It takes only a few seconds into Paramore’s Misery Business to recognize the song. And it took precisely one second into the music video for us to fall in love with Hayley Williams’ neon orange hair. It was metal, it was cool, and it was unlike anything we had seen before. In our eyes, she was immediately a rockstar—not just for the song but for her flagrant disregard for beauty standards. Because how punk rock is it to give the proverbial middle finger to the preppy beauty trends dominating the early aughts with none other than a fluorescent tri-color shag?
Williams’ hair has defined our culture and continues to be the pinnacle of self-expression. From two-toned to platinum blonde, to hot pink, to turquoise, to fuchsia ombre, to cherry red, and beyond—she has liberated us from boring hair and birthed a generation of rebellious teens who dared to be different…and dared to be themselves. But while we were all buying box dye from the drugstore and staining our parents’ bathroom sinks, Williams had the help of glam guru Brian O’Connor to bring her multi-colored hair fantasies to life.
We sat down with O’Connor, Hayley Williams’ longtime stylist, business partner, and best friend, to break down being a celebrity stylist on the road versus in a salon, his creative process, and the story behind the hair color that changed it all.
The Birth of Riot Hair
O’Connor breezed into the Mane Addicts Headquarters without a whisper of a word—just a smile on his face and anticipation for our directions on where he should set up. He beelined it to the wall of hair extensions in our studio and ran his hands over them; his eyes lit up with excitement. We joined him. Because, for obvious reasons, it’s hard to resist running your hands over a wall of hair.
He was not in the office to only interview with us; he was also doing a sunset-inspired dye job on one of our editors for that night’s Paramore show. And even though he was juggling our questions while doing a really advanced dye job, he never once broke a sweat.
Reminiscent of a slumber party, O'Connor began on her hair while we gathered around with our snacks; storytime commenced. O’Connor and Ms. Williams (if you’re nasty) met when she was sixteen, going on seventeen, and working on this lil' ol’ album called Riot! In what was the world’s best luck, the owner of the salon (whom O’Connor was assisting) went on maternity leave, and her client, Hayley Williams, needed her hair colored for a music video she was working on; O’Connor stepped in.
“This was the time Paramore was working on their second album, Riot! with Misery Business. And that was the music video that she was shooting. And she came to me, and actually, weirdly enough, she had just come back from Japan. And she referenced Fruits magazine, which is like a street fashion wear magazine. And that's honestly why we named our Nashville salon Fruits because it’s what started our relationship. I ended up doing her hair because she referenced Fruits, and she was like, I want to look like this anime character of myself—a little cartoony. And so we made this plan: Misery Business hair. And that hair was the standout. People started talking about her hair in tandem with the music itself,” shared O’Connor.
There’s no doubt that Williams’ Misery Business hair became synonymous with the emo-scene aesthetic. Within days of the video dropping, bright, vivid hair was everywhere, but when you create a seismic shift in the culture, one has to wonder if you’re aware of its impact before or during it. Did it take them by surprise as much as it took the general public? Or was it an intentional disruption? We had questions.
“At first we were just kids who were having fun, you know, playing around. Honestly, I think even now, most people look back, and it's a staple of the ‘Emo Scene Queen’ hair, which, at the time, wasn't our intention. Even now, it's very funny to say things like, oh, yeah, I think what we were doing blazed a trail,” O’Connor explained.
He emphasized how collaborative his relationship with Williams is and how she’s much more involved than one may expect. However, don't conflate that with their journey's cosmic magic, natural chemistry, and organic approach to hair throughout the years. “I mean, it sounds crazy, but it just wasn't this maniacal plan. It was just like, oh, that worked. Okay, let's keep going with that.”
O’Connor elaborated further, “It's always her and I. There's structure to it, whether it's style or color—my professional foundation is there. And then having her input of just kind of not everything being too pretty or too perfect. She will be like, ‘How can we just kind of disrupt this, just enough so it doesn't look so perfect?’”
Taking Riot Hair Even Further
While yes, Riot Orange is the color that started it all—it was their consistent out-of-the-box creations over the years that set them on a path to opening their salon, Fruits Hair Lab in Nashville, and then taking it one step further by bottling their genius with their vegan and cruelty-free hair dye brand, Good Dye Young.
“I had so many people ask me as a stylist like, ‘Well, what do you use? How do you get like that?’ Whether it was Paramore fans, people in the salon that I worked with, or other stylists, I wouldn't really tell because, to me, it was what made it different from anything else, was my brain to formulate it. Why am I going to give that away for free? And not in a selfish way. But to me, it was like, well, that's part of what makes me good at my job. So it made sense in the beginning for Good Dye Young to start with Riot and have it be, you know, like our color because we had never given that out before.”
Williams and O’Connor not only work with each other in the salon, he also travels with her and the band on the road—bringing a different dynamic to their working relationship and his repertoire as a stylist. Not many stylists oscillate between working in the salon and traveling with bands—so naturally, we wanted the nitty gritty details.
When asked what challenges he faces when traveling, O’Connor laughed sarcastically, “Where do I begin? Time does not work the same with a traveling band as it does in a scheduled salon environment. There are interruptions, last-minute things—and that time challenge can either be too much time or not enough.”
O’Connor tells us that sometimes he only has an hour and a half to get Hayley ready—full makeup, hair, outfit, touch-ups—while other times he has a luxurious three hours. Regardless, he remains humble and flexible, which we think might be the heart of what makes him such a professional.
“My ego and my sense of timing do not come before the people who are hiring me to do my job. I am no greater than the person that I am working for. And by no means is this my show. People aren't coming to see me and my work. People are coming to see an artist perform and sing and do their job. And if I can't do a look in time, that's not their problem. That's mine. And I need to figure it out.”
And that, friends, is what they call an attitude of gratitude, which we’ve heard can get you far in life—like Brian O’Connor far.
The Unglamorous Side of the Job
O'Connor added that power outlets make doing hair on the road unnecessarily tricky. “Outlets, honey, that is a logistical nightmare! I have been in plenty of rooms at a venue or a theater, whatever it may have been, and I have flipped a breaker one after the other.”
While being a celebrity stylist traveling with a band can seem glamorous, it can be anything but. Aside from power outlets, O’Connor attributed rushing, impatience, and not being more assertive as common culprits for mishaps along the way. He reflected on the time Williams wanted to dye her hair multiple times in one year—and at this point, the room fell quiet. Our faces resembled that grimacing emoji as he began because we all knew where it was going.
You probably do, too.
“Dyeing your hair nine times in a year because you're emotionally going through something and you're using it as an escape—hairstylist or not, it is my place to say this isn't good for your hair. But I didn't at the time until after, and it was a little too late. And we had to do a big cut, you know, and that's when she had shorter blue hair. We had spent some time growing it out before we did that, and yeah, just really suffered because I wouldn't speak up and use my voice and my knowledge. And instead, I went back to my hotel room after dyeing her hair and burst into tears because I was like, ‘her hair in areas feels like wet spaghetti!’”
Luckily, times have changed, and there are protective products, bond builders, and new technology that help preserve hair health beyond what was available in the early aughts. “I am really big at holding Hayley accountable , ‘If you want to do this, this is what it takes for us to be able to do this. So you have to hold up your end of the deal just as much as I'm holding up my end.’
Ah, dyeing your hair to avoid your feelings; Celebrities, they’re just like us!
Unleashing Everyone’s Teen Spirit
By now, our editor’s hair was stealing the show; It looked like a literal sunset—pink, orange, and yellow painted so delicately down her long locks had us all in a trance. The aforementioned time was creeping up, and his team began hinting at wrapping up so he could get to Williams in time before the show. Still, he was cool, calm, and collected. And because they were gracious enough to give us tickets to the concert that night, we also (selfishly) didn’t want him late. We wrapped up and asked for any advice he could pass along to those wishing to create a career similar to his.
“If you're not willing to make sacrifices, It'll never be what you think it's going to be.”
By now, our editor’s hair has lured the attention of everyone in the office. People from down the hall are popping their heads into the studio—oohing and awing, all of us wondering if we could pull off sunset hair too. Sorry, not all of us can. And with as much grace as O’Connor breezed into the office, he breezed out of the office, singing his gratitude along the way—a class act.
A few hours later, Paramore took the stage at the Kia Forum on time and looked fabulous. The set was reminiscent of the groovy 1960s, with a slight punk edge, because duh. We remembered how O’Connor said he takes the entire stage and set into consideration when creating Williams’ looks; this was evident when she came out in a metallic checkered mini dress and black go-go boots. Her hair was bright blonde, and her fringe was merely an accessory to her thick eyelashes and mod makeup—she was very twiggy-esque.
The stadium was packed with people of all ages, races, and backgrounds, and we can confidently say it was one of the only concerts we’ve been to where the audience sang every song very loudly. At one point, Williams stopped her set to say it was the loudest city of their tour thus far—we were all very proud of this fact.
And then it happened. That single-note guitar riff that brings out your inner angsty emo, Misery Business’ iconic intro. The crowd erupted in screams. Every hand went up. And Hayley, now 34 years old, was seventeen again. We were all seventeen again. And all we wanted was neon orange hair.