Emo rap has become untethered. It’s a catch-all and increasingly meaningless term (especially considering its infinitely worse alternate title, “bop-punk”). It’s currently used to describe any rap that’s partially melodic and generally heartbroken, which has led to artists like Drake and Kid Cudi getting lumped into the same category as Lil Peep and XXXTentacion despite having little in common musically. On “Roses” Panic! At The Disco‘s Brendon Urie and Benny Blanco recruited hip-hop’s commercial breakout of the year in Juice WRLD, seeking to connect an emo legend with one of his most popular adherents. To what aim is anyone’s guess, but it doesn’t ultimately succeed.
In fairness, a Juice and Urie collaborative effort makes some sense on paper. The Chicago artist’s forlorn musings on love and heartbreak (mostly heartbreak) are heavily indebted to the type of emo and pop-punk music that ruled the mid-aughts, Panic! At The Disco foremost among them. It works on Juice’s solo efforts, especially the insanely popular “Lucid Dreams,” which has spent months hanging out in the Billboard Top 10.
“When this whole wave started with the emo rapping, it’s everything goes in waves. All these kids, Juice WRLD and these types of guys they grew up worshipping these guys,” Blanco told Beats 1’s Zane Lowe. “The whole Warped Tour movement, everything, I was like ‘How has no one done this yet? How has no one put together the emo dudes with the emo rappers?’… I go to Brendon and I go, ‘Yo would you ever want to get on this?’ He’s like, ‘Dude’ he’s like ‘I copy those guys copying me.”
That may be the problem here: “Roses” sounds like a feedback loop. The lyrics “Roses are red, violets are blue / My heart is dead, I’m such a fool” are ripped right out of the Fueled By Ramen handbook, but don’t add anything to the formula. The muted and unvaried production doesn’t manage to leverage the strengths of either artist, Brendon’s voice feels like it’s trying to fit into a rap aesthetic it was never meant to be in. “Roses” feel like a streaming algorithm made sentient, and the whole thing clashes rather than mixes. Homage doesn’t always beget chemistry.