'Closing the godd*mn door' on Panic!
“Panic! At The Disco will be no more”. The breakup of Panic! At The Disco was officially announced by frontman Brendon Urie on 24th January 2023, ending the band's near 20-year run. The story of Panic! likens a drama: filled with fame, conflict, break ups, and a slow descent into tragedy. The breakup between Urie and, well, Urie came as no surprise to fans, many in fact, have been nervously yet eagerly awaiting this announcement for years, myself included. So, what led to this inevitable fall?
The Creation: ‘Back to the street where we began’
The band was founded in 2004 Las Vegas by Ryan Ross, Brent Wilson and Spencer Smith, who invited singer Brendon Urie to form Panic! At the Disco. The band sent a demo to Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy. Impressed by their sound, Wentz signed Panic!, giving the 17-year-olds their first record deal before they had ever even performed live. The release of their first album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out in 2005 brought something new to the 2000s alternative scene, incorporating pop-punk, electronics and baroque rock. With theatrical lyrics written by then 18-year-old Ross, this album gave birth to the classic ‘I Write Sins Not Tragedies’, which became a top ten hit in the US, and the album certified triple platinum. But great hits were not the only firsts for Panic!, as Wilson became the patient zero of the band’s ‘losing members’ curse.
In 2008, the band released their second album, Pretty. Odd., Ross and Walker’s brainchild. This album was wholly different from the band’s debut, influenced by classic rock, particularly the Beatles. In their debut, they promised to “swear to shake it up”, and so they did. Rolling Stone called the record one of the boldest moves in rock history; the record solidified a following for the band. However, Panic! was at a standstill. While Ross and Walker wanted to delve into classic rock, Urie and Smith were keen to venture into pop. Ross and Walker left the band in 2009 citing creative differences, leaving the member count at two.
The conflict: ‘A vision with nowhere to go’
After the departure of two key members, the band carried on as a duo, releasing Vices & Virtues in 2011. These were worrisome times for the band’s fandom, uncertain about the future of Panic!. The release took over two years as the band was left confused with their new direction. While attaining positive reviews, critics were mixed regarding Urie’s inexperienced lyricism. Ross had previously been Panic!’s lyricist for both previous albums, and his departure forced Urie to step up and fill some big shoes. Vices was an album much more straightforward, less experimental, less strong.
Committed to their promise, the fourth album TWTLTRTD! altered Panic!’s sound once more, paying homage to the 80s. However, the album felt yet again directionless, attempting to balance dance-filled tracks with the heart-wrenching ‘This is Gospel’. ‘This is Gospel’ is one of the best in the band’s discography, written for Smith who had been grappling with drug abuse. The album again struggled to reproduce their debut's success. Soon after, Smith announced his departure from Panic! due to struggles with drug addiction, leaving Urie as the sole original member.
The Fall: ‘It’s better to burn than to fade away’
Urie, now alone, made the surprising decision to carry on Panic!’s name in his 2016 solo project Death Of A Bachelor. And alone he was, the sound surely swayed more pop than before but maintained some of its alternative roots. This album was a huge commercial success going double platinum and being nominated for a Grammy. But critics’ reviews were at their lowest, in tracks like ‘Crazy=Genius’ the album was "hollow and shapeless" according to The Guardian. Truly, the pop direction weakened Urie’s lyricism, from the debut’s profound “a wonderful caricature of intimacy” to “I’m not as think as you drunk I am”.
Panic!’s last two albums are the manifestation of ‘you either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain’. Pray For The Wicked took major influences from Broadway, the ‘band’s’ sound became more commercial, upbeat and oddly motivational. While it is admirable that Panic! never releases the same album twice, this was a fundamental departure from Panic!. The most recent 2022 album Viva Las Vengeance is Urie’s last, featuring electric guitars and live vocal recordings. tThe album is a look back at the last 19 years of Urie’s life, the ups and downs, bringing some much-needed authenticity back into Panic!. While the album isn’t the band’s best, it's a good conclusion to Urie’s journey. It offers closure.
Panic! At The Disco's story is a testament to the changing landscape of music, the struggle between authenticity and the promise to keep evolving. While the band may be no more, their musical legacy will live on in the hearts of fans and the 2000s time capsules forever.
Illustration: Lauren McAndrew