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Panic! at the Disco: Emo Rockers Turned Stadium Headliners

Brandon Urie at Toyota Center last April
Brandon Urie at Toyota Center last April
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

The music industry tends to be a fickle beast. It’s a relentlessly changing landscape where entire sub-genres can disappear almost overnight. Remember emo? It was inescapable ten years ago but you’d be hard pressed to find many artists relying on its sounds in the late 2010s.

In 2005, near the height of the emo craze, an unknown band called Panic! at the Disco released A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. It was a polarizing affair: many critics bemoaned the album’s juvenile themes while just as many complimented its break-neck pace and electronic undertones.

Despite these divisions, one thing was clear: Panic! at the Disco had an expiration date. The band’s overall sound and inclination for song titles that read like statements had already begun to wear on the general public, so most of us expected them to be one-and-done.

Instead, the band did an about-face and released a baroque pop album three years later. Largely inspired by the Beatles and the Beach Boys, Pretty Odd revealed Panic!’s ability to transform itself and proved the band wasn’t afraid to alienate old fans in order to court new ones. (Fun fact: It was recorded at Abby Road Studios.)

Personally, I hated it. I was 20 when Pretty Odd came out, and it just wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I expected more self-indulgent pop punk and was instead duped into listening to an album my mom would have enjoyed. In hindsight, I respect Panic!’s artistic redirection, especially since it was such a risky move. It took some time, but the band’s sophomore album grew on me. It has aged pretty well too.

Since then, Panic! has released four studio albums, most recently 2018’s Pray For the Wicked, which vocalist Brandon Urie is on tour supporting. Urie, the only remaining member from the band’s original lineup, visits Houston’s Toyota Center this weekend fresh off the release of a record that debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts, a feat his former roster was never able to accomplish.

On top of changing the band’s sound, Urie has proven himself to be quite the showman. In recent years, he has begun dressing in a suit, sporting a look that mothers and daughters alike would agree constitutes handsome. His voice, which spans four octaves, has become the focal point of Panic! performances, even though the frontman also plays the piano, guitar, bass and drums.

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Urie’s ability to incorporate multiple genres and his tendency toward pop music have kept Panic! relevant for nearly a decade and a half. Even the band’s debut record had a few poppy choruses, so the band’s newer sounds shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, even to longtime fans. 

As the sole remaining member of Panic!, Urie has freed himself to lean fully into whatever genre he chooses, which has catapulted Panic! into sold-out stadiums around the world.

Thirteen years is a long time. Had anyone told me that Panic!’s career would last this long, I would have been doubtful. But thanks to Urie’s charisma and willingness to change, his tenure in the music industry has endured long past most of his emo peers.

Panic! at the Disco, Hayley Kiyoko and Max Frost are scheduled to perform at 6 p.m. (doors open) on August 3 at Toyota Center 1510 Polk. For more information, call 866-446-8849 or visit houstontoyotacenter.com, $30.75-$70.75

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