Taylor Swift is officially back...and she's not alone.
After weeks of anticipation and countless clues, the Grammy winner finally premiered her new song and its colorful music video on April 26, and for the first time in her impressive career, the 29-year-old chose to release a duet as her first single. Rather than choose one of her frequent collaborators over the years, like Ed Sheeran or Jack Antonoff, she tapped a somewhat unexpected partner: Panic! at the Disco's Brendon Urie.
Urie, along with Joel Little, co-wrote the jam with Swift, helping her reveal her true self with "ME!," her highly anticipated follow-up to 2017's darker reputation.
"'ME!' is a song about embracing your individuality and really celebrating it and owning it," Swift told Robin Roberts of the song's meaning. "With a pop song, we have the ability to get a melody really stuck in people's heads and I just want it to be one that makes them feel better about themselves."
That meaning applies just as much to Urie, who first made debut on the mainstream music scene back in 2005, as the 32-year-old is the last remaining member of Panic! At the Disco and has evolved just as much as his co-songwriter since becoming an emo icon at just 17 years old.
While fans were first introduced to him as an eyeliner-wearing 17-year-old frontman with a penchant for theatrics, costumes and a sort of d--kish attitude after an infamous interview with Alexa Chung, he's evolved into an LGBTQ advocate and someone who has developed a deeply personal relationship with his fanbase, much like Swift.
But at the start of it all, Urie was just a Mormon teen living in Las Vegas who wanted to be part of a the already-formed Panic! at the Disco, which was made up of members Ryan Ross, the main lyricist and guitarist; bassist Jon Walker, and drummer Spencer Smith.
Originally tapped to be the guitarist after he struck up a casual friendship with one of the guys in guitar class, a cold changed everything.
"When Brendon joined the band, he was gonna just play guitar," Ross, who was reluctantly serving as the lead singer, told Rolling Stone in 2006. "And I think I was sick one day or something and said to him, 'Why don't you sing the song?' He started singing, and we were like, 'Why didn't you tell us you could sing?' He said, 'I didn't know I could.'"
And that was that.
The band soon received their big break when they posted some of their songs on one of Fall Out Boy's message board, with Pete Wentz deciding to sign Panic! to his imprint, Decaydance. All under 21, the quartet quickly and unexpectedly became major players on the emo scene, with their debut album A Fever You Can't Sweat Out becoming an enduring classic in the genre, thanks to its quirky blend of punk, pop and theater.
But before fully committing to the band, Urie, then 17, had to have a "devastating" conversation with his parents, telling them he was choosing not to adhere to Mormonism.
"That conversation with my parents was pretty brutal. We weren't even signed yet, but I knew I wanted to be in this band and do it for life," he recalled to GQ. "I told my parents: 'I have to level with you. I don't believe in the church. I'm not even sure I believe in God.'"
Devastated, his parents told him he needed to move out. "I'm like, damn...it was a learning time for me. I didn't feel too bad, but I felt guilty that I made my parents feel that hurt."
Fortunately, Urie and his parents reconciled shortly after, but he still felt the need to sort of confess his "sins" to them.
"It would eat me up to hide things from my parents, so every six months I would call a family meeting," he told Paper, "and be like, 'Okay guys, in the last six months I have been smoking weed, dealing drugs, f--king promiscuously, sneaking out staying at friends' houses.'"
And really, before landing the record deal that would change his life forever, Urie was just your average high schooler. He worked at Tropical Smoothie, using his minimum wage paychecks to help pay for the rent for the band's practice space.
"That was an interesting job. I had fun making smoothies for people," he told OK!. "There were a lot of housewives with their little Chihuahuas coming in, and asking for a little Chocolate Chiller smoothie. It was relaxing. They let me sing during work, so that was nice of them."
Somewhat of a loner in school, Urie recalled one kid that used to pick on him.
"He used to drop my food and beat me up in little corners," he said. "Nothing serious, but tease me. I remember knocking his food out of his hand one time when he in the middle of explaining something to his friends, and they all laughed, so I thought that was pretty nice. 'Well, there you go buddy.' I was able to get instant karma."
Like Swift, he's also faced his share of break-ups, including what could've been a devastating professional one when Ross left the band, along with Walker, after the band's sophomore album.
"It was a breakup that needed to happen. We saw it happening and we said, 'I would rather be able to see you in public and give you a hug than see you and be like, 'F--k you,''" Urie explained to Paper magazine years later. "It was happening over a year and a half, or two. Our egos were bumping so hard."
For how hard the split between Urie and Ross was for Panic!'s loyal following at the time, just think of them as the OG Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson, the One Direction band mates that fans were convinced the two were secretly dating. Before there was Larry, there was Rydon, with the duo playing into it on stage.
"There are still fans that ship us together as a gay couple," Urie said. "It's adorable. For like the last 13 years they are like, 'Rydon is real.' I tell them ‘no' all the time, and they don't believe me. I'm like, 'Good don't believe me.'"
A lot of that speculation may have come from Urie's performance style, something he used to call "stage gay." (A term he later expressed regret for using.)
"For our first headline tour I would go up to Ryan our guitar player, and like kiss him on the neck or kiss him on the mouth and he would be so mad," he explained. "I was like, I just want to kiss you bro. I would hang out with friends and after five or six beers we're just kind of like smooching on each other. People just get hammered and fool around."
The departure of two of the band's original members heavily influenced Panic!'s third album, Vices and Virtues, with Urie saying at the time that songwriting became a form of therapy.
"We lost a couple buddies, so for a couple months, it was a little weird, but writing all this stuff was therapeutic," he told OK!. "Writing all this stuff down and how it made us feel and how we could mask that in lyrics...those things had to be talked about. We wanted to talk about that stuff."
Also influential in the 2011 album's creation was Urie's relationship with his wife Sarah Orzechowski, who he married in 2013.
And how's this for the beginning of a love story? Though she had a boyfriend when they initially met, they crossed paths again eight months later when they were both single. But he didn't win her over until he wrote a song for her called "Sarah Smiles," which he later revealed was his favorite song on Vices and Virtues.
"When I met her I wrote this song to try and impress her. I was infatuated with her. I played it for her and we've been dating ever since," he told Spin. "That was a huge step for me, personally. I was able to build up my confidence to write a song and try to woo her. I'm a lucky guy."
But ahead of their fourth album in 2013, Urie had to deal with another loss when Smith took a hiatus from the band due to health and substance abuse issues, making his departure official in 2015.
And then it was just Urie; the guy who joined the band last was now its last hope. Rather than just go solo as Brendon Urie though, he wanted to keep Panic! alive.
"Panic! has become my little play thing and I get to do more than I used to feel like I could. The first two or three years of the band I didn't feel like I had a license to create as much as I do now," he explained to Paper. "I felt like I was the last guy who joined and you guys just included me. I just wanted to hang out with those guys. So then when I finally gained some self-respect and started to realize I could do whatever I wanted, I gained the confidence that I never had. I always wanted to do Panic. Panic the name symbolizes no rules."
Since Urie became a one-man band, Panic! has flourished; 2015's Death of a Bachelor became their first album to debut at No. 1, delivering its best sales week ever. It was also Panic's first album to be nominated for a Grammy, earning a nod in the Best Rock Album category.
2018's "Pray For the Wicked" also debuted at No. 1 and was the year's best-selling alternative rock release, thanks in large part to the single "High Hopes," the band's best-performing single ever.
"High Hopes" actually feels like a nice companion to "ME!," given its inspirational lyrics—"Didn't know how but I always had a feeling, I was gonna be that one in a million"—and upbeat theme.
"I spent too long not setting my expectations high enough, worried about how it felt to fail," he explained of the song's meaning. "I hit a point when I realized I had to aim high and fail, fail, fail in order to keep growing. This one is for all of you who helped me go for it all. Thank you."
Urie actually wrote the song while making his Broadway debut in Cyndi Lauper's Kinky Boots, a full-circle moment of sorts for a kid who grew up obsessed with musicals and whose band was known for its theatrical music videos and performances.
I would constantly watch musicals at home, whether it was The Sound of Music or Les Misérables or something like that. That was the only thing I was allowed to watch on Sundays," Urie told Elle, referring to his Mormon upbringing.
After it was announced it was joining the show, Urie said in a statement, " It's been on my bucket list for the longest time, and it really is a dream come true."
While Urie wasn't initially sure if his Panic! fanbase would show up in droves during his 10-week run, he was sorely mistaken.
"When I walked on stage, there was a huge rumble and applause, and it was like, 'Whoa. OK,'" he said. "I guess we're bringing the concert scene to the Broadway scene."
But it got to be too much for Urie, who eventually had to stop signing Playbills after the show due to the sheer panic (sorry for that, but we couldn't resist) his fans were causing at the stage door.
As Panic!'s album sales have grown, so has Urie's legion of fans, with the Kinky Boots incident following the singer revealing in February 2017 that he had to move out of his house due to security issues as his address was public, resulting in "constant harassment" from fans
"It got so bad that I didn't feel safe in my own home,' he wrote on Twitter, also leaving an address in the message so fans could continue sending letters and gifts if they wanted to.
"I only hope this sheds lights on what inappropriate behavior looks like. Boundaries are boundaries for a reason," he added. "Everyone has a right to feel safe and everyone has an obligation to be happy. So I'm taking my family somewhere that might make this a possibility."
Aware of his devoted following, Urie told Paper magazine, "I definitely think Panic! At The Disco is a cult by definition. I have to accept that it's a cult now."
Still, as Panic!'s album sales have grown, so has Urie's legion of fans, with the singer fully transitioning to the mainstream scene over the years; though he rarely posts on Instagram, he's amassed over 4 million followers on his personal account, racking up 2.2 million Twitter followers despite only really posting links to his Twitch.tv channel when he goes live.
Even before Swift recruited him for her big comeback single, Urie was already in high demand.
In late 2018, the frontman was picked to "add a little of [his] own theatrics" when he covered "The Greatest Show" from 2017's smash hit musical The Greatest Showman for The Greatest Showman Reimagined, an album of covers featuring artists such as Kelly Clarkson and P!nk.
And ahead of Rami Malek's turn as the icon Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, Urie delivered one of the most talked about moments at the 2018 American Music Awards when he delivered a stunning rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody," nailing the tribute to Queen. Panic! would also win Favorite Alternative Rock Artist that same night.
Earlier this month, he also took part in Lil Dicky's music video for his song "Earth," which also featured Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes, Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry, among many others.
More importantly, he's also become a social activist, launching the Highest Hopes Foundation in June 2018, which was "created to support the efforts of non-profit organizations that lead, develop, and advocate support for human rights. This is dedicated to all people + communities who are subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation + gender identity."
Soon after announcing the foundation, Urie pledged $1 million to GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) to help create GSA (Gender & Sexuality/Gay-Straight Alliance) clubs in high schools.
"For years my fans have inspired me with their determination and creativity as they have created a safe and inclusive community," he said in a statement. "I felt the time had come for me to join them boldly, to bring that energy and power to bear on the huge challenges facing our whole society."
One month later, Urie made headlines when he revealed he was pansexual, though he had talked about his interest in men in past interview.
"I'm married to a woman and I'm very much in love with her but I'm not opposed to a man because to me, I like a person," he explained to Paper magazine. "Yeah I guess you could qualify me as pansexual because I really don't care. If a person is great, then a person is great. I just like good people, if your heart's in the right place. I'm definitely attracted to men. It's just people that I am attracted to."
In May, he's set to receive the Inspiration Award at at the 2019 GLSEN Respect Awards for his "ongoing commitment to LGBTQ youth" and commitment "to create more inclusive schools."
"With the creation of the Highest Hopes Foundation and his incredible pledge to GLSEN, Brendon is extending that power out into the world and putting it into action," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said in a statement. "By partnering with GLSEN to set the stage for GSA formation and student action in all 50 states, Brendon is galvanizing a new wave of youth advocacy at just the moment that the world needs it most. We cannot thank him enough."
In addition to becoming an advocate for LGBTQ youth, Urie has also shared his battle with anxiety with his fans, telling Kerrang he sometimes experiences anxiety even when he's in a crowded elevator.
"You would never tell on the surface but inside it's so painful I can't even describe," he said. "I start thinking of ways to take myself out! I can go to festivals and open spaces, but if I'm in a crammed room with a bunch of people, oh my god…"
He also revealed he is on medication for "ADHD, anti-anxiety, and depression" in his interview with Paper magazine, explaining he started taking it again at 19 years old as he was struggling with his newfound fame (he chose to stop taking it during his last two years of high school).
"The fame started getting to me. I kind of needed to numb myself a little bit. I want to medicate enough so that I can get through these interviews and meet these people," he said. "The first year was terrible. In terms of my interviews, I was either numb to the point where I didn't care or I was bitter." (Example: that Alexa Chung interview, which he looks back on with serious regret, adding, "That's one that will haunt me for the rest of my life.")
Now, at 32, Urie is set to hit his highest level of fame yet as Swift's partner-in-pastel-colors, with "ME!" on track to break all kinds of records and tapped to open the 2019 Billboard Music Awards on May 1. Plus, "stick around to catch the performance of Hey Look Ma, I Made It during the show," Panic! tweeted.
"Wait. This really happened?! Like for real?!?! Well I can't begin to describe how incredible it has been to work on this song and video," Urie wrote on Instagram after the music video premiered. "So I will simply say: Thank you @taylorswift for allowing me to be a part of your beautiful story. So much f--kin love and respect. #ME!"
During an Instagram Live with Swift, Urie said, "Being a big, big fan of Taylor that it's immense for me to be a part of this thing."
Swift revealed that when she started writing the song with Little she soon realized it was a duet. She decided to call Urie.
"The first time you called me and showed me that song, from that moment I couldn't get it out of my head," Urie said. "And it was freaking me out in the best way."
As for how the collaboration came to be? It seems like it might've actually been in the works longer than anyone expected.
"Taylor Swift is just a beast in the music world and I mean that in the best way possible, as the biggest compliment," Urie told Amazon Music back in June 2018. "She has this way of controlling a crowd and making it look so easy. I feel like I'm working so hard on stage, she looks like she's at five percent but somehow giving her all. She's undeniably one of the best performers and one of the greatest artists of our day."
And Swift's longtime BFF Abigail Anderson Lucier may have also offered a major clue, when she used an iconic Panic! song lyric in an Instagram post about Swift in February: "Well this calls for a toast, so pour the champagne."
Now, after the release of "ME!," it looks like there will be a lot more champagne toasts in Urie's future.