One aspect I truly enjoy about Twenty Øne Pilots (TØP) is how their music often sounds completely the opposite of its serious lyrical content. Getting into this duo took some musical adjusting and multiple listens, but it was all worth it to discover a new favorite band!
Blurryface is Ohio duo Twenty Øne Pilots’ fourth studio album, released in 2015 as their second album under Fueled By Ramen (Panic! At the Disco, Paramore). This album contains several of TØP’s biggest singles, including “Tear in My Heart,” “Stressed Out,” and “Ride“. 2016 was a good year for TØP: according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), TØP was the sixth most popular artist of the year, with Blurryface as the eighth best-selling album of 2016 with 1.5 million copies sold worldwide. The single “Stressed Out” was number 10 in the Global Top 10 Digital Singles of 2016, with 9.9 million copies sold (IFPI).
In recent news: Twenty Øne Pilots used lyrics from various songs off Blurryface in a serious of cryptic posts all uploaded on July 6. These posts contained lyrics written backwards across the image of a red crowd, framed by a graphic that resembles an eye closing slowly with each image. The band has been dead silent since across all social media. For more information and to see the images described, click here for Alternative Press’s full article.
“Heavydirtysoul” kicks off Blurryface with a fast-paced tempo, spitfire lyrics, and simpler instrumentation that places the primary focus on the lyrics. This song makes your heart beat faster and “gets your feet moving almost as fast as the infectious and simplistic hook causes you to sing along” (Under the Gun). The first verse instantly points out that TØP doesn’t stick to one genre (“this is not rap, this is not hip-hop/Just another attempt to make the voices stop“). Content-wise, “Heavydirtysoul” focuses on Tyler Joseph’s fear of death and “fleeing suicide” (Plugged In). The song contains lyrical references to Just Ice’s “Gangstas Don’t Cry” and The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout,” the latter of which may be better known for its use in the parade scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
2. Stressed Out
This song is one of TØP’s most relatable tracks, as pretty much everyone knows the struggle of growing up. That is essentially what the song is about: going from stress-free childhood, to adulthood and the motherload of stresses that comes with it. Joseph takes the opportunity in this song to discuss his personal experiences with this situation, “express[ing] concern over everything from his music…to growing older” (Sputnik). Musically, this song maintains a more mid-tempo pace that creates a song perfect for unwinding to when at your most stressed.
“Ride” may sound like a relaxed, mid-tempo reggae song; but in true TØP style, the lyrics are anything but. “Ride” refers to one’s life, and how it’s a bigger challenge to find something worth living for while dying for someone, in comparison, is easy. Part of the song even goes into “the ideal that we’d all be willing to die for someone” (Plugged In): how it’s easy to say and mean “I’d die for you,” but it’s harder to say “I’d live for you” (“I’d live for you,” and that’s hard to do/Even harder to say when you know it’s not true). Even with knowing the song’s true message, I still find the song to be a good unwinding song.
4. Fairly Local
“Fairly Local” discusses two aspects of Joseph’s personality: Blurryface, who embodies all the negative parts of Joseph (his insecurities, self-hate); and Joseph himself, as he works to eliminate Blurryface and thus, all the darker parts of himself. The first two verses reference the “internal spiritual struggle” described in Romans 7, with the first verse spoken by Blurryface and the second by Joseph (Plugged In). Joseph’s verse as himself is the lyrical inverse of Blurryface’s verse, and he states that “Tomorrow I’ll switch the beat/To avoid yesterday’s dance“–meaning, he’s refusing to repeat his past mistakes.
This song is such a pump-up song and one of the tracks that truly launched TØP into the pop music mainstream. “Tear In My Heart” is a song that makes you want to jump around, dance, and sing along, and I have a feeling it’s amazing to hear live and experience with the crowds. Joseph wrote this song as an ode to his wife, “describ[ing] a love so big that it bursts the heart’s bounds” (Plugged In). I have always enjoyed this song, and discovering it’s a love song for Joseph’s wife (and learning that he’s happily married) made me appreciate it even more.
6. Lane Boy
“Lane Boy” is the fourth single off Blurryface, and continues the theme of others questioning TØP’s musical integrity: particularly in terms of promotion, selling records, and avoiding becoming a sellout. This song is unofficially the band’s “f*** you” song to the critics, talking about “shaking off other people’s expectations (and demands) about where the duo’s place is in the business” (Alternative Press). The track also revisits the topic of “who would you live/die for?” first addressed in “Heavydirtysoul.” The song starts with a techno-reggae sort of sound, leading into a steady mid-tempo that “becomes especially schizoid,” as Joseph’s rapping with “double-time dub” shifts quickly into “a spastic drum’n’bass confection” (Billboard).
7. The Judge
Plugged In compares Joseph to Eminem on this track, as this song is written and sung in a confessional manner. While I will agree that lyrically the song fits a more Eminem style, musically this song remains 100% TØP. According to genius.com, there are four potential interpretations of this song: 1) Blurryface is judging Joseph, bringing up his worst fears while Joseph begs to be released; 2) Blurryface is trying to get deeper into Joseph’s head by begging for mercy, making himself appear “more human and sympathetic;” 3) Joseph is asking God for mercy and begging him to remain patient while Joseph attempts to defeat Blurryface; and 4) Joseph is calling the audience as the judge, and is “expressing his insecurities related to the success of his music.”
Like several tracks on Blurryface, “Doubt” deals with another of Joseph’s fears on a more religious level. In “Doubt,” Joseph talks about how it feels to be “falling away from God” as someone who comes from a religious background (genius.com). He writes as if he’s praying to God not to forget him even when he slips up, or “Even when I doubt you.” He responds to his fears by praying, “Don’t forget about me/Even when I doubt you/I’m no good without you, no, no.” This theme of religious content is something that TØP has heavily explored in earlier music, and does quite often on this one.
In regards to this song, “polarize” means to “divide or cause to divide into two sharply contrasting groups or sets of opinions or beliefs” (genius.com). Joseph is asking for help in differentiating and separating the bad from the good. The line “My friends and I, we got a lot of problems” most likely refers to the fans, whom Joseph often calls friends. He’s showing that he’s aware of how many TØP fans understand and are experiencing several of the issues discussed in TØP songs (mental health, insecurity, fears)–and even states that he writes for them, not just himself (“You know where I’m coming from“).
Listening to “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV” is like listening to a punched-up version of “House of Gold” (Vessel). The song even has a line (“We have learned to kill our dreams“) that seems to reference “House of Gold” (“And since we know that dreams are dead“). Billboard described the song as “like a Decemberists song if you force-fed it 20 Red Bulls.” Lyrically, the song vocalizes Joseph’s plea to his friends and family–and the fans–to stick by him even if he fails.
11. Message Man
I like that this song addresses something that’s always bothered me: that many people, especially those who only listen to the TØP songs that come on pop stations, will take the songs only at surface level and instantly judge the song–and the band–based off the musicality without paying attention to the lyrics. The “message man” is meant to be Joseph, who as the band’s primary songwriter often faces criticism for what and how he writes (“Please use discretion when you’re messing with the message, man/These lyrics aren’t for everyone/Only few understand“).
“Hometown” is yet another of TØP’s song that focuses on religion. The duo is describing what it is like to be Christians in a world that does not quite understand what they believe. The song’s hook, though, seems to be addressing Blurryface: in this song, he represents depression and mental illnesses. “Hometown” is musically not a personal favorite, although I do like the lyrics.
13. Not Today
“Not Today” is written in a conversational style similar to “Fairly Local.” The track notes that while TOP’s music may often sound upbeat, the lyrics show otherwise (“This one’s a contradiction because of how happy it sounds/But the lyrics are so down“)–which as I previously mentioned, is something I really do enjoy about the duo’s music. It is something that adds a certain unique, identifying quality to their music, providing a link between the musically diverse songs from TØP.
“Goner” is the quietest track on Blurryface: just simple piano and Joseph’s vocals. When the rest of the album is hubbub, having such a relaxed yet clearly sad song as a closer track is perfect. However, the song does pick up pace, “build[ing] into an unexpectedly energetic track” that enhances the impact of the song, particularly with Joseph’s screaming of the lyrics up until the very last word, which he sings (Iamtunedup).
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