Before I began my freshman year here at Wesleyan, my cousin, a recent Vassar grad, offered me her sage advice on how to survive college. She counseled me to pick my favorite cheap beer, reasonably priced beer, and expensive beer; informed me that the best hangover food was undeni¬ably a hamburger, and told me that it was absolutely essential that I watch “Arrested Development” before set¬ting foot on campus. “Oh,” she added, “and you have got to delete Panic! At the Disco from your favorite artists on Facebook.”
My obsession with Panic! At the Disco ended long before that conver¬sation, but her words struck me none¬theless. What, exactly, was the problem with Panic!? I’ve heard many answers to this question: they’re poseurs, tal¬entless Fall Out Boy knock-offs, or as a friend said at dinner recently, “stupid emo kids out for money.” With all due respect, I have to disagree.
When I started high school, my favorite band was Motion City Soundtrack, whose frontman Justin Pierre used the band’s songs to express his crippling loneliness, depression, and drug problems. Needless to say, my resulting worldview left a lot to be desired. My love of Fall Out Boy, a band obsessed with unrequited or un¬successful high school love and suicide did nothing to improve my mood. Then, I discovered Panic!.
Panic! was edgy enough to an¬noy my parents while simultaneously non-threatening enough that I could daydream about adorable lead vocalist Brendon Urie serenading me in a flow¬ery field. But even more important than providing me with a new crush, in their own, strange way, Panic! At the Disco was uplifting. At first glance, song titles like “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide Is Press Coverage” and “Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off” don’t exactly exude exuberance, although it should be noted that, in the grand tradition of their mentor Pete Wentz, Panic! has a thing for song titles that have little or nothing to do with the actual subject matter. Yet I managed to glean a new perspective from these songs.
The overemotional lyrics of Panic!’s emo pop/rock brethren, for most listeners, cut a bit too close for comfort, which I suppose is the point. Conversely, Panic! is pure fantasy. The band’s first major hit, “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” dealt with a wedding of all things. The band members and their fans are clearly too young to ac¬tually be thinking about marriage, but the literal meaning of the song isn’t re¬ally the point—the point is the hyper-catchy musical drama. God knows where Ryan Ross, the band’s guitarist and the writer of most of their songs, gets his inspiration.
Even more importantly, all of Panic!’s songs are underlined by an “I am awesome” vibe. For example, in “There’s a Good Reason These Tables Are Numbered Honey, You Just Haven’t Thought of It Yet,” Urie sings,“haven’t you heard that I’m the new cancer, never looked better.” However eccen¬trically the expression, the idea is clear. Panic! displays none of the self-depre¬cation that is a mainstay of the other so-called emo bands. Theatricality and often-witty wordplay replace depres¬sion. Maybe this is why so many people object to the band—from the exclama¬tion point in their name (and, despite its removal for the band’s second al¬bum, Panic! is not Panic! without the exclamation point) to their non sequi¬tur song titles and off-the-wall music videos, the band’s first album, “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out” is all about spec¬tacle.
Panic! At the Disco’s second al¬bum, “Pretty. Odd.” is far more light¬hearted than the baroque “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.” Although it’s report¬edly a tribute to The Beatles, “Pretty. Odd.” is definitely not going to be a cornerstone of rock music for the rest of time. But the album is overflowing with whimsy and charm. “Nine in the Afternoon” is undeniably catchy, and I caught many of my purportedly anti-Panic! friends humming it under their breath. The marked difference in their albums shows that Panic! is dedicated to experimenting with their sound, not just churning out moneymaking repli¬cas of their previous megahits.
In their songs, the boys of Panic! goof off, poke fun at society, play around with obscure film and literary references, and recite lyrics so quickly it’s a wonder Brendon Urie can hold his breath for so long. In fact, on both albums and in their crazy music videos, the band always seemed to be having a lot of fun. That’s what Panic! At the Disco is: good, not-quite-clean fun set to a vibrant beat. Sure, Panic! lacks sophistication and subtlety, but they made up for it in sheer enthusiasm.
By junior year of high school, I grew out of my obsession with the band, and the numerous Brendon Urie photos came down from my locker. But I don’t see that era of my music taste as something to be embarrassed about. Panic! At the Disco will always have a special place in my heart and in my iTunes library for making the soundtrack to my high school years just a bit sunnier.