Spending the better part of the past two decades as the frontwoman for the pop-punk band Paramore, Hayley Williams knows how euphoric and unforgiving the music industry can be. Even as Paramore rose to prominence, unspoken tension always seemed to lurk nearby.
In 2010, two of Paramore’s founding members split from the band over creative differences, which left Williams to hold the group together. Six years later, Williams married her longtime partner, Chad Gilbert, only to divorce him the following year— the same year that produced Paramore’s fifth studio album.
Despite Paramore’s continued success, Williams’ world slowly crumbled. Three years of extensive therapy excavated the skeletons of Williams’ past emotional and psychological difficulties. Through this period, a counselor suggested that Williams write music to cope.
So she did. And Petals for Armor became her exhalation of pent-up emotion and pain.
Williams uses flower imagery throughout the album to symbolize her desire to move from a wilting, broken person to a blooming, restored version of herself. On “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris,” for instance, she sings, “I myself was a wilted woman/Drowsy in a dark room/Forgot my roots, now watch me bloom.” Reflection helps her recognize her decay: “And I will not compare/Other beauty to mine/And I will not become/A thorn in my own side.”
Amid hardship, Williams also chooses to view loneliness and solitude as being useful. On “Over Yet,” she sings, “When there’s persistence/You can go farther/ … Baby, tell yourself it ain’t over yet.” That theme of perseverance expands into a heartfelt apology and willingness to reconcile with her partner on the track “Why We Ever”: “I just wanna talk about it/I know I freaked you out/I just wanna talk about it/Sorry for freakin’ out.”
On “Pure Love,” Williams considers some elements that make a relationship successful. “’Cause to let you in/Is true compromise/Not just the friction of our skin.” To Williams, a relationship now requires mutual trust and compromise, rather than looking to sex to fix everything.
“Taken” examines Williams’ current emotional state paired with a renewed sense of loyalty: “And though I’m still picking up my pieces/He makes me wanna give it another shot/If anybody asks, yeah/I’m taken.”
Elsewhere, tracks such “Watch Me While I Bloom” and “Crystal Clear” feature Williams’ honesty and comfort in her new relationships in lines such as, “How lovely I feel/Not to have to pretend,” and “I won’t give in to the fear/Crystal clear.”
“Leave It Alone” delivers a raw, gritty message about the importance of love and truth—even when telling the truth is hard. Williams suggests that her own losses led to depression and even, perhaps, suicidal thoughts before she turned a hopeful corner: “Becoming friends with a noose that I made/And I keep trying to untie it.” But even as she’s doing better, she recognizes, somewhat sarcastically, that many of those around her aren’t: “Don’t nobody tell me that God don’t have a sense of humor/’Cause now that I want to live, well, everybody around me is dyin’.” Facing truth can feel harsh, she says (“The truth’s a killer”), but she must embrace it nonetheless (“But I can’t leave it alone”).
The cautionary tale “Creepin’” portrays the downfall of a relationship built on consumption and obsession. Williams sings, “Too much of anything, you never know how to quit/You hate the taste, but you don’t wanna forget it/Just keep on sucking on the memory of him.” Williams shows how an insatiable appetite for love can be impossible to overcome.
While Williams’ therapeutic songwriting produced a bouquet of positive reflection, her honesty also contains some vulgar outbursts of frustration and anger. On the opening track “Simmer,” she sings, “Mmm, and if my child needed protection/From a f—er like that man/I’d soon gut him/’Cause nothing cuts like a mother.” Williams weighs her behavior with questions of “how to draw the line between wrath and mercy” as she attempts to convince herself to “simmer simmer simmer down.”
On “Sudden Desire,” Williams wades in and out of the residual memories of a failed relationship, which had its fair share of sensuality and pleasure. It seems Williams is caught between moving on and staying attached, “I wanted him to kiss me how/With open mouth/We keep our distance now/I wanna feel his hands go down.”
At this point in her career, Hayley Williams has seemingly abandoned the Christian worldview that fueled her early years in the spotlight. But while that’s genuinely disappointing, Petals for Armor still strives to chart a path toward recovery and reconciliation in the midst of extreme emotional despondency.
Song after song, Williams copes with the pains of comparison and hurt by realigning her focus and finding good in the bad. And while Williams’ lyrics are deeply personal to her, they are also widely relatable to those who have experienced relational turmoil.
Williams addresses the harsh reality of loss and recovery with honesty and vulnerability. Her reflective moments can be intense, often paired with descriptions of her frayed mental health and relational shortcomings. A couple of those moments definitely cross over into some pretty problematic territory.
More often, though, Williams explores the poignant-but-painful admission that she’s not OK. Her resilience and commitment to recovery are encouraging signs that there is hope for those who are hurt and broken—even if some of her proverbial petals still have razor-sharp edges.