EDITORIAL: Panic! At The Disco’s Music Video Evolution
I’ve never been able to sit down and binge watch a TV show. Call me crazy, but it’s just not something that has ever interested me, and I lose my patience fairly quickly whenever I try. As a music lover, however, my guilty pleasure is marathoning music videos – in other words, watching every single music video a band has ever made in one sitting. I’ve done this for various bands (maybe too many) – Paramore, The 1975, Glass Animals, and the list goes on. Perhaps the most impressive and most notable on this list, though, is Panic! At The Disco.
For those of you who don’t know, Panic! At The Disco has been active in the industry since 2004, when its members were mere high schoolers. In the last 13 (almost 14) years, the band has been through a lot – 5 albums, countless tours, TV appearances, award nominations, various member changes that have left Brendon Urie as the only original member of the lineup, and most importantly, tons of music videos. If you’ve been with them from the beginning, you’re familiar with the style changes they’ve made and the way each album differs from the last. This is also evident when it comes to their music videos.
Let’s start from the top.
The first music videos they ever released were for “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” and “But It’s Better If You Do” off their first album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. These two videos are similar in style – Urie is clearly established as the frontman and main character; they each have plot lines that involve a reveal near the end, and most of the characters are wearing masks. The videos both have a secretive aspect and a cabaret circus feel. With these two videos, Panic! established themselves as a sort of creative underdog, representing the alternative scene in a way that no one ever had before. The other two music videos from the first album – “Lying is the Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off” and “Build God, Then We’ll Talk” – follow similar patterns, although the band itself is seen only briefly in these two videos compared to the first two. Overall, the videos from their first establish the band as an unconventional, unafraid, and unapologetic creative force in the music industry. If you look at their cover art for the album, their video style matches it perfectly.
Their second album Pretty.Odd. departs slightly from the first album with songs that aren’t quite as dark with sinister undertones. We see a lighter theme with this album than we did on the first one, and we can clearly see that even in just the lighting of the music videos that stem from it. The “Nine in the Afternoon” video sticks to the pattern of elaborate and unconventional costumes in some of the shots but overall it feels brighter. “That Green Gentleman” is still unconventional, but it ditches the concept of masks altogether. Instead we see the band in vintage costumes riding old bikes and picnicking in the park. In the video we get a theme of change, of growing up, and maturity at different stages in life, and overall it feels nostalgic yet optimistic for the future. The last video from this album, “Northern Downpour,” is completely in black and white and features similar costumes to “That Green Gentleman.” Overall this album and its videos feel brighter, while still holding onto that unconventional and unpredictable aspect.
“There was no doubt that whatever was to arise from those ashes would be something we’ve never seen from either group.”
The first video off their third album, Vices & Virtues, for the song “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” seems to return to the pattern of elaborate settings and costumes but this time featuring high energy camera movements, editing, video effects, and motion graphics. This begins a new era for Panic! At The Disco in their sound, their videos, and most importantly, a huge lineup change. Founding member Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker departed from the eclectic group on the grounds of creative differences, leaving Urie and drummer Spencer Smith in the wake of uncertainty. There was no doubt that whatever was to arise from those ashes would be something we’ve never seen from either group. Eerily enough, the video for “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” paid homage to the song that kickstarted their career, though it wasn’t all rainbows and top hats. The ironic vaudeville vibes that rode the coattails of the “Sins” video did not go unnoticed by the fans.
The next one, “Ready To Go,” follows the same style with high energy camera movements and editing in a more modern feel as Urie runs through several different settings and takes on a new persona in each one. The last one from this album, “Let’s Kill Tonight,” is different from all of their other music videos thus far. While we still have the high energy editing and the black and white ambience, we see a lot more of Urie performing the song than we have in other videos. The combination of the lack of color, the energy, the angles, and the settings in the video make for a truly unique and mysterious piece that could only make viewers excited to see what the band had up their sleeve.
Their fourth album, Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die, marked another major change. At this point, Urie had been the only consistent creative member of the band after lineup changes and struggles with other members. The first video from this album was for “Miss Jackson.” This video is different from most others because Urie is the only band member we see in the video and he plays the main character. In this video, we see Urie almost as more of an actor than a band member. The editing also takes on a different tone – where before it was fast-paced, here we see a major increase in speed and drop frames. While in all the previous videos the band had been pretty weird, in this one we go from “just weird” to “a little crazy.” We see even more crazy in the next video from the album, “Nicotine.” Panic! returns to black and white but Urie keeps up the energy and emotion. In “This Is Gospel,” Brendon Urie really outdoes himself. The events in the video not only perfectly symbolize the song, but they also match up perfectly to the sound. The editing and the expressions portrayed were unmatched in Panic!’s career so far.
Then, we come to their video for “Girls/Girls/Boys.” While this is also on Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die, this video departs from any of their other videos and frankly, any other video that I have ever seen. This is an important song and it has an important video to go with it. In “Girls/Girls/Boys” Urie’s relationship with the camera and as a result, with the viewer, is more personal than ever. This video is simple: one shot of Urie on a black background, focusing only on the emotions portrayed by his body language and his facial expressions. This video is a masterpiece both on the part of the director and on the part of Urie as every aspect of it had to be perfect during the whole song in order to come out with a product like this. The artists that worked on this video fully succeeded, in my opinion, in getting their message across with a simple yet powerful piece like this. WELL. DONE.
“…we see a degree of theatrics that we haven’t seen before.”
Now let’s move on to their fifth and final album to date: Death of A Bachelor. This is the first album that Urie worked on as the only remaining creative member of the band. In a way, this album was his breakthrough and represented his creative freedom without any compromises. With the first video from this album, for “Hallelujah,” we see a degree of theatrics that we haven’t seen before. A deep red suit, a gospel choir’s dream come true, and Urie galavanting through graphic puzzles and mazes marks the video as one of their most complex to film, but most fun to watch.
The next one, “Emperor’s New Clothes,” is arguably their best music video to date. There’s a reason why it won Best Music Video at the 2016 Alternative Press Music Awards. This video opens with the final scene from “This is Gospel” and we see Urie falling away from the old Panic! At The Disco into a new era as the new song starts. Throughout the video, with drop frames, makeup, excellent editing, and motion graphics, he transforms into a completely new, demonic creature and is unrecognizable by the end – symbolizing the transformation of the band into a new entity under Urie’s creative control. The next one, “Victorious,” fits the song’s title perfectly. It tells a story about the little victories one can win even when things might not be going well. It showcases a side of Urie’s humor we haven’t seen before. The video for “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time” returns to Panic!’s weird roots with a bit more of a modern twist. The video is very stylized and the plot line is an unexpected one, but it depicts a scenario that is very common in today’s world. Seeing Urie’s twist on it proves Panic! is still unpredictable and weird as ever. Wild LA parties are fun until you can’t remember what’s real and what’s not…
“LA Devotee” is another important song. In this video we also see an unconventional plot line of a young child, played by Stranger Things‘s Noah Schnapp pre-fame, being kidnapped and strapped to a chair while robotically singing the song. It’s almost as if the band is paying tribute to the acclaimed sci-fi phenomenon, though they could just be using Schnapp for what he does best: acting terrified. Nevertheless, the video falls in line with their history of unconventional pieces of motion art. Their last and most recent video, for “Death of a Bachelor,” completes Panic! At The Disco’s transformation to date. Although it was released at the end of 2015, it does a good job of wrapping up where the band is now. In all black and white, featuring only Urie, it’s a classy, high energy, polished video. Urie has stated time and again that Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack are to blame for his recent jazzy passions, and that is totally evident in the “Death of a Bachelor” video, as well as the closing track on the album of the same name, “Impossible Year.”
Comparing their first video and their last video, you can clearly see the incredible creative journey that Panic! At The Disco has been on – and it won’t stop anytime soon. Their first video was quirky, weird, out there, and established them as a force to be reckoned with. Now, more than 10 years later, their latest video portrays them as mature, polished, experienced, but still with a sense of that same quirk and personality we all know and love.
Overall, Panic! At The Disco has made a masterpiece out of every single one of their music videos, no matter how different they may be. Whether you’re a fan of their music or not, I would recommend watching their videos. Music fans, and other artists and musicians for that matter, can learn a lot about creativity and thinking outside the box from these videos. I have a lot of respect for Panic! At the Disco both as a band and as a visually creative entity: their line of videos cannot be beat.
What do you think of their videos?