Hayley Williams turns 26 on Dec. 27, which means she has fronted Paramore for more than a third of her life. Long enough that on her first Warped Tour in 2005, the then-teenager was the only female performer. “It was very lonely,” Williams says over the phone from Nashville, where she’s visiting her grandparents. “But I don’t think I understood it would be nice — and also motivating — to see other girls out.”
Nearly a decade later, women dominate pop, but not rock. Yet Williams, who lives in Los Angeles, still matters — more than ever. She is a dye-punk heroine who can pass for an electro-house diva, as she did by lending her voice to Zedd‘s “Stay the Night,” which wrapped up 11 weeks at No. 1 on the Dance/Mix Show Airplay chart in February. She also is a post-emo veteran who maintains her base with adventures like this past spring’s four-day Paramore fan-cruise to the Bahamas, Parahoy!, and this summer’s co-headlining tour with a reunited Fall Out Boy. And she’s an all-ages singer who can introduce Minecraft kids to guitar music, as Paramore did this year with “Ain’t It Fun,” its first Hot 100 top 10 hit. “If young kids listening to the radio hear guitars and decide to pick up one — in five or 10 years, they’re the ones changing the world.”
IT’S OK TO CALL PARAMORE “FEMALE-FRONTED” NOW
“I’ve always been like, ‘I don’t want you to call Paramore a female-fronted band. I just want to be a band.’ But I make the distinction now because I grew up not really placing much value on the strong women I was listening to.”
STRONG WOMEN SHE’S LISTENING TO
“I love Debbie Harry and Siouxsie Sioux. I grew up listening to The Distillers, so Brody Dalle was a hero. Girl groups are really important to me, but the Shangri-Las especially. As far as more current acts: Joy Williams, Gwen [Stefani] and Beyoncé. I am always watching and trying to learn from them — they’re smart and calculated, but still free.”
WHAT IT’S LIKE TO HAVE YOUR OWN CRUISE
“I swear I recognized everyone in the front of the crowd — like I remembered a time we had hung out at Denny’s after a show or at the merch table. It just felt like family: It was everything you start a band for in the first place. I was really thankful and humbled and geeked out. And there was an open bar and free ice cream and pizza all the time. I loved it.”
ON A SCALE OF 1 TO 10, THE YEAR 2014
“This is our 10th year as a band, so I should say 10, but I’m going to say 11. If it doesn’t go to 11, what good is it?”
Led Paramore to its first Hot 100 top 10 hit with “Ain’t It Fun,” which climbed to No. 10 in May.
Co-headlined this summer’s Monumentour with Fall Out Boy.
Topped the Dance/Mix Show Airplay chart with featured vocals on Zedd’s “Stay the Night.”
Welcomed home from tour with balloons and gifts by her boyfriend, New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert: “Romance is cool, I guess.”
This article first appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of Billboard.