From Pop Punk To The Mainstream: The Journeys of Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco
I was in middle school when I first heard of Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco. The angsty lyrics and loud instrumentals filled the halls of the school and we all loved it, and more importantly, our parents hated it. This music was for us and no one else. Only these bands could understand us and they gave us the anthems of middle school and high school. Sexual frustration and unrequited love plagues the mind of all young people and these two bands gave a soundtrack to our brooding. Even though we may not have been the same age or experiencing the actual situations in these songs due to our age, that didn't stop these songs from speaking to us. A stanza from the popular "Sugar, We're Going Down" by Fall Out Boy speaks to this point of unrequited love and sexual frustration.
Is this more than you bargained for yet?
Oh don't mind me I'm watching you two from the closet
Wishing to be the friction in your jeans
Isn't it messed up how I'm just dying to be him?
I'm just a notch in your bedpost
But you're just a line in a song
Another, if not as popular, hit from this era was Panic! At The Disco's "The Only Difference Between Matrydom and Suicide is Press Coverage" which spoke directly to the insecurities of this pre-teen and young generation. The need to be noticed and wanted whilst also making sure to remind us who this song is for, the youth.
Swear to shake it up, if you swear to listen
Oh, we're still so young, desperate for attention
I aim to be your eyes, trophy boys, trophy wives
Panic! and Fall Out Boy found their niche and demographic in the youth occupying school hallways and played the songs they wanted to hear and to much success for the select groups they targeted. However, the demographic was supportive and quite large, though not all young people listened to or liked this music and more importantly, they were growing up. We all enjoy jamming out to a little old Panic! or Fall Out Boy but listening and purchasing their music consistently was definitely down for the original group of listeners once they reached upper high school and college years. Sure new kids were coming into this age group, but new groups and genres like dubstep were starting to emerge. Something had to be done, they had to grow up like their audience and change.
Fall Out Boy went on a song writing hiatus in 2008 and re-emerged in 2013 with "Save Rock and Roll" and blew up. One critic from Consequence of Sound notes,
"Save Rock and Roll debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart and sold 154,000 copies in its first week. Stump growls “I’m on fire!” on “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)”, the muscular first single ready for stadium pyrotechnics. The harmonies are taut as sailor’s knots and producer Butch Walker keeps the band sounding Top 40 fresh, save on “Just One Yesterday” where Stump rolls in Adele’s 2011 and on the Skrillex-lite “Death Valley”, which is thirsty for guitars."
The triumphant return of Fall Out Boy showed a maturation of the band that matched its target audience. Introduction of EDM beats and bass drops, features by hot artists, and new pop radio sound allowed this album to be embraced by the original fans who were now young adults, whilst still appealing to new eras of teenagers. The angst is definitely still there, but much more contained in the smooth pop melodies of the day.
Fall Out Boy didn't stop there however, they went on to release American Beauty/American Psycho in 2015 where they perfected the fusion of pop punk and mainstream pop and created a few hits you might have heard of, Centuries, Irresistible, and Immortals just to name a few.
Panic! At The Disco's transition into main stream pop was a bit more subtle and happened over time. Each of their albums have an unique feel to them but the crossover into more mainstream pop for them happened in 2013 with the release of Too Weird To Live, Too Weird To Die. Brendan Urie, the lead singer of the band, had always been the creative mastermind behind the band but as more members left the band he gained more and more control until eventually he was the only member of the band and the music was truly his. A writer from DIY magazine notes this in article written in 2015,
"With Spencer taking a backseat during the creative process due to addiction-related issues that eventually forced him to leave the band, Panic! At The Disco was now, in essence, a solo project. Instead of hiding, Brendon’s personality came to the forefront of the record. Taking influences from hip-hop, dance and twitching beats, ‘Too Weird to Live…’ is a more spacious, luxurious record that still knows how to pack a punch. There’s a playful excitement to every track and Brendon - who’s never taken himself too seriously - managed to inject even more fun into the disco. Balancing that with a hyper confessional intimacy, Panic! were still pushing forward and changing the rules of the game."
With Brendan Urie in the driver's seat he took the name of Panic! At The Disco on a musical journey culminating in Death of a Bachelor in 2016. Several of these songs topped the charts and even got plays on mainstream pop radio, truly bringing Panic! into the folds of the mainstream pop industry while still maintaining some of his original style. Panic! Might have alienated some of their fans with their drastic changes in genres over the years but true fans knew that they were really there for the creative and vocally talented Brendan Urie wherever that journey took them.
Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco had had some radio play in the mid 2000s and some of their biggest commercial success came from some of their early hits like I Write Sins Not Tragedies and This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race but if you look at the charts you notice there is a lull between their old stuff hitting the charts and their new stuff hitting the charts. There are albums in the middle that just kind of fell flat and they sensed that they needed a change and they adapted to the changing times and resurged back onto pop radio with songs like Hallelujah and Centuries.
Their adaptation to the mainstream can also be seen by their appearances in advertisements now that there music was more accessible and more appealing to the general populace of young consumers. Fall Out Boy appeared in a Pepsi commercial in 2015. They used the song Uma Thurman which personifies some of the older examples of the "Thinking Young" campaigns by Pepsi. Speaking to the indomitable will of the motivated youth Pepsi uses this popular song to help brand itself as young and cool, an old marketing strategy for the company.
Pepsi's rivals, Coca Cola released a commercial in 2011 featuring the instrumental chorus of Panic! At The Disco's Ready To Go showing the rivalry between Coca Cola and Pepsi remaining strong even forty years later as they fight to establish themselves as the soda brand of the young and cool. Companies have been using techniques like these since the 70s to try and be relatable to the youth generation through using songs they know and associate with the power of being young.
Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco have tried to personify youth in their music since their bands beginning in the mid to early 2000s. They managed to top the charts then with their angsty pop punk and when they noticed a decline in the popular reception of this type of music, they transformed. They adopted more synth and techno beats and overall more lighthearted tune and message whilst maintaining their songs about the power and defiance of youth. Fluidity in music is something I find quite important. As times change, sometimes the music has to evolve along with it to keep up with the trends and aging demographics. These bands’ ability to remain relevant and topping the chart a decade after their debuts is a testament to their own fluidity as artists and to the fluidity of the music industry as a whole. Panic! and Fall Out Boy encapsulated youth in their music and the demographic they appealed to and this was noticed by giants in the consumer markets world. Both Pepsi and Coca Cola reached out to Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco respectively for commercials in their campaigns of personifying and trying to emulate youth. Both bands had commercial success and were immediately recognizable as bands of the young and free and their music showed this in its lyrics along with its constantly changing form.
Sources and Songs Mentioned in Order of Apperance