The Sexist

Pseudo-Feminist Anthem: Paramore’s “Misery Business”

Yesterday, I counted down the top 5 pseudo-feminist anthems, the pop hits that are marketed on girl power but actually rely on the same-old anti-feminist messages. Readers: You're invited to weigh in with more contributions to the genre. This suggestion comes courtesy of Twitter user elenielstrom.


Pseudo-Feminist Anthem: Paramore's "Misery Business," one woman's response to the boring chick who tried to steal her man.

Relevant Lyrics:

Second chances they don't ever matter, people never change
Once a whore you're nothing more, I'm sorry, that'll never change
And about forgiveness, we're both supposed to have exchanged
I'm sorry honey, but I passed it up, now look this way
Well there's a million other girls who do it just like you
Looking as innocent as possible to get to who
They want and what they like it's easy if you do it right
Well I refuse, I refuse, I refuse

Feel the Anti-Girl Power: On the one hand, Paramore is actively rejecting the markers traditional of femininity.  Lead singer Hayley Williams announces that she "refuses" to be like the "million other girls" who are forced to get the sex they want by acting like they don't want it—by playing "as innocent as possible." In doing so, Paramore makes way for women who don't have the classic figure—"body like an hourglass"—or the accompanying reproductive fantasies—"it's ticking like a clock."

On the other hand, Paramore's classification of these more traditionally feminine women—"whore"—is less than liberating. Also, boiling down "girl power" to a question of aesthetics? Not cool.

But perhaps we are underestimating Paramore here! Perhaps this song and accompanying video are meant as a tongue-in-cheek rejection of female cattiness and body-snarking, and not an endorsement of it. Let's see how they do it:

The music video for "Misery Business" presents three classes of women: (a) a buttoned-up blond chick with a staid single braid, representing "innocence"; (b) a mild brunette staring longingly into her man's eyes, representing "boredom"; and (c) a sexually voracious woman who attempts to steal the men of (a) and (b), representing "sluttiness."

At video's end, Williams shows up to reveal lady (c) as the fake, catty bitch that she is. This is Williams' chance to really stick it to her! To show everyone that we shouldn't try to steal girls' boyfriends just because we don't like the way these chicks look! And so . . . Williams teaches (c) a lesson by pulling her falsies out of her bra, thereby publicly embarrassing her on a purely physical level. In the end, Williams—signified to the audience to be a "real" woman through her punk-rock aesthetic and alternative dye-job, of course—reveals that "girl power" actually is all about the way chicks look. Thanks, Paramore.

  • Skipper

    Wow. Talk about over-analyzing something to death.

  • Shinobi

    What an insightful contribution to the discussion. *eyeroll*

  • Daniel M. Laenker

    Well, Skipper, if you don't want to actually understand the lyrics to a song you like, you don't have to.

  • Rita


    Says the guy who doesn't actually understand the lyrics. Skipper's right, you guys take the lyrics (and video) too literally, and if you were to apply that analysis to every song that exists, then 90% of music would dumbfound you. I don't think you could possibly understand the song more than Skipper does. Yes, the song is about a girl stealing someone's man, and how the jilted girlfriend won't stand there and take it. What's anti-feminist about that? And as for the term "whore", well the boyfriend thief in question may not LITERALLY be a whore, but you wouldn't call a woman who knowingly dates a guy who's already taken "classy" either, would you? Anyway, it's a fun, catchy pop song that most people enjoy purely for fun's sake. It has a catchy hook, you can dance (or headbang) to it, it's not a serious "anthem" of any sort. And as for the video, the article fails to mention that the "sexually voracious woman" cuts off the shy blond girl's braid without her knowledge or consent, she shoves a guy who has an injured arm in a sling into a wall, and blatantly grabs the boyfriend of the bored-looking girl and makes out with him right in front of her. Hayley ripping out her fake breasts is supposed to represent exposing her as a fraud. That this girl is so pathetic she has to use her sexuality to get ahead. That's what Hayley was signifying to the audience, smartypants. All told from the perspective of a teenager. Hayley Williams was just 18 when this song came out, and she wrote it herself, which would explain the juvenile aspect of the song (and honestly, how many people expect 18-year-olds to write deep, life-changing, poetic stuff? It happens very rarely). THAT'S analysis for you, Amanda Hess.

  • Ultrapeach

    "...and if you were to apply that analysis to every song that exists, then 90% of music would dumbfound you. I don’t think you could possibly understand the song more than Skipper does."

    Rita doesn't think that questioning the gender-politics behind aspects of popular culture is important? That same culture and music we're constantly exposed to?
    Well, if you insist.

  • Rita

    @ Ultrapeach: Try familiarizing yourself with the concept of metaphors. That's why I said 90% of music would fail to make any sense if all the lyrics were analyzed in a literal fashion.