ALY: My first question here is when did they put the exclamation point back, which I realize positions me as not, probably, the world’s most aware Panic! fan. I’m gonna soldier on anyway though. God, I loved them. God! Remember when A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out came out? God. I have many things to say about that album. And I loved Pretty. Odd., sorry, I loved it, and I had the Live in Chicago album and it’s still one of my favorite things and I still do “JAZZ HANDS” when I listen to “There’s A Reason These Tables Are Numbered.” And I LOVED “New Perspective,” wow, it gave me such hope for a post-Ryan era, it made me cry, practically, and then Vices & Virtues came out and I was like, “Eh.” And I literally did not realize until just now, five minutes ago when I YouTubed “Hallelujah,” that they had put out another album after that.
So! That’s where I stand with Panic!. But Kenzie texted me and was like THERE IS A NEW PANIC SINGLE and I listened to it and it is great, honestly. It is so great. We’re all a little bored of surprise releases, I guess (I’m not, at all, I think it’s fucking rad and cool and like, TA DA, HERE’S A SONG, looking at you, Little Mix, just fucking DO IT), but this one is such a pleasant surprise, such a lovely thing.
KENZIE: When I first texted Aly about the single, I said “I’m not sure I care for the lyrics, but I’m pretty sure I love the sound.” Then I listened to the song like 5 more times without stopping, so like. I’ve warmed up to all its parts. I love them all. (Also, Aly, for what it’s worth, I was like “when did they put the exclamation point back?” too.) (Also, seriously, Little Mix. Come on.)
A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out was honestly formative to an entire era of my identity, in what I borrowed from it and in what it made me feel like to scream-sing “swear to shake it up if you swear to listen” (Aly has more thoughts about that line that you’ll get to hear more about this summer; we’ve got some things planned) and in how I reacted to the backlash once they reached that tipping point that “too many” people knew about them. Pretty. Odd. felt too on the nose, a calculated “this is exactly what you like,” Brendon Urie looking at me and judging, and so I listened to it but I listened to it in guilty gulping hours by myself and I never admitted it to anyone.
ALY: That is probably the best way to describe Pretty. Odd. honestly, it was such a weird mishmash of things, things that shouldn’t have worked but they were so calculated to work! They knew what we wanted! “Northern Downpour,” I mean, and the transition from “I Have Friends in Holy Spaces” TO “Northern Downpour,” like, God. They fucking had us pegged.
“Hallelujah” sounds like Pretty. Odd. to me, a little. It sounds less polished than anything else they’ve done, it sounds more real. It sounds like Brendon Urie is two feet from my face, probably spitting on me a little bit because he’s really hitting those consonants, say your prayers, say your prayers. And I like that. I like it a lot. “Hallelujah” reminds me of the theatricality of Fever but it feels older, more mature, more confident. It’s just as weird and over-the-top but somehow it’s much more sincere. Being blue is better than being over it, I guess, and I don’t know if I agree but it strikes a little something in my heart nonetheless. If you can’t stop shaking, lean back, let it move right through ya.
KENZIE: They totally did know what we wanted! Brendon Urie always knows what we want. (Well, like. I’m ignoring Vices & Virtues and Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! which both have their merits but didn’t connect the way Pretty. Odd. and A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out did, for me.) I think this is all the maximalist theatricality of Fever but matured, with a playfulness in the sound that is more reminiscent of Pretty. Odd. than Fever. And the thing I like most about it is perhaps the way that it is different from both of those efforts. This isn’t coifed and suited up like Vices & Virtues or Pretty. Odd. eras, this isn’t smoothing your hair and practicing arching one eyebrow in the mirror like A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. There is so much affect in those albums and I love them for it but that’s not what “Hallelujah” sounds like. Aly’s right, there’s a sincerity here that differentiates it, I think. This is Brendon singing right up against the limits of his vocal range almost to the point of cracking when he shouts “you’ll never know if you don’t ever try again, so let’s try, let’s try, let’s try” but having been at this long enough to know not to go any further.
It’s like they have such a firm grasp on the boundaries of their skills and sound and ambitions that they’re comfortable throwing themselves right up against that, over and over, secure in the knowledge it will hold. Panic! At the Disco are veterans at this point, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out came out 10 whole years ago! They aren’t amateurs. Brendon Urie is 28 years old! And he’s still breaking my heart! No one wants you when you have no heart! and Being blue is better than being over it! Jesus.
ALY: NO ONE WANTS YOU WHEN YOU HAVE NO HEART! God. Also – why was 2005, like, the year? Like, Chroma? FUCT? God damn, noughties. We are a decade older now and still so enthralled by these people, these overwrought dramatic lines that shouldn’t work but work so hard, punch us right in the guts. Sometimes drama is the only way to express what you really feel, right, and Kenzie was telling me this even as I was listening to it, and she’s so dead on – Brendon is at a point in this song that is almost too much, it’s shouting, it’s so raw. But that’s what it needs, and that’s what we respond to! We have always loved this drama, this too-muchness. And now it’s more adult, and it’s perfect for us all over again.
“Hallelujah” feels, I guess, like acceptance, acceptance that isn’t surrender but something joyful and correct. It feels like growing up in a weird way, in a way that doesn’t hurt or feel resigned, in a way that verges on nostalgic but doesn’t quite push me there. It makes me weirdly hopeful, and I like it. The art for the single is just the praise hands emoji cycling through a variety of colors, and I like that too. Plus – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’m a sucker for a horn section.
KENZIE: Yes! Yes yes yes. The same dramatics delivered in a way that’s still perfect for us, perfect in a totally different way from the way “we’re still so young, desperate for attention” was perfect. We’re not so young anymore!
I guess the main point is: I really fucking like this song. It’s growth that reminds me of the sound of the album I fell in love with. It’s forward motion without losing sight of the person you were before. I totally agree with Aly that it is acceptance. And it is exultant and it is not afraid to sing about trying. There is, when you’re a teen or a newly formed adult, this idea that you can’t seem like you’re trying. Everything should seem natural, should seem easy. You can’t try because that would indicate that you want and that just isn’t cool. But here’s Brendon letting us see the effort it takes to sing some of these notes. I already talked about this like, but I mean, Jesus, c’mon. You’ll never know if you don’t ever try again, so let’s try, let’s try, let’s try. Sometimes it takes everything in you just to get up and try again and it’s okay for things to require actual effort! It’s okay to want to try to do things! And honestly the whole song is preoccupied with trying. “Who was I trying to be?” he’s asking in the first verse and “who were you trying to be?” he’s asking in the second and who were any of us trying to be? But like what a relief, right, to call it trying? To acknowledge that? That active choice, that consciously expended effort? People look down on “try,” like it’s a kinder way of saying “fail to do,” a judgment on your ability to “actually” accomplish. But no! Here’s Panic! at the Disco singing a whole song about trying (sinners stand up! sing hallelujah!), knowingly questioning who they were trying to be before, but not turning away from that. Saying instead let’s try, let’s try, let’s try. That feels important. It feels good.