A week ago, I made the impulse decision to buy a ticket to the Panic! at the Disco concert at Madison Square Garden. Like many queer women, I’m a huge Hayley Kiyoko fan. She was one of the openers, and at that point, I was so desperate to see her live that I bought tickets to Panic! without a second thought. While seeing Kiyoko was everything, seeing Panic! for the first time gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in a new fan culture and vicariously experience the concert through those who loved Panic! the most.
I’m no stranger to “bandom" — band fandom. I think at this point I’ve written about three columns about K-pop fandom, and I’m planning to drive down with friends to go see BTS in Chicago this October for the second time. Fan projects, crying when you see your idol and the palpable excitement inside a packed arena aren’t new concepts to me, but every group and fandom are different.
Panic! has been around for about 14 years now. Its second single, “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” sends me back into a nostalgic spiral that has me screaming “I CHIMED IN — “ without a second thought. However, I haven’t actively kept up with Panic! in the past couple of years. Going in to the concert, all I knew was that I liked the new album, that Brendon Urie was the only original member that was left and that he was an extremely talented vocalist.
In a way, I went in blind. I had listened to the new album, "Pray For The Wicked," twice at work before running over to Madison Square Garden and weaving my way through the crowd to my nosebleed seat. While I enjoyed myself through both opening acts — Kiyoko being the reason that I had come at all — I was utterly stunned the moment that Urie stepped on stage. “Stepped” is actually misleading. The man popped out from underneath the stage like a piece of vocally-powered toast.
I was experiencing everything from classic songs to Urie’s legendary and sometimes show-off high notes for the first time. At the same time, I was embedded in a crowd that had been anticipating this moment for weeks or months. I felt like I was on the reverse side of a glass pane. While I could harken back to my own experiences to understand what fans were feeling, I knew that I was an outsider.
I loved it. It was a two-for-one deal getting to see Panic! for the first time while being immersed in a collective atmosphere. I participated in a fan project that lit the arena up in a rainbow during the song “Girls/Girls/Boys” to celebrate Urie’s recent coming out as pansexual. Throughout the concert, I texted a friend and longtime fan with reactions to Urie’s frankly impossible vocal feats.
Standing next to a teenager at the concert with her mother sent me back to my first big concerts like Green Day, Owl City or even BTS. Stepping into other fan communities allows us to have the dual experience of a first impression and a recollection of our own landmark fan events. This is especially true at events like concerts that have a strong atmosphere and sense of community. I wasn’t an intruder but rather a participant in a lively fan culture and mesmerizing experience. That’s worth any last-minute ticket price.