When Westboro Pushed the Panic! Button

Panic! at the Disco front man Brendon Urie on battling the Westboro Baptist Church and celebrating his sexual fluidity.

BY Jase Peeples

September 05 2014 11:05 AM ET

Panic! At The Disco front man Brendon Urie admits he was a bit irritated on July 20 as he and his bandmates pulled into Kansas City, Mo. The band was scheduled for a concert on its ongoing, The Gospel Tour, following a stream of attacks by the extremist antigay Westboro Baptist Church. Through social media, the so-called church announced plans to picket the concert with its infamous vitriol. So the band announced a counterstrike: Panic! At The Disco promised to donate $20 to the Human Rights Campaign for every WBC protester who showed up.

Urie imagined a grand spectacle, but when he stepped outside before the show for a headcount, his irritation was quickly replaced with laughter: a paltry 13 protesters showed up.

“We expected it to be pretty crazy, but it was just 13 people and they only protested for about 20 minutes — long enough for news crews to show up. Then they left,” he says with a laugh. “They were so weak. I was disappointed.”

Their bloated cyber battle began with WBC's parody of Panic! At The Disco's 2006 hit, “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” Their version, “You Love Sin What a Tragedy,” was a condemnation of same-sex marriage riddled with antigay slurs. But at the end of the day, the pop-punk group had the last laugh.

Following the concert, the band tweeted the WBC, teasing them for a “weak” showing and increasing the earlier pledged donation to the HRC from $20 a head to an even $1,000, plus 5 percent of the total merchandise sales from the evening.  

Though he isn’t certain, Urie believes a part of the reason Panic! was attacked stemmed from an interview he gave shortly after the release of the band’s fourth studio album, Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!, late last year in which he revealed he had previously experimented with “homosexuality and bisexuality.” His comments not only presumably caught the attention of homophobic groups like the WBC, but also numerous LGBT outlets. Since then, the married singer — who identifies as more of a Kinsey 1 or 2 — says he has been mislabeled as bisexual in subsequent stories. However, when asked if he’s fazed by the assumption, Urie simply shrugs. “Not really,” he says. “It’s interesting because it’s what people do when they don’t have a way to label something. They freak out and have this need to separate everything into predetermined boxes. But life isn’t always that simple.”  

Urie’s view of sexuality takes center stage in his latest album’s track “Girls/Girls/Boys,” a song based on the artist’s own past experiences with sexually fluid and bisexual women.

“The perfect summarization of that song is in the lyric, ‘love is not a choice.’ I really believe that,” he says. “These people who try to say otherwise – I just think, Really? You really think people choose this? You really think some little kid is going to choose something [that puts them at risk of being] ridiculed and bullied. Really? Those people are a joke.”

The 27-year-old singer says he “has a lot of respect” for those who can be honest about sexual fluidity, and though he stresses he and his wife are happily married, they’re not above admitting finding members of the same-sex attractive. 

“I feel like [sexual fluidity] should be celebrated. There’s no shame in it,” he says. “And if I can help shed some light on that fact, then great.”

Urie exposed more than his views on sexuality in the music video for “Girls/Girls/Boys,” where the singer stripped down for a solo performance which pays homage to D'Angelo's classic R&B music video from 2000, “Untitled (How Does it Feel)”.

“I remember seeing it and being struck by how bold it was,” he says of the D’Angelo video. “I don’t think it was something sexual, but I was mesmerized by his confidence.”

Urie adds because he felt “Girls/Girls/Boys” was one of the most racy and boldest tracks from the band’s latest collection, in his mind “it just made sense to spoof one of the sexiest videos of all time.”

However, D’Angelo isn’t the only artist Urie credits with recent inspiration. He eagerly points to the legendary rock band Queen as well as groups synonymous with shaping the sound of the 1980s such as The Cure, New Order, and The Eurythmics for their influence on the synth-laden sound that permeates Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!. As the youngest of five children, Urie says he was “raised on those bands,” and notes that both the music and the flamboyant, gender non-conforming style of the ‘80s era influences him.

Nevertheless, as much as Urie romanticizes the sound and style of the bygone era, he’s grateful to be creating music at a time when public opinion on subjects such as gender roles and sexuality are rapidly evolving.

But are those views evolving to the point that people will no longer be condemned because of whom they love? He pauses to consider the question for a moment before saying, “I don’t know why everyone isn’t totally down with equality and being open about who they are. Our differences are natural. We’ll get there eventually, but until then I’m not afraid of standing up and saying I’m proud of who I am.”

Watch the provocative “Girls/Girls/Boys” video below and for Panic! At The Disco tour dates, visit the band’s official website

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