Photo by Jennifer Tzar
While “emo” nostalgia reaches new highs as bands like Paramore and My Chemical Romance maintain their devoted fan bases while returning to their older sound, another band of the 2000s scene has fallen. Formed in 2004, Panic! At The Disco lived a tumultuous life, shedding members after every album until there was only one member of the original lineup left, Brendon Urie. Although the band is recently deceased, its corpse went cold long ago.
Panic! At The Disco was discovered when founding member Ryan Ross left a comment on the LiveJournal of Fall Out Boy lyricist Pete Wentz. The rest is history: Panic was signed to Wentz’s record label and immediately after the band graduated high school, they were off to record their debut album.
A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out was their debut album, it centers around Ross’ dark coming of age story as he intertwines references to the books of Chuck Palahniuk with subjects including his father’s alcoholism and the pressures of writing songs to meet capitalist demand. The fourth wall is nonexistent, as evident in the first song “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage” which promises they “swear to shake it up if you swear to listen.” The lyrics maintain a bitter cynicism that makes the album perfect for walking around telling yourself you’re just like Holden Caulfield.
Musically, the album is all over the place, blending electronic and cabaret sounds with pop punk. The album should not sound as good as it does, made on a budget of $11k in the span of three and a half weeks before Panic! ever played their first show together. However, the band and producer Matt Squire created a catchy album representative of the early online scene of melodramatic emo kids.
On A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, the band “swore to shake it up” and they did so on Pretty. Odd., which swaps out dark cabaret for sunshine psychedelia. Ross wrote the majority of the lyrics on the album, retaining his metaphor heavy melodrama but ditching the edgy naivete. “The Piano Knows Something I Don’t Know” is one of the highlights, beginning with a slow melody before swelling into a grandiose folk symphony and discussing the nature of songwriting from a more positive perspective.
Another highlight of the album is “Northern Downpour,” which feels like watching the sun stream through a cloudy blue sky. Its lyrics are bittersweet and beautiful, beginning with “If all of life is but a dream, fantastic posing greed/ then we should feed our jewelry to the sea,” proposing that possessions are worthless in a world consumed by materialism. Later, continuing, “I know the world’s a broken bone/ but melt your headaches, call it home” meaning that one must live on in spite of challenges.
Panic! At The Disco died for the first time in 2009 when main lyricist Ryan Ross left the band, leaving Urie and drummer Spencer Smith. The following album, Vices and Virtues, returns to the pop punk sound from Fever, even featuring a few tracks written by Pete Wentz. While the songs are catchy, they sound like Fall Out Boy B-sides at best and offer little nuance.
Dallon Weekes, currently in I Don’t Know How But They Found Me, joined the band during the release of V&V and became a full member following its release. He contributed lyrics on the next Panic album, Too Weird To Live To Rare To Die and breathed new life into the band. On “This is Gospel” he wrote the lyrics “If you love me let me go,” which fans learnt the hard way following his departure.
The song “Girls/Girls/Boys” was written by both Weekes and Urie about a love triangle from the perspective of a man in love with a woman who is bisexual. The chorus ends with “love is not a choice,” a clear statement in support of the LGBTQ community. As a result, fans adopted the song as an LGBTQ anthem and created the Rainbow Hearts Project, where fans would hand out rainbow-colored hearts to hold over their phone flashlight during the song to turn arenas into pride flags. Despite fans’ acceptance of the song, the lyrics pick and prod at the woman’s sexuality, treating her bisexuality as a fetish and a scandalous secret simultaneously. The verses end saying, “cause I don’t ever want to be your boyfriend” or “save your reputation,” which are both excuses for the narrator to only view her sexually. While the song has created a safe space for LGBTQ fans, it’s important to credit the fans who started the Rainbow Hearts Project rather than the songwriters whose intentions seem less than pure.
The albums Death of a Bachelor, Pray for the Wicked, and Viva Las Vengeance were released as solo projects by Brendon Urie using the Panic! At The Disco namesake. The promise to “shake it up” is long forgotten as the three albums combine retro and modern pop to create unremarkable, vapid melodies that fill the walls of grocery stores nationwide. Each album had a radio hit (although the legitimacy of that is questionable); however, on his own, Urie could not replace the unique lyrics and evolving sound that the band name was intended for. As the dead horse is left to rot, ex-fans gather around to spit on the band’s grave and collectively joke about how Brendon Urie is breaking up with himself.
Kate Watanabe | Walking Contradiction | KXSU Music Reporter