Emily Howland, A 15-year old from Ithaca New York, was just one of over 30 people of all ages that participated in the Panic! At The Disco Hearts project- a project that celebrates love, acceptance, and equality for the LGBT community. Panic! At The Disco is an alternative rock/pop band that has been around for over 13 years.
So what is the Hearts Project? “The Panic! At the Disco hearts project is basically a project where fans come together and cut out thousands of colored paper hearts to pass out to fans at the show,” Emily explains. “It creates this display that will look like a rainbow from the stage during a song called girls/girls/boys.”
Emily talks with me over facetime, with her little sister, Sara, who’s ten. Sara doesn’t say anything, but laughs a lot at Emily’s responses. Emily and Sara are nearly identical. They both have brown hair and round faces, with the same smile. They both share a love for Panic! At The Disco.
Emily has been a fan of the band for 5 years. She remembers hearing about it when the project first started, and she tells me how she found out about it. “I found out a couple years ago because I saw a bunch of different posts about the hearts, and I was like, ‘wow that’s really cool,’” she said. “And I kind of wanted to help with it but I didn’t think I’d ever be able to go to a show.” A year and a half later, Emily Howland had tickets to see Panic! At The Disco in Boston and had just signed up for the Hearts Project, which significantly grew in popularity since its start in 2016.
A few weeks later, she was put into a group chat with over 30 individuals whose ages ranged significantly from middle school students to parents, all sharing a love for Panic! At the Disco. Emily explained just how difficult the planning of the project was.
“It might seem like such a simple job but that isn’t true at all. The project took 4-5 months to fully plan,” she said. “Every show has a group leader, (at the Boston show, Brooke Lash was the leader) and their job is to map out what colored hearts are going where, and how many hearts are in each section.”
Emily later told me that their group leader counted every single seat in TD Garden in order to make a map of how many hearts were in each section. This project takes a lot of commitment, time, energy, and money, which Emily learned very quickly. “I personally made and passed out 700 hearts but I know some volunteers who had to make more. Around 20,000 hearts were made for the show,” she said. Between buying the paper and printing it, the project could cost anywhere from 10-60 dollars, or more, depending on how many are made.
During the span of 5 months spent planning the project, Emily formed close friendships with almost everyone from the group chat. “We’re all pretty close and talk on the daily. It’s pretty cool to have all those friendships formed from doing one huge thing together,” she said.
At the concert, Emily met up with almost everyone involved in the project, and handed out hearts with a few of them. Emily described to me how hectic it was trying to meet up with her friends, and get to her section to pass out hearts. Many volunteers needed more time than anticipated, and asked for help at the last minute. “We were going through a lot of struggles that night,” she told me. “I was worried for the outcome of the rainbow.”
I asked Emily what her experience was like passing out hearts and what types of reactions she got. “Most reactions were positive,” she said. “There were a few people that were like ‘can we take your picture? This is really cool.’” In general, Emily got a lot of positive reactions from people, but not everyone supports the project and what it stands for. “There were some people that didn’t have the best reactions. There was this one person that offered to pass hearts down a section, but they just took them, crumpled them up and threw them,” she said. But that didn’t stop the outcome of the rainbow- by the time the show had started, everyone in the group had finished passing out all their hearts.
Emily tells what it was like seeing the hearts go up one by one at the beginning of Girls/Girls/Boys and finally seeing her hard work pay off after 5 months of working on the project. “It was the weirdest feeling because looking around, it was like ‘wow, we did that,’” she said. “It was a really cool feeling to be a part of something so big. I was so proud of all of us knowing we created this beautiful display.” Many people in the audience found the hearts project moving and inspiring, including Brendon Urie, the lead singer of Panic! At The Disco. After Girls/Girls/Boys was over, Brendon made a short speech about the hearts. “That’s mapped out so brilliantly. That’s just gorgeous thank you for participating in that!” he said. “That symbolizes more than I think most of us know. So much love, I love you.”
“When I heard Brendon’s speech about the hearts after girls/girls/boys,” Emily said “I felt so proud of all of us. It was such a weird feeling knowing he was talking to us and it felt like such a personal connection in the moment.”
This project means a lot to Brendon. He is a major supporter of human rights, and he recently started the “Highest Hopes Foundation.”
The Hearts Project was made for fans and the band, and I was curious why Emily wanted to help with it and why it was so important to her.
The Hearts Project at a concert.
“It’s just a really simple but big way to show love and equality,” she said. “Everyone in that moment gets to feel like they really belong. This project shows people that they can be free to be themselves.” Emily left the concert that night with a changed perspective on her life, and on her effect on others. “It definitely showed me that even a couple people can make a huge difference and show a whole lot of love in such a simple way.”
More about the Hearts Project:
The Hearts Project was started by Briar and Eva, follow them on Instagram: @brendon.urie and @briarpatch6 and follow the Hearts project on Instagram @patdhearts
More about Panic! At The Disco:
Follow them on Instagram @panicatthedisco and follow lead singer Brendon Urie on Instagram @brendonurie
More about the Highest Hopes Foundation: