HOLLYWOOD — Paramore look understandably freaked out amid the chaos backstage at the Video Music Awards. It’s a swirling mass of camera crews, tech guys, microphone guys, megaphone guys, headphone guys, directors, publicists, assistants, stylists and hangers-on. Roughly 80 percent of them are driving golf carts. The other 20 percent wish they were, so they could run over everyone else. It is hot, sweaty, smelly and ugly.
Paramore are not just nervous because they could be crushed, trampled or killed at any second. See, they’re due onstage in 10 minutes for their first-ever awards-show performance, which just so happens to be a fairly large production including tons of extras, several lighting cues and exactly one picture-perfect re-creation of the famed Sunset Strip rock venue the Whisky a Go Go — a a re-creation that will be summarily destroyed midway through their set.
They jump in place, they huddle together, and then — with the prodding of their road manager and label rep — they begin to cut through the crowds and make their way to the stage. Suddenly, all those nerves seem to be gone. Or at least carefully camouflaged.
“Man, we’re excited right now,” frontwoman Hayley Williams laughs, despite the fact that she’s close to being swallowed by the crowd around her. “We always love playing shows, and this one just happens to be the biggest show out there.”
As she’s talking, she and her bandmates inch closer to the stage door, where they’re promptly stopped as a shouting match erupts between security, show producers and the band’s manager. There are about 50 people also trying to squeeze their way in, creating a genuinely terrifying bottleneck that threatens to turn into a full-on riot. Headsets crackle, angry producers shout at security that “this is Paramore, and they’re performing in five minutes” and the band looks on rather bemusedly. After a few moments, the situation is resolved, and the band is whisked inside, while a rep for Wrigley’s Gum shouts about how he should be let in first because he’s “sponsoring the show.”
Inside, the situation isn’t much calmer. Stagehands hustle the Whisky set into place, sending band and reps scattering for cover. They find a pocket of space underneath some risers and scramble to get their in-ear devices situated while people in headsets race by menacingly. The VMAs have just come back from a commercial break, and while Lil Wayne is introduced by Michael Phelps, in the studio there is a bizarre moment of silence, which drummer Zac Farro promptly fills by bellowing “I’ve got my in-ear!” to no one in particular, cracking up his bandmates but drawing death stares from a nearby crowd of stage managers.
As Wayne launches into his performance of “A Milli,” Paramore — somehow oblivious to the chaos swirling around them — break into an impromptu dance session. Williams and bassist Jeremy Davis get especially into the groove (it bears mentioning here that as a dancer, Williams is a very good lead singer).
Finally, the Whisky set is built, the word is given that there’s “one minute until positions,” and the bandmembers huddle up to try to clear their heads. They’re hustled onto the stage. Extras are loaded into position. Lights are cued. Everything is ready.
The following four minutes are truly excellent. The band rip through “Misery Business” just like they’re playing at the actual Whisky, with guitarist Josh Farro bounding about and Williams strutting and preening like a punk-rock ringmaster. The extras go nuts, the Whisky stage is pulled apart in perfect unison, and the whole thing goes off without a hitch. As the final notes of the song fade away, there are tons of cheers in the house, and we’re off to commercial break. Paramore are then guided directly to their seats (better than Ludacris’!) and get ready to hear whether they’ll take home the award for Best Rock Video. (Ultimately, they lose to Linkin Park.)
“That,” Davis smiles, beads of sweat quivering on his forehead, “was amazing. Honestly, it flew by. I really don’t even remember being up there.”
His bandmates agree, wiping away perspiration and giving emphatic thumbs-up signs to their management. In the moments before the show comes back live, Paramore finally have a second to exhale, take it all in and realize what they just pulled off before an audience of millions. It’s all over now, save for the partying — and you get the feeling they’re going to party pretty hard. After all, they’ve earned it.