By Scottie Andrew, CNN
One of Paramore’s biggest hits is back on its setlist.
The emo-pop band revived its breakthrough single “Misery Business” at its tour stop in Bakersfield, California, on Sunday, playing it live for the first time since retiring it in 2018.
At the time, lead singer Hayley Williams said the band would stop playing the song “for a really long time” largely due to listener backlash. Some critics found “Misery Business” sexist, particularly for one lyric that refers to another woman as a “whore.”
But after years of fans defending the song and Williams reiterating her commitment to feminism, the band felt comfortable playing it live again.
“Four years ago, we said we were gonna retire this song for a little while, and I guess technically we did,” Williams told her audience at Sunday’s gig, according to Rolling Stone. “But what we did not know was that, just about five minutes after I got canceled for saying the word ‘whore’ in a song, all of TikTok decided that it was OK.”
When she and the band launched into the song, the audience cheered wildly, per footage of the concert shared online by attendees.
Upon its release in 2007, “Misery Business” catapulted Paramore to stardom. Written by a 17-year-old Williams, the single told the story of a tumultuous love triangle between teenagers. Fans of the band looked forward to its appearance on Paramore tours, when Williams would pluck an audience member to sing its rapid-fire lyrics and chorus with her. The song and Paramore’s subsequent work has influenced artists like Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo (the latter even had to credit Williams and an ex-Paramore guitarist on her popular single “good 4 you” due to similarities between the two songs).
But in the years since its release, some fans and music critics reconsidered the lyrics to “Misery Business.” The derogatory term appears once, but the lyric and song’s subject matter — two young women vying for the same boy’s affections — motivated some listeners to describe it as “anti-feminist,” as Williams recounted in various interviews.
“The problem with the lyrics is not that I had an issue with someone I went to school with … It’s the way I tried to call her out using words that didn’t belong in the conversation,” she said in a 2017 interview.
Even before she stopped performing it, Williams distanced herself from its lyrics in a 2015 blog post. She also stopped singing some of the controversial lyrics in live performances until the 2018 concert when she told the crowd that the band felt it was “time to move away from (performing the song) for a little while.”
Williams reiterated her position on “Misery Business” as recently as 2020, when she called out Spotify for adding “Misery Business” to a playlist of women rock stars.
“I know it’s one of the band’s biggest songs but it shouldn’t be used to promote anything having to do with female empowerment or solidarity,” she wrote on Instagram in 2020.
But earlier this year, WIlliams seemed to soften her stance on the song, joining Eilish to perform it as a duet at Eilish’s Coachella set in April. And when she sang it live again on Sunday, she told her audiences that she’d reconsidered it herself: “What I’m trying to say — it’s a word,” she said. “You know, we can all learn from ourselves, right?”
Several artists have decided to retire certain songs, even hits, due to listener backlash as the songs age: Elvis Costello last year said he’d never sing “Oliver’s Army” again, one of his UK hits, because it contains a racial slur. The Rolling Stones have also stopped performing “Brown Sugar,” which opens with a slave narrative and sexualizes young Black women.
Meanwhile, some artists have bowed to listener demands to update lyrics that some fans considered offensive, a decision that itself isn’t without controversy. Lizzo and Beyoncé both removed the word “spaz” from songs this year after a disability advocates implored them to. In the UK, the term is a slur for people with disabilities, but in the US, particularly in African American Vernacular English, it’s used to describe “going all out” or “being in the zone,” CNN reported earlier this year.
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CNN’s Radhika Marya contributed to this report.