Panic! At The Disco Prove That Web Stunts Are Dangerously Addictive, In Bigger Than The Sound

Panic's puzzle, the 'Cloverfield' sites, Nine Inch Nails' alternate reality and other promotional games can be habit-forming.

On The Record: Sad Sappy Sucker

I made a New Year’s resolution to stop writing mean things about Panic! at the Disco. After holding out for nine days, I am now going to break that resolution. Because Panic! at the Disco are ruining my life.

There is really no better way of putting it. They make me angry. They haunt me. They are the bane of my existence. I want to fly to Las Vegas, grab Ryan Ross by his cravat and scream, “Stop! For the love of God!” into his tiny little face, only I know that doing so is pointless. Because Panic are like Dracula or zombies (or Tecmo Bo Jackson): They will never stop, at least not until they’ve killed me. This cannot end any other way.

Now, before I get an angry phone call from someone at Atlantic Records or Fueled by Ramen (I think they have me on speed dial), allow me to explain. This isn’t going to be another one of those installments of Bigger Than the Sound where I take potshots at Panic’s music , song titles or rather, uh, flamboyant manner of dress . Nor will this be one of the times I refer to them as “emo circus-enthusiasts,” blindside their former bass player with questions about his departure from the group or compare the guys to Janet Jackson . (Man, I’ve written some bad things about them.) Rather, I’m going to spend the next several paragraphs doing something different. I come here today not to bury Panic! at the Disco, but to praise them … for making me miserable.

I’m slowly starting to realize that Panic have gotten too good at what they do, and I’m not just talking about the songs they’ve written for their upcoming album — though, now that I mention it, last week I may or may not have heard the final version of “Nine in the Afternoon,” the first single from that album, and it may or may not have been really good, in a sort of organic, Music From Big Pink kind of way (and I may or may not get in big trouble for writing this). No, what bothers me about them is that they’ve somehow also turned out to be way smarter than I ever gave them credit for, as evidenced by the vexing, annoying and completely addictive way they’ve chosen to roll out that new album.

For those not keeping score at home (or those not 13 years old), the whole thing breaks down thusly: In late December, they sent out a cryptic MySpace bulletin with a link to their Web site and the message, “And so it begins.” Visitors to the site were greeted with little more than a half-filled-out word puzzle and a whole lot of white space. Over the next 72 hours, fans drove themselves nuts trying to decode said puzzle, until, rather suddenly, an image of a clock also appeared on the site, a subtle clue that “Nine in the Afternoon” would be the first single from their new album (of course, that clock could only be viewed if you CTRL + A’ed the entire page). Then, the band revealed that the word puzzled spelled out “You don’t have to worry” — which is a line from the first song on the album — before yanking it from the site and replacing it with a jigsaw puzzle and a single date: 01.01.08.

In the past, I would have viewed the whole thing with a level of annoyed bemusement. I would’ve mocked the fervor with which Panic’s fans were following this rapidly developing mystery. Only, this time was different. Because I was just as hooked as they were, visiting the site every 15 minutes, constantly hitting refresh, searching the site’s source code for clues, Googling the phrase “you don’t have to worry” to see if another site turned up. And it started to affect my job too. As you can see from the links above, I wrote three stories about the site in the span of 10 days. It was completely embarrassing and slightly horrifying, and it made me totally hate Panic! at the Disco, because thanks to their stupid little puzzle, I was forced to admit to myself that I had a problem: I am a complete and utter sucker for stunts like this.

Sure, I had suspected that there was something wrong with me early last year, when I filed an encyclopedic story detailing the alternate-reality game surrounding the release of Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero album . Or when I began getting entangled in the whole Slusho/Tagruato/1-18-08 campaign behind the “Cloverfield” film . Or when I’d spend hours playing the “Goliath the Soothsayer” game developed to promote the Mars Volta’s upcoming The Bedlam in Goliath album, despite the fact that, A) it was pretty terrible; and B) the Mars Volta are slowly turning into the 00s’ version of War. But really, this whole Panic thing was the final straw. I have hit rock bottom.

So, I’ll come clean: I am an easy mark, the target market. I am obsessive and prone to addiction. I fall for these things time after time, even though I swear that I’ll never do it again, and even when I know that the final product will never be as good as the viral campaign surrounding it. Case in point: The “01.01.08″ date on Panic’s Web site led to the unveiling of a song called “We’re So Starving,” which was remarkable chiefly for being brief and literal. I have a problem. I am an ARG-oholic, and I need help. So, really, I’m not mad at Panic — I’m grateful. Their Web site was the intervention I so desperately needed. They are like my very own Bill W. — they’ve led me through the woods, and for the first time in my life, I can see clearly. I realize that I can take things only one day at a time, but I’m determined to defeat ARGs once and for all. Or at least cut back for now. Maybe a little bit here or there. I mean, I can quit any time.

B-Sides: Other Stories I’m Following This Week (Special Pregnant Train-Wreck Edition)

Jamie Lynn in an Ole Miss sweatshirt is the worst thing to happen to the school since the hiring of Ed Orgeron (aside from their “Colonel Reb” mascot, of course). Here’s a guarantee: You had a better New Year’s Eve than Jessica Sierra did. There is nothing to suggest that Britney is pregnant, but given her track record, I’m just gonna assume she is.

Questions? Concerns? Mysterious, Web-based marketing ploys? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.