I say “them,” but now, in 2016, the only original member of Panic! At The Disco is Brendon Urie. It’s like a Ship of Theseus situation, but the instead of being replaced board by board, the ship was just taken apart until the only board left is the one on the side that says the ship’s name—“S.S. Ship of Theseus” or whatever.
“It never changed for me,” Brendon Urie said on the phone to me when I asked whether he ever considered changing the name of the band as its permanent membership dwindled to one. “From the time that the first couple of guys left, it never came into play because they were leaving what I wanted to maintain. I always wanted to maintain what Panic! had going. The name to me just symbolized excitement, and carte blanche. I could do whatever I wanted in terms of writing and producing and live shows. So I never considered changing it to anything else.”
I have a theory, unsubstantiated by even minimal attempts at research, that the stimuli you’re attracted to as you first begin puberty, your first moments of discovering sexuality, will stain your sexual preferences for the rest of your life.
Even now as I’m a 23-year-old women (technically a woman), 11 years after Panic at the Disco’s first album, a decade since My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, at least five years since I’ve been in a Hot Topic, I am still marked from the first time I watched the music video for “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” by a guilty fetish for guys in eyeliner and sleeve tattoos.
Everything about Panic! At the Disco is a teenage fantasy: the band itself was formed by 16-year-olds from Las Vegas, singing about burlesque clubs and affairs with the tortured poetry of a college freshman on a typewriter. Their circus gothic, steam punk, emo, pop balladeering is an escape the way ComicCon and Dungeons & Dragons and renaissance fairs are escapes: small worlds protected from judgment and shame.
“It’s strange. If that all hadn’t happened at that age, would it have happened later? I don’t know. I guess it’s all in how you deal with it, which, I didn’t deal with it too well in the beginning,” Urie said, and then laughed. “Would I have wished it would have happened later for us, as a band? Yeah, maybe. It would have been totally different though. It’s such a vulnerable age from 16 to 21—that was the height of everything. It’s so weird to think that’s the biggest growing period for people, and that was when we were under a microscope and chastised for every creative move you make.”
But Brendon Urie isn’t a teenager anymore—he’s a 29-year-old married man. And I’m a 20-something with a job who dates nice Jewish boys or boys that look like nice Jewish boys.
But now, in the year of our lord 2016, I declare:
I don’t care how many music videos they release about tying up a child (it’s Will! From Stranger Things!) in a basement and psychologically torturing him (by forcing him to watch other Panic! At the Disco music videos?).
(Quick but important side note: at the end of the music video, what is Brendon Urie planning on doing when he strolls, with an eager curled fist, towards to that very sad and very scared child that he’s imprisoned? Is this music video about a Satanic cult? A snuff film? Oh god I don’t want to think about this anymore. I mean, I get it, it’s about how Hollywood is a dangerous cult and forces you to sacrifice your youth and innocence to Satan if you want to be famous or whatever, but…The optics are NOT good here.)
I don’t care how many dorky hats Brendon Urie wears.
I don’t care whether the exclamation point stays or whether, like it did briefly in 2008, goes. (According to Urie: “At the time we just thought it would be funny to fuck with people, to see if they actually cared. We just used it as a fun tactic. But I missed it too much. It’s my friend.”)
I don’t how cringing I find some (most) (all?) of their lyrics now, or how cheesy their music videos or how embarrassed I’d be if my boyfriend or the person next to me on the subway saw I was listening to Panic! At The Disco.
My lost teenage fantasy is a turn-on tattooed on my now-adult topography, semi-buried but still visible.
The thinking part of my brain, the part capable of shame and self-reflection, hates Panic! At The Disco, and I will never stop loving them.