trio boygenius are featured on backing vocals. Throughout the track Williams voices her struggle to realize her own self-worth outside of a relationship, which she has been highly vocal about after the draining process of going through a divorce (“I myself was a wilted woman/Drowsy in a dark room/Forgot my roots/Now watch me bloom”).
“Leave it Alone” is the most tender and meticulously produced track on the album with a sonic nod to Radiohead. The lyrics involve Williams grappling with the people she’s lost throughout her life, including her grandmother who suffered from memory loss after falling down the stairs at the age of 80. The music video shows Williams going through each stage of metamorphosis, forming a cocoon and transforming into a chrysalis, with additional scenes of her in the woods doing a Stevie Nicks-inspired swamp witch dance with a flowing cerulean caftan on.
The album also tackles themes of self-sabotage and the pangs of guilt and shame that follows those decisions. “Dead Horse” addresses past mistakes Williams made, including the fact that her previous marriage started off as an affair (“Yeah I got what I deserved/I was the other woman first”). On “Pure Love” she sings about how past toxic relationships have left her struggling to open up and let people in, while acknowledging the fact that she needs to work on loving herself before she can learn to love somebody else.
The production on “Sudden Desire” marks a stark contrast between mellow verses over a smooth bassline, and an explosion of prickly, static synthesizers and drums in the chorus. The lyrics conjure up visceral images of past relationships (“Your fingerprints on my skin/A painful reminder”). “My Friend” celebrates companionship, finding Williams expressing how grateful she is for the people in her circle who stuck by her side through all the turmoil she’s been through, which was dedicated to her long-time stylist, Brian Williams, who she owns a hair care company with. The lyrics go “My friend/When the blood has dried/Instant alibi/You’ve seen me from every side/Still down for the ride.”
The most rewarding point of growth for Williams in this new era has been watching her embrace femininity. The visuals in her music videos embody an unapologetic celebration of womanhood and her softer side, which her audience rarely gets to see. On “Cinammon” Williams expresses her newfound comfort in solitude and the many ways that living alone can be empowering.
In an interview with Beats 1 Williams revealed that the “Simmer” music video was inspired by the book Women Who Run with The Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D, which is about embracing the wild woman archetype. The visuals of Williams sprinting through the woods and running from a red light is meant to symbolize the rage she’s never let herself feel.
“Watch Me While I Bloom” is an anthemic track that tackles the growing pains of heartbreak, betrayal, mental illness, success, and self-actualization. The lyrics go, “How lucky I feel/To be in my body again/Pull up your roots/Leave the dirt behind.” With these painfully visceral lyrics, Williams makes it clear that she’s not just surviving in spite of these roadblocks, but thriving.
The final track “Crystal Clear” is a grippingly slow song with Williams expressing the gratitude she feels now that she can finally shed the anger and fear she’s bottled up for a decade, and has finally come out on the other side. Complete with guest vocals from her grandfather who is also a songwriter, it was an emotional drawing of the curtains on this solo endeavor.
Williams never intended to make a solo project, but she followed her instincts and found that she had to, and the work she put in has culminated in her most liberated body of work yet. The record showcases her ability to always pull herself out of a rut no matter how dire of a situation she’s caught in, and “Petals for Armor” is her declaring out loud that she is no longer afraid of the lifelong journey of unpacking her own trauma, healing, and blooming in the final stage like a flower growing out of a crack in the pavement.