on hayley williams, hair, and radical change
Hayley Williams, fiery red and heavily banged, was the inspiration for my abysmal sixth-grade haircut. A noted social rebel (noted, I say) usually found wearing mismatched Converse sneakers with a middle-grade book about astronomers under my arm, I didn’t just want to look like Hayley Williams—I wanted to be her. Hayley was doing what no one else seemed capable of: She was at once powerful, in charge, and unabashedly herself. Even at age 12, I felt a growing need to get out of my town, away from my friends, and far from everything that made me me. The hair was supposed to be step one—my transformation from Old Nicole into New Nicole, as vibrant as I could possibly get away with in my Long Island town. As might have been expected, my mom didn’t want me going red, so I settled for a set of bangs that haunt me to this day [image deleted], holding on to the notion that there was still time for me to become everything I wanted to be.
Middle school saw me recede, riddled with mental health problems, a pervading desire to be a good student, and a resultant lack of positive memories. Those years were spent in an in-between space, still shackled to my childhood while grasping at straws in an attempt to figure out who I wanted to be. I discovered poetry and dove headfirst into writing, continued developing my weird love for extracurricular math, and was still able to find solace in the pages of an old, dusty novel, but I lacked a sense of clarity. High school, at least, gave me a change of scenery; finally leaving behind the friends I had made back in elementary school, I found myself in a drama program with a brand new group of people. Paramore, meanwhile, spent these years working through their own identity crisis: The departure of guitarist Josh Farro and drummer Zac Farro left the remaining three members angry, excited, and ready for whatever was to come next. By the end of ninth grade, Paramore’s new self-titled album had supplied me with anthem after anthem for my fresh start. They were ready and unafraid, dropping lyrics like “If there’s a future, we want it now” and “It’s just a spark but it’s enough to keep me going.” As a scared teenager balancing aspirations of becoming a poet, a novelist, a math professor, and an astronomer, I was still paralyzed by the sheer notion that I had to become anything at all.
By the time I got to Brown, I felt as though I should have all the answers, but I quickly realized this was not the case. I got accepted as a chemistry major and still have yet to take a college chemistry class. I diverted to mathematics and nearly failed MATH0350. Eventually, I landed on becoming an English major and also discovered a passion for philosophy. Still, I found myself presenting one way externally (my outer persona: a person who has her shit together) while wondering when the fabled inner transformation was going to begin in earnest. A continuous cycle of optimism and failure developed: Giddy with the promise that I was capable of becoming a confident badass à la Hayley Williams, I reached until my self-consciousness kicked in and I receded yet again with no visible progress having been made. It was around this time that Paramore released After Laughter, their happy-sounding new wave album full of lyrics about hard times and fake happiness. Hayley’s lyrics once again magically found me at the time I needed them most, and I was intent on recovering from my self-imposed personal heartache—always getting closer to yet farther away from myself.
After years of tumult, change, turnover, and personal struggle, Hayley Williams has emerged in 2020 with a full-fledged solo career. On the release date of her first single, “Simmer,” I sat in a window seat at 85 Waterman furiously refreshing the YouTube page that promised the video would be released at 2:30 p.m. exactly. When the video finally appeared, I watched, my mouth wide open, in childlike glee. Her fire had never been brighter, the video red-tinted and deliciously dark. The videos kept coming over the next few weeks, featuring Hayley constructing and entering a personal chrysalis and then emerging from it at once gracefully and grotesquely. Paramore was still intact, and Hayley had answered the question that had consumed my mind for my entire young adulthood: How can you remain boldly your own person without cutting yourself off from the world around you? Books still in hand, math still on my mind, I exited the building with a newfound confidence.
When I finally dyed my hair bright red in the summer of 2019, my childhood friends were all quick to echo the very same sentiment: You remind me of Hayley Williams with your red hair! Admittedly, as I walked into that appointment, I did have “Decode”-era Hayley Williams in mind, bright and dark and tucked softly underneath a purple beanie. But red felt like it was mine this time around. Hayley had graduated to platinum blonde months before, and this allowed me to use red as a way of becoming my own person rather than an imitation. At 12 years old, wracked with uncertainty about my future, I had thought the only way to be yourself was to not be seen—to not let anyone know who you are, so that no one could judge or try to change you. I was Hayley in her chrysalis, unknowable and unseeable. In her recent “Leave it Alone Interlude” video, she is seen making an ornate garment out of the very chrysalis she has just emerged from; she stares at the door to the room she has been encased within, ready to step back into the world. Hayley refuses to go unseen, and walking across campus with a head full of bright red hair, so do I.