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Hayley Williams Marcus Maddox good dye young fruits
Photo by Marcus Maddox, courtesy of Hayley Williams

Hayley Williams: ‘My hair is more sunshine-y than how I feel on the inside’

The Paramore singer opens up about her hair journey, the return of emo, and going blonde as a tribute to Taylor Swift

At the moment, Hayley Williams has shoulder-length bleached blonde hair, with blunt bangs cut straight across her forehead. She wears it not too straight, but not overly-primped either. It’s a little bit messy, somehow riffing off of 60s bedhead and 90s grunge girl at the same time. Wearing a pale pink baseball cap emblazoned with “Good Dye Young” (the vibrant hair colour brand she founded with her longtime hairstylist Brian O’Connor), an oversized green and white striped button-down and 70s-square sunglasses, she’s currently taking a two-week break from touring the US with her band Paramore, hanging out somewhere in a sunny little backyard in California.

“Bangs, always bangs,” she says of her signature beauty look. “The times that I didn’t have bangs, I really didn’t feel like myself. Brian always is like, ‘Let me do something with your bangs. Grow them out.’ I think he wants me to have that little forehead moment. I think that’s the thing though, my freckles, and now that my hair is blonde again, I can see photos and I’m like, ‘Whoa, that looks like how I see myself, at four or five years old, being a tomboy with ratty long blonde hair and bangs and my freckles showing.”

Williams may have founded her hair colour line seven years ago, but today, with culture veering towards a nostalgia-fuelled remembrance of all things indie sleaze and emo, Williams’ aesthetic has almost never felt more relevant. She cites Joni Mitchell, Debbie Harry and Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth as her all-time favourite beauty muses, but the fact that she and her band came to prominence at the height of this distinct era obviously lends itself to a unique aesthetic impact. 

Before Williams started touring with Paramore, she idolised Karen O from The Yeah Yeah Yeahs as well as Meg White. “I resonate so much more with indie sleaze because that’s what I was a fan of,” she says. “But then we became a band that was on the road and we toured a lot more with the Warped scene and the emo scene. So very quickly, I just became a T-shirt and jeans girl. I basically just dressed like Adam from Taking Back Sunday as a girl, you know?”

“It’s interesting thinking about TikTok making a trend out of the New York punk rock scene,” she says. “It makes me think like, oh my God, is this what my mom felt like when she was in her thirties and like, I started wanting to wear her belts from high school and like her skirts from high school in college?”

During her emo and indie sleaze beauty phase Williams went all out: “There’s a photo somewhere floating around the internet of one of my first MySpace photos and it does not disappoint, I’ll tell you that,” she says. “I went to my mom’s friend who gave me highlights once. It was just like, well, I don’t know, indie kids and Kelly Clarkson have chunky highlights, so I guess it’s time for me to get chunky highlights.”

Despite her current subtle blonde facade in 2023, Williams is perhaps best known for her incredibly bright, blazing, even flaming, near-neon orange hair with a warm undertone of red that inspired a whole generation of Tumblr kids to take the plunge into DIY dye. From 2005, when her band Paramore burst out on the scene, to 2009, she cycled through a family of warm auburns, cherry reds and atomic yellows. She later churned out an explosive rainbow of hot pink, grass greens, deep purples and even black. But it was her 2007 music video for “Misery Business that lit a flame within the community of Paramore fans. Her hair –cut into a punky shag with spiky baby bangs and a deep side part – was alive with a burst of burgundy, fiery orange, yellow and blonde, solidifying Williams as the alternative it-girl and beauty muse of her time.

“I loved having red hair. It’s like you’re just a teenager doing what you’re going to do to express yourself and figure out who you are,” she says of the trademark hair colour. “But for us, we had people that started to notice our band and write about us. So that definitely became a marker for our band that was really unexpected. There have been times when I really leaned into that, and there’s been times I really resented it. But all in all, I think it’s given me and Brian, if nothing else, a foundation for our friendship.”

Williams was only 16 when Paramore’s debut album, All We Know Is Falling, was released in 2005, and she used hair colour as a powerful act of self-expression. “I just think orange and yellow and those kinds of warm goldy and even neon tones make me so happy,” she says. “I feel like they’re really brave, bold colours and they’re very positive. I think, typically, throughout my life, the way I express myself outwardly is a bit more sunshine-y than how I always feel on the inside. Now whenever I fall back into those colours, it’s usually when I’m sort of reaching for a braver side of myself or a more positive side.”

Going back to her roots is rather intentional at this point. When I ask her if the reason why she’s a born-again blonde is that she’s preparing for a new colour, her answer is instantaneous: she’s developing lots of new temporary colours for Good Dye Young, but she also might be in the mood to create something in tribute to Taylor Swift. The duo have known each other for years, growing up in the Nashville music scene. With Swift currently on her historic Eras North American tour, it was announced in January 2023 that Paramore would be opening for Swift and collaborating on a new version of her “Speak Now” track.

“Brian and I were talking about doing something around the time that the song that I sang on with Taylor comes out, to celebrate her,” she says, “and the fact that she was the first friend that I made in the industry really. It’s very meaningful to me to still know her now that we’re adult women. We’re still traversing through this life and through the industry.”

Williams found a world of beauty inspiration flipping through her mom’s fashion magazines when she was growing up, finding ample and intrinsic connections to Gwen Stefani, Aaliyah, TLC, Mary J Blige and Missy Elliott. “People who would kind of straddle both ends of the spectrum, by wearing men’s silhouettes, but also lip liner and thin eyebrows,” she explains. “I just thought that was so cool looking. And I lived in Mississippi, so there was nothing like that anywhere around me. I can remember kind of reading through tips about tweezing your eyebrows, which of course was a disaster for me. Or putting lemon juice in your hair to get highlights – just little tips about how you could make yourself look a certain way but not have to use a lot of products. We didn’t have a lot of money, so I was always just looking for little tricks like that, and ways to express myself. I didn’t really feel like I fit in where I lived as a kid.”

But it was Paramore’s fans that really inspired Good Dye Young – which, as of this spring, is now sold across the US at one of the country’s largest beauty retailers, Ulta. Years ago, Williams was at a hotel between touring and called O’Connor in to speak with her. “I was like, ‘Brian, people always talk about the looks that we do, and people that come to Paramore shows are always riffing on something we’ve done and it’s even better than what we could have ever dreamed up on our own. I was like, ‘I kind of just feel like we should make something out of this because there’s a real conversation here, which is that people find their hair to be a really useful tool for expression. It’s emotional for people, it’s empowering and we loved talking to Paramore fans about that, so why not try to extend that conversation into something that’s even broader than Paramore.” At the time, vibrant hair colours like pink, yellow, orange and green weren’t nearly as mainstream as they were now.

At the same time, Williams has said the hair salon that she co-founded with O’Connor in Nashville is inspired by another cultural relic that suddenly feels more important than ever: Fruits Magazine. As the magazine makes a comeback, Y2K Japanese street style and kawaii culture is influencing all the subverted codes in fashion – from Marc Jacobs Heaven to Kiko Kostadinov’s Hysteric Glamour collaboration, as well as the next generation of TikTok. She named the salon Fruits Hair Lab.

“The first time we went to Japan, I think I was 17 and one of our promoters that took us around gave me a Hysteric Glamour shirt and I was very excited about fashion over there and it was also the first time as a teenager that I bought make-up for myself. I wasn’t just stealing something from my mom’s vanity.” She bought a gel eyeliner at a convenience shop and saw somebody carrying a copy of Fruits magazine. “That changed everything for me. That is why I went home and I found Brian at the salon that he worked at. I wanted to dye my hair and I wanted to look like a caricature, almost like an anime version of myself, like sharp edges and bright colours.” And just like that, a hair icon was born – and with it, a whole generation of DIY dye jobs fueled by emotion and self-expression.

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