Hayley Williams Becomes a Bona Fide Pop Icon in “Dead Horse”

Fact: the only person who writes breakup songs better than Hayley Williams is Stevie Nicks.

The entire Petals for Armor saga is exceptionally enjoyable — one of the few solo projects to come out of the early aughts emo revival that might actually be worth something. While most solo projects of this caliber are more like sandboxes for their artists — non-serious projects that allow the singer to dabble in different genres or sounds — Williams is giving much more respect to her solo project and is pushing her artistic merit to its limits.

“Dead Horse” is no exception in either lyrical, musical or visual content. The music video follows its predecessors in that it’s rife with symbolism, with mirrors, body doubles and exaggerated hair colors to boot. The Björk influence carries on here, especially in the way of Williams’s fashion choices — she’s adorned in a number of outfits that surely mean something, but only Williams’s most diehard fans will be able to decipher what it all means.

In terms of music, however, it only takes a passing knowledge of music culture to know what’s going on. “Dead Horse” is very clearly about Williams’s failed relationship with New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert.

It was an infamously rocky relationship, with an eight-year age gap and an affair from Gilbert’s first wife, Sherri DuPree Bemis, a fact that at least Williams isn’t shy about admitting.

In fact, one of the most striking moments in the video is when Williams stares into the camera while singing “I got what I deserved // I was the other woman first,” which is an admission of guilt rarely seen from either Williams or artists, in general. Additionally, the shots of Williams in exaggerated wigs of past hairstyles are particularly noteworthy. She both mocks herself and conveys just how fake and unhappy she was in the relationship.

Most importantly, though, “Dead Horse” is where Williams really becomes a bona fide pop icon. “Dead Horse” is the elevated version of everything that happened in After Laughter, met with the pure, earnest honesty of Brand New Eyes. Somehow, Williams has almost completely perfected the pop sound she’s been aiming for since the self-titled album, and also elevated her lyricism so it comes off as raw and piercing, instead of amateurish and immature.

Long-time fans of Paramore and Williams will note just how much more mature this song really is. In fact, the wordplay is more along the lines of something a 2005 Pete Wentz would write — which is pretty impressive considering where Williams started. She’s truly mastered her voice and style, something that can’t be said for every artist.

“Dead Horse” will be remembered the same way “Misery Business” and “Hard Times” are — as pivotal points in Williams’ career. We’re lucky she’s just broken into her 30s — we’ve got probably another three decades of this excellence.

Featured Image: Atlantic Records