School hadn’t even started yet, and I was already watching the clock.
In eighth grade, I was part of a program that bussed middle schoolers to our local high school for a class. Before the school year started, there was an informational session for students and their parents. The school faculty inconceivably failed to consult MTV’s programming before scheduling.
I was consumed with getting home in time for the 2006 Video Music Awards, during which my favorite band, Panic! at the Disco, was not only going to perform but be awarded for Video of the Year. I miraculously made it home to see both.
I recently suffered through the torturous broadcast of the 2018 Video Music Awards, which also featured a performance by Panic! at the Disco. (I had to consult Google before typing that sentence to see if the oft-disappearing exclamation point was back in the band name.) The performance made me nostalgic for a time when I deeply cared about the VMAs because of that very band.
These days, the only official member is Brendon Urie, who’s been with the band since it formed as a group of high school kids in Las Vegas. As an early devotee, it’s still weird for me to hear his voice on pop radio.
My brother Dan introduced me to the band and gave me a copy of their debut, “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.”
“I think you’ll like these guys,” he said. “They’re kind of like a cross between Fall Out Boy and the Killers.”
I was sold before I even pressed play.
Urie’s soaring vibrato, lyricist Ryan Ross’s love for SAT vocabulary words, the vaudevillian vibe — it was a theater nerd’s dream. It had all the drama of listening to showtunes but with more eyeliner.
The band was a central figure in my deep dive into 2000s emo, a genre rich with power chords, whiney vocals and overly dramatic lyrics. The movement was perfectly timed with my own overwhelming emotions as I navigated life as a self-believed misunderstood teenager.
My commitment didn’t end with merely listening. Before MySpace, there was Xanga, a more malleable, bloglike social media platform. Your page’s design was the “layout,” and in the body of your posts, you could embed “icons,” tiny square images of your favorite celebrities, song lyrics and the like.
I am certain that a hard drive at my parents’ house has hundreds of these icons, many of which are of Urie, Ross and Panic! at the Disco song lyrics.
Arranging them was tedious work. I experimented with arrows and commands until I got them just right, working in the dark of my parents’ living room with only the glow of my laptop to see. The tragedy of it all was that I had no idea I was teaching myself HTML coding. Once MySpace became the new thing, I had no reason to finagle with tiny pictures anymore.
My online presence made my super fandom clear, but I wanted to look the part in real life, too. I got side bangs, an essential accessory to any 2000s emo kid. I straightened my hair, expanded my collection of band tees and wore jeans that looked like they’d been vacuumed sealed to my legs. I leaned into the weirdly Victorian vibe of Panic! at the Disco’s stage costumes and incorporated brocade print wherever I could. The more different I looked from my classmates, the better.
In seventh grade, I debuted my first Panic! at the Disco shirt, selected with care from my local Hot Topic. It was pale yellow and depicted the inexplicable scene of a monkey skeleton standing near a phonograph that had a large petunia instead of a horn. I felt like a million bucks wearing that thing. I was delighted when a cheerleader looked disgusted as she asked what was on my shirt.
Once the circus-meets-wedding music video for “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies” was released, that joy dimmed. A weird kid’s delight was now part of everyday pop culture. Its Video of the Year win only drove that point home.
It’s a uniquely selfish teenage problem, to have your favorite band blow up. These days, I’m happy to see an artist I love succeed, knowing they’ll get a few more cents for every song streamed. But then, I couldn’t help but feel like something was taken away from me.
I loved the band’s sophomore release, “Pretty. Odd.,” a significant shift in the band’s sound inspired by the Beatles and Zombies. Once original members started leaving by the third album, I fell off the wagon. Urie’s vocals were still great, but the songwriting was suddenly empty and uninspired.
These days, there’s so much great new music that I don’t reach for Panic! at the Disco albums too often. But after catching a glimpse of Urie on the VMAs, I felt nostalgic to revisit them.
I put on “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out” during a recent workout, and ironically, sweat more than I have in weeks. Something about the music fired me up.
I guess there’s still a little bit of that angsty weirdo inside of me.
Jenelle Janci is an LNP staff writer. "Unscripted" is a weekly enetrtainment column produced by a rotating team of writers.