With frontman Brendon Urie recently announcing Panic! at the Disco will be coming to an end soon, we figured now is the perfect time to finally craft a Top 10 list of the band's best songs. Panic! has been keeping us dancing for almost two decades. It started off as a pop-punk band from Las Vegas, Nevada, formed in 2004 by childhood friends Urie, Ryan Ross, Spencer Smith, and Brent Wilson. They recorded their first demos while they were in high school, and hit big with their debut album A Fever You Can't Sweat Out.
Due to creative differences after the release of the band's sophomore album, Ross and the replacement for Wilson, Jon Walker, departed the band. Smith unofficially left Panic! at the Disco due to health and addiction issues, and the band turned into Urie's solo project. Urie released three more albums under the band's name, the final one being 2022's Viva Las Vengeance.
Through all the lineup changes, Panic's music has always been unafraid to push boundaries, be bold, and try something new. We consider them one of the best emo bands of all time (although they're probably more "emo pop" than pure emo), and although we're sad to see the group go, we're happy for all the good times they've left behind. Without further ado, below are our favorite Panic! at the Disco songs from all of their awesome eras.
10. "Emperor's New Clothes"
"Emperor's New Clothes" is a reference to the children's tale of the same name, in which a ruler is conned into hiring two “weavers” to craft him invisible clothes. The men tell him only the intelligent can see the clothes, so when the garments are finished, the emperor is too ashamed to admit he can't see his clothes – yet he still walks out into public wearing them. Urie sings in the song “dress me up and watch me die,” meaning that he, unlike the emperor, is aware of his foolishness yet still wants the glory.
With a dark and malevolent rock feel, "Emperor's New Clothes" features stacked vocals from Urie to create an operatic feel. (Urie explained on Genius he stacked his vocals about 38 times.) This song is also considered an autobiographical narrative. The lyrics "Finders keepers, losers weepers," "Welcome to the end of eras," "I'm taking back the crown," and "I see what's mine and take it" are all references to Brendon taking on Panic! at the Disco as his solo project. When this track dropped in 2015, all of the original members of the band had officially departed. "Emperor's New Clothes" is an ambitious rebirth for Urie. Now that everyone is gone, he can take the power for himself...but also do whatever he wants with it.
The accompanying music video for this song also seems to reference the rebirth of Panic! at the Disco after everyone's departure. It portrays Urie, after the end of the video from the previous album’s “This Is Gospel,” falling into a dark world and then transforming into a demon. “Emperor’s New Clothes” plays as Brendon is dropped through a trap door down into Hell and darkness. Looking for love in “This Is Gospel,” he finds a transformation into a symbol of evil and lust for power...but he happily embraces it.
9. "Miss Jackson"
“Miss Jackson” is the lead single off Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!. It tells the story of a woman who manipulates men to fall in love with her, and then she abandons them after one night. The chorus references “Nasty” by Janet Jackson, as well as "Ms. Jackson" by Outkast. Brendon was looking up old music videos on YouTube while writing the song. He was watching "Ms Jackson" when "Nasty" showed up in his recommended feed. He sang, "Miss Jackson, Miss Jackson, Miss Jackson, are you nasty?" to his management, and they ate it up.
Musically, we think this track is the most Fall Out Boy-esque Panic! song ever made. Besides Brendon's awesome vocals, the song features an intro from singer/songwriter Lolo. Brendon Urie revealed to Revolt TV that the song was originally called “Bad Apple”, as it was based on a sample of a Fiona Apple song, but she didn’t grant them publishing rights so it had to be rewritten.
The song was also based off a real experience for Urie. He told MTV News, "When I was younger, I would mess around; I’d sleep with one girl one night, sleep with her friend the next night, and not care about how they felt, or how I made them feel. And then it happened to me and I realized ‘Wow, that’s what that feels like? I feel really sh---y...I knew I had to change, because I didn’t want to feel that way again, or make other people feel that way. So I wrote the song. It’s based off someone who is real, though I don’t think they would know it."
8. "Viva Las Vengeance"
What a fitting lead single to close out the legacy of the band. "Viva Las Vengeance" was released in 2022, as the title track of the group's seventh album. It's a stomping, reflective intro to the album’s main themes, which include Brendon living life in his hometown of Las Vegas, dealing with fame, and the subsequent burnout. In hindsight, we should have seen it as Brendon's resignation letter, especially considering those poignant lyrics, "I don't wanna be a diva / I just wanna be free" as well as the ending lines, "Didn't wanna kill the DJ / But it can't hurt to try."
Both the song's composition and the colorful music video for this piece are nothing short of theatrical. We love the effortless key changes, the extremely catchy chorus, the slow moment of peace during the bridge, and that astounding high note Urie hits during the song's end. This song also works as a strange companion piece for the track "This is Gospel." The line "Someone did me wrong, stole my favorite song" could be a reference to Urie and Dallon Weekes' controversy in regards to "This is Gospel's" songwriting credits, while the line "I'm being buried alive" is a reference to a similar lyric in "This Is Gospel" as well as the 2013 song's music video, in which Brendon is actually buried alive. To all those who hate "Viva Las Vengeance," we say: shut up and go to bed!
7. "Build God, Then We'll Talk"
“Build God, Then We’ll Talk” is the final song on Panic! at the Disco’s debut album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. The accordion-heavy tune covers the unsettling aspects of cheating, and the illusion of love that comes with it.
The title is said to have come from a quote that appears in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Choke, which revolves around a sex addict named Victor who is trying to earn money to pay for his mother's nursing home care. While some readers say that no such quote exists in the book, it's worth noting that Panic! has previously referenced Palahniuk’s work before, most notably in their song “Time To Dance,” which is based off his novel Invisible Monsters, and also appears on their debut album.
Many love "Build God, Then We'll Talk" for its bridge melody, as it's a derivative of the melody from the chorus of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. The lyrics in the bridge also directly satirize the lyrics of “My Favorite Things” by replacing the "nice" things Maria Rainer appreciates with notions of adultery.
6. "Death of a Bachelor"
This feels like a jazzy song originally written for Frank Sinatra, and then modernized with electronic Beyonce-ish dance beats. In fact, "Death of a Bachelor" was so influenced by Sinatra, it was released only three days before what would have been Sinatra’s 100th birthday. Between the sax bits, Urie's classy vocals, and that boogie-licious instrumental bit during the bridge, "Death of a Bachelor" is a certified Panic! banger.
Brendon Urie told Fall Out Boy member Pete Wentz the song is autobiographical and refers to Urie’s own marriage to Sarah Orzechowski, which began in 2013. When asked about the meaning behind the song, Urie explained: "I would say ["Death of a Bachelor"] is pretty much why I called the album that. [It] just really meant a lot to me. I mean, that kind of summed up how I feel now. I feel I am a new person and I’m able to talk about the past because I’m not that person any more. It’s nice to be able to set aside the past and look at it objectively instead of being stuck in that world. So that was really an eye opening experience for me."
5. "Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off"
“Lying is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off” is the seventh track on A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. The memorable title comes from the movie Closer, where Natalie Portman says “Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off, but it’s better if you do.” Just like in that movie, this song deals with the repercussions of cheating.
This track, along with other songs on Panic's debut album, was inspired by guitarist Ryan Ross' anger towards his girlfriend who had cheated on him, thus ending their three-year relationship. He told the Guardian in 2008: "At the time it felt like the world had ended. I hated everything. It affected that whole album. I guess it’s good that I wrote it down. I might have stabbed somebody." This song's for the testosterone boys, the harlequin girls, and – as the music video would suggest – all the fishes in the sea. Or rather, all the fishes in your fishbowl.
4. "The Ballad of Mona Lisa"
A big fan favorite, "The Ballad of Mona Lisa" comes from the album Vices & Virtues. It tells the story of a man dealing with two moral struggles at once. He has spent the night with a sex worker, and must deal with the guilt that comes with the decision. (While also praising her for her smarts.) Simultaneously, he is trying to determine whether or not he has any morality at all.
On the song, Brendon Urie told OK! Magazine, "That whole thing with Mona Lisa was the idea that there is this character. For us, you look at the painting, and you can’t tell what this person is thinking. Not showing too much emotion, there’s this Mona Lisa smile masking what’s going on in that person’s head. The song is about a battle in yourself...an inner struggle in oneself. The duality in nature, where you see yourself as a bad person, and the good person trying to correct your bad habits."
Fun fact: after the band penned the song, Urie was inspired to go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa painting in person. "When I finally saw it, I was underwhelmed because there was a crowd of people," he revealed on Genius. "Once they left I got overwhelmed because I walked a little bit closer to the rope and you are still like 15 feet away from this thing but luckily I had my glasses and I just stood there kind of staring at this piece that had brought so much inspiration to so many people. It moved me. It was cool. It is just a piece of history, behind glass."
3. "This is Gospel"
Possibly the deepest, most important song Panic! at the Disco has ever released. This passionate song is ultimately a plea from Brendon Urie to drummer Spencer Smith, asking him to take care of his health and addiction problems before it tears them apart. While Smith did have to leave the band in order to take care of himself, this song showed that Brendon still cared immensely about him. Since its release, "This is Gospel" has become something of an anthem for those enduring tough times.
Urie has stated "This is Gospel" came from an angry, scared place within him. You can hear the full force of his emotions just from his vocals alone. Yes – we think this song contains Brendon's best vocals ever. The mix of solemn and explosive notes creates a beautiful contrast, and if you've heard his vocals isolated from the instrumental track, you can just hear how crisp and chilling his harmonies are on the chorus. His singing feels even more emotional on the softer piano version of this track. This song was perhaps the last big Panic hit to feature original members of the band. Looking back, this emotional arena-pop ballad stands out as a point of no return.
2. "Nine in the Afternoon"
This is classic Panic! at the Disco. A happy-go-lucky punk kid hit from the band's sophomore album Pretty. Odd., "Nine in the Afternoon" describes what it feels like to be high with a significant other. It's straightfoward in theme and meant to be taken lightly...but that's what makes it so replayable.
Of course, there is no such thing as "nine in the afternoon"; therefore highlighting the song's theme about being high and having fun. Brendon Urie explained on Genius, "The title came from our drummer, Spencer Smith — we were high and he was like, 'Yeah, I don’t know what time it is but it feels like nine in the afternoon.' And we just thought that was hilarious, and after cracking up for 20 minutes that became the hook for this song."
Many music critics have noted "Nine in the Afternoon" sounds like a standard Beatles song or something similar to "Mr. Blue Sky" from Electric Light Orchestra. Around the time, the 2007 film Across the Universe had Beatles nostalgia to the max, and Panic! arrived with its first new song in three years – "Nine in the Afternoon." Because of the perfect timing, the song charted to #51 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has since been certified twice platinum by the RIAA in 2018.
1. "I Write Sins Not Tragedies"
Did you really think we'd put anything else as #1? “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” is Panic! At The Disco’s second single from A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. This song is nothing short of amazing, not only because it's a musical masterpiece – but also because it immediately put the band in the limelight as soon as they debuted in the music industry. The song has been covered by several bands, including fellow pop punk act Fall Out Boy. The title derives from the Douglas Coupland novel Shampoo Planet, where the protagonist, Tyler Johnson, says: "What I write are not sins; I write tragedies."
The song tells a gripping story of an unfaithful bride during her big day. She's already told a waiter about her infidelity, while the speaker of the song – who has been one of her conquests – decides not to stir up trouble while sh-- goes down. He wails, "I chimed in with a, "Haven't you people ever heard of / Closing the goddamn door?!" which references the weirdness of everybody speaking about the bride's sins so publicly, as well as, well...the bride's legs being wide open, like a door.
Not only did this song resonate well with the emo and punk kids of the era, but also with general early 2000s radio listeners. “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” was the first song Panic! At The Disco selected specifically as a single for the radio. Brendon Urie once explained that during A Fever You Can't Sweat Out's initial release, Panic! had five songs from their debut album playing on the radio. Their manager urged them to pick a single from the album, and so the band decided on "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" and led with it. Between the song's iconic cello opening, roaring guitar bits, Brendon's charismatic vocal performance, and the catchy-as-heck chorus, this song will forever live on as one of the best early 2000s bops ever made.
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