“Fences” is, pretty transparently, about the misery of being a celebrity. “You’re always on display / for everyone to watch and learn from,” sings Hayley Williams in the first verse. It’s not lost on Williams that this is a privileged position and also that, because of that privilege, because fame is considered desirable, there will always be those who think you’d best not complain when you have it: “Yeah, yeah, you’re asking for it / with every breath that you breathe in / just breathe it in.”
That is … shitty. Particularly when you consider that Williams was only 19 years old when Riot! was released. It’s also proof that she’s one hell of a songwriter, exceedingly capable of succinctly getting to the heart of an issue. And, as with so many great lyrics, there’s broad applicability here. As a 34-year old banker, I’ve got roughly nothing in common with that 19-year old pop-star from 2007, but I can assure you that, trapped in my house for the last 13 months, raising a toddler and an infant, with a job that’s only gotten more intense during the pandemic, I’ve had a lot of days logging into video conferences and feeling like a few lines from “Fences” covered me pretty well: “And it’s obvious that you’re dying, dying,” would do the trick, as would “Yeah, yeah, well, you’re just a mess.”
This is quality songwriting, folks.
And that’s true well beyond Williams’ lyrics. “Fences” is a great pop-rock song. It’s got hooks and harmonies, sure, but it also does a great job of judiciously applying its elements. The song is sparse, with Williams’ vocals and a prominent snare and kick drum combo driving much of the song. Guitars show up when appropriate—gotta love that era-appropriate power chord solo—but this is one of those rare rock tracks where the bass gets to carry some instrumental melody rather than just filling out the chord structure of the guitarists. The result is a dynamic, energetic track.
I’m sure Williams was being honest in lamenting life in the spotlight but tracks like this make it clear why she and her bandmates became stars.
This post originally appeared with a few footnotes in the Songs & Stories newsletter, for which you can sign up right here. I’d appreciate it if you did.