The Business of (Internalized) Misery

From Animal Crossing to Frank Ocean’s new singles to Zoey 101, a rather assorted range of media has trended on Twitter over the course of the past week. No more or no less assorted than Twitter trends typically are, perhaps, but assorted nonetheless. One viral tweet that caught my eye in particular was the following:

For context, the “internalized misogyny bop” under discussion is “Misery Business,” the 2007 lead single from American pop-punk band Paramore’s second album. With lyrics like “She’s got a body like an hourglass, it’s ticking like a clock,” the guitar-driven track wields the language of slut-shaming to gloat over hurting another girl through stealing the attention of a boy. Credited with introducing Paramore to a mainstream audience, “Misery Business” charted at No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was eventually certified triple-platinum in 2015.

A little more than a decade after its release, however, “Misery Business” is no longer the band’s darling as it once was. In a 2015 Tumblr post, lead vocalist and primary songwriter Hayley Williams confessed to feeling that the lyrics she wrote at 17 were narrow-minded and not relatable to her feminist beliefs at 26. In a 2017 interview with music outlet Track 7, Williams worded criticism of her own song as such:

“The problem with the lyrics is not that I had an issue with someone I went to school with. That’s just high school and friendships and breakups. It’s the way I tried to call her out using words that didn’t belong in the conversation.”

The words Williams alluded to are likely the lines the band stopped including in live shows over time: “Once a whore, you’re nothing more / I’m sorry that’ll never change.” Eventually, in 2018, the band decided to retire live performances of the song altogether at a show in their hometown of Nashville, TN (that city sure sounds familiar, huh).

The history and content of “Misery Business” piques my interest in two different ways: First, I admire Paramore’s willingness to take accountability for their art, and second, I wonder what power language has to combat internalized sexism or other forms of internalized oppression. Typically defined as the phenomenon that occurs “when women enact learned sexist behaviors upon themselves and other women,” (Bearman, Korbokov, and Thorne, 2009), internalized sexism may alienate members of the targeted group from one another, even though division may seem counterintuitive to taking a stand against prejudice.

As seen through works like Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)—itself misogynistic in some ways for pitting feminism against femininity—to Audre Lorde’s “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference” (1984), women have been discussing internalized sexism for centuries. Language surrounding gender has continued to evolve through time, even in the 13 years since “Misery Business” premiered. But how much impact does language have on encouraging structural and internal change?

I personally think language does influence how we perceive the world. Words, being the medium through which we communicate, may indicate what our culture values. The more we have discussions around oppression, the more inclined we may be to recognize language that supports it. And by recognizing language, perhaps, it will be easier to avoid impressing misery upon ourselves and each other.



2 thoughts on “The Business of (Internalized) Misery

  1. As a huge Paramore fan, this post grabbed my attention immediately. I was actually at the show in question and the general atmosphere when Williams announced they were retiring “Miz-Biz” (as fans affectionately call it) was that it felt right, despite how sad it was. This is only tangentially related to the point of your post (I’ll get to it later, I promise), but I’m really interested in the fact that Paramore and Williams specifically retired one of their biggest hits…and were almost expected to, while Panic! at the Disco still performs “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” at every show. Slut-shaming was deeply entrenched in 2000s emo, and I’m interested that only Paramore has fully taken responsibility.

    Now for the post itself, I definitely agree with everything you’re saying. Language, especially as reflected in pop culture, can have a heavy influence on public opinion. When sexism is prevalent in the language that surrounds us, it becomes normalized. I think it’s right to give a lot of critical attention to the language we use and hear on a daily basis. I’m sure Hayley Williams would agree with you on that front as well.

    Great post!!



  2. Fantastic post! It is so common to reexamine old and sometimes even beloved songs, TV shows, etc. and discover really problematic elements. This was the case for the classic Christmas song “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. I definitely think Paramore’s choice to remove “Misery Business” is a step in the right direction, but I also understand that it can be really difficult for people to completely denounce things that they once loved. But I think sacrificing destructive media is one of the best ways to get rid of toxic ideas. As you say, language is so important in forming thought. When issues are pointed out in old movies or books, a common argument for continuing to enjoy them is “But it’s a classic!” To some extent, it’s true that we can’t completely abandon things from the past just because they are problematic in the present. There needs to be space for society to progress without losing important cultural items from less progressive eras. I think we should use these items to track our progress. That being said, there should be an active effort to remove older media from what we think of as our present “culture” so it has no influence over current patterns of thought. It’s a fine line. Interesting stuff!


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