Panic! At The Disco, one pillar of what is widely known as the “Emo Trinity” (the other two being Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance), recently scored their first debut at number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album that finally landed that status is Pray for the Wicked, which dropped on June 22.
If I were writing this from the year 2000, this event would be more or less unremarkable: a band with 14 years of history and decent chart success nailing a number 1 album. But the fact is that the year is 2018, and for a band that gained its momentum and maturity in the alternative rock scene to be sitting atop the charts? That is enough of a novelty to pay attention to.
Panic!, now the sole property of frontman Brendon Urie, has shifted its sound from vaudeville-meets-emo to more of a brassy west coast pop sound. The guitars have become more muted, the melodies more hooky. But the influence of Urie’s alternative background remains: you can hear it in the clever, tongue-in-cheek lyricism that remains far more wordy than your standard pop fare. This is a classic emo trait.
What this means is that rock still has something valuable to offer the market at large. Even if some core aspects of rock shift or adapt with time, the key elements that forged a fiercely loyal following still have the ability to keep gaining new audiences. What Panic! At The Disco has proved is that you can grow up as a rock artist without losing the best of where you started, and there’s still a world out there who will (quite literally) buy it.
Granted, Pray for the Wicked is primarily a party album, with themes that only venture as deep as possible cautionary tales (“Roaring 20s,” “One of the Drunks,” “Dying in LA”). Some rock fans might hope for the days when weightier examples of their culture were in the spotlight again. A hope which is a distinct possibility; if we go back just a few years, this same general concept was upheld in 2015 with Breaking Benjamin’s The Dark Before the Dawn. The long-awaited return from Breaking Benjamin was piercingly spiritual, as most good rock tends to be in one form or another, and also extremely forthright in its aggressive musical style. In December of 2017, U2– who set the tone for this entire generation of conscious rock– secured their eighth career number 1 with Songs of Experience. The market is making a declaration to any rock and roll makers: we’re still listening.