After dying my hair black and listening to Panic! At The Disco’s first album on repeat, I’ve been reminiscing on my time in middle school. Did you ever experience the days of the middle school “emo” phase? “Emo” is short for emotional, and dang does this subgenre get really emotional and sad at times. There is no denying that the music from this time had an effect on myself and fellow former-emo kids out there. It seems like teenagers now have skipped through that awkward stage of their life that was once based on shopping at Hot Topic, Tumblr, and thick black eyeliner. So, this one goes out to the people who lived through this era of cringe and if you didn’t go through this time, here is what you missed out on. Over the next few weeks, we are going to take a look at some of the bands who had large contributions to when we claimed that “it isn’t a phase, mom.”
Panic! At The Disco
Before Brendon Urie put out pop hits like “High Hopes” that you’ve definitely heard before high school football games a million times, they started out pretty emo. The band, when it was a band, went through a lot of personnel changes throughout the years and is currently only Brendon Urie with less-important, non-recurring musicians. That is how we got to the point of Death of a Bachelor and High Hopes, with both albums appealing to a very large, mainstream pop audience. Let’s start by taking a look at their albums, starting with the first.
A Fever You Can't Sweat Out
Their first album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, is arguably their best album on the emo scale. Even though Brendon Urie absolutely hates performing “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”now, the infidelity narrative paired with the upbeat yet dark tone and lyrics created the band’s first hit- making them a crucial player in emo music. I can’t talk about this album without mentioning the flawless transition from song to song, most notably from “But It’s Better If You Do”to “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.”The long song titles that have nothing to do with the lyrics (“The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide Is Press Coverage,” “I Constantly Thank God For Estaban,” etc) are a staple for this era of music, seen also in Fall Out Boys’ early albums, coming up next week.
Emo Scale Rating: 10/10
The second album, Pretty. Odd., was released in 2008, 3 years after Fever, with the first song starting with the line “Oh how it’s so been so long . . . we were busy writing songs for you . . . we’re still the same band.” Are you really the same band? The listener is exposed to “Nine In The Afternoon,” which is upbeat and optimistic, a completely different sound for Panic! This album is the first time we see Urie and the band dabbling in a more poppy and happy sound, reflected by the album art having bright flowers and lighter lyrics. It is definitely an enchanting and nostalgic album, but it doesn’t encompass the usual emo standards of sadness and tough emotions.
Emo Scale Rating: 6/10
Vices & Virtues
Thankfully, the band got back their emo sound on Vices & Virtues, immediately diving in to “The Ballad Of Mona Lisa,” which sounds like it could come off of their first album. “Let’s Kill Tonight,” and “Hurricane” are fantastic examples of the band appealing to the fans who loved Fever. The album starts off strong, however, it slowly dives right back into the slow and mellow sound that got Panic! In trouble with Pretty. Odd. There are mostly strong emo tracks but it is evident that the now-duo of Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith want to combine the two different sounds from previous albums.
Emo Scale Rating: 7/10
Too Weird To Live, Too Young To Die
The last album which I consider to be on the emo scale is Too Weird To Live, Too Young To Die, which focuses a lot on relationships and personal experiences of Urie himself. There is no denying that this album was influenced by hip hop and electronic music, but it hits on the important parts of emotions. Even though “This Is Gospel” got a lot of time on mainstream platforms, there are a lot of underrated songs on the album. “Miss Jackson,” “Girls That You Love,” and “Girls / Girls / Boys,” fuse different aspects of the genres mentioned earlier to create really great jams. The album ends with “The End of All Things,” written for Urie’s wife, but also perhaps an ode to Panic! saying goodbye to the emo punk sound and diving straight in to pop in their next albums. This is overall a good emo album but it sets up the band to change their sound drastically in the future.
Emo Scale Rating 8/10
Death of a Bachelor
The next album coming up is Death of a Bachelor, which I think should be renamed to Death of the Emo. All the band members are gone, granting Brendon Urie creative freedom and space to accept the spotlight. This album’s success is based on catchy and repetitive lyrics. Both “Crazy=Genius,” and “The Good, the Bad and the Dirty” try really hard to appeal to the emo scene, but the desperation is pretty evident. Yes, this album is good, and bands change and evolve. However, I think each song was written with the intent to appeal to as many people as possible and does not draw from emotion enough.
Emo Scale Rating: 4/10
Pray For the Wicked
The most recent album put out by Panic! is Pray For the Wicked, featuring the hit “High Hopes.” Oh boy, were my hopes not met at all. This is pure pop and disappointing to the fans who have followed this band throughout the years. It is an overall enjoyable album, but I think it is disrespectful for the record label to release the album under the name Panic! At The Disco. This is not a Panic! album. It’s a Brendon Urie album that should have been released under his name. Urie’s impressive vocals and repetitive beats make the songs appealing, but the focus is on Urie’s success, not emotions. It’s interesting that success is the focus of this album when that success is based on the very genre that Urie has, in a way, turned his back on.
Emo Scale Rating: 3/10
All in all, the foundation of emo music helped Brendon Urie and Panic! At The Disco grow to fame and eventually become pop. Even though there were times when the band took risks, each album at the very least hinted at the emo genre that they originally started in. One thing that has made them successful is that they evolved along with their audience. As the audience matured and changed, Panic! was maturing and changing. It just so happened that the change worked out for both the band and the listeners. This concept is common with a lot of different artists and we will explore the trend in the upcoming weeks with Fall Out Boy coming up next.
I am a Senior Political Science major with a minor in mass communications and have been with WUSC for a while now!!! I will talk about movies, politics, local news, and anything else on my mind. The best part is the indie music I am going to play; I really strive to play indie music by underrepresented groups (women, POC, LGBTQ+, etc) and just have a good time!!!