In a matter of months, Twenty One Pilots have become a household name. You’ve probably heard “Stressed Out,” “Ride,” and “Heathens” enough times on the radio that you feel like you know the band. But these songs only skim the surface of their greatness.
This past year, I’ve felt more anxious, broken, and lost than I ever remember. It’s unsettling to not feel quite like myself—which is exactly why Twenty One Pilots’ albums have been my go-to for those hard days, weeks, and months. They’ve given me hope, energy, and determination. They’ve helped me get to a point where, even when I sense that anxiety rising, I feel like I can handle it.
There is so much to be said about the two people behind the name Twenty One Pilots. They are more than what you hear on the radio. They are Tyler Joseph, Josh Dun, and the Clique. They are talented, creative, and inspirational. They are a symbol of hope and a light for those stuck in the dark. They are the reason I’m not afraid to get out of bed and strive for great things. They are the reason I won’t let my anxiety or depression hold me back from living. This life might be a battle, but peace will win and fear will lose. It’s worth it.
The first time I wrote about the arguably genre-less best friend duo from Ohio, I only had a vague idea of who they were, where they came from, and where they were headed. It was before I saw them live and before their second full-length album, Blurryface, was released. It was before I needed their music on the level I need it now. It was before, upon mentioning their name in conversation, I’d be asked, “where are the other 19 pilots?” Twenty One Pilots are more than their radio hits. They’re a saving grace for millions of people across the world.
So you know “Stressed Out,” “Ride,” and “Heathens.” I can hardly contain myself as I write this: you need to check out their albums as a whole—especially Vessel and Blurryface. Pick any song and you’ll hear something in Tyler’s voice that makes you feel like everything will be ok, even when you’re convinced it won’t be.
Twenty One Pilots’ words serve as a voice for the struggling, the lost, the weak, and the lonely. Tyler and Josh write everything themselves—every note, every lyric, and every little detail is collaborated on and designed through their two minds. Between Tyler’s vocals and rap verses to Josh’s other-worldly drum skills, it’s clear they’ve perfected their craft. I might be biased in saying that they have an incredible talent for writing music, but I admire the way they layer in various elements to their songs. Whether it’s a melody that sticks, a rap verse that stings, or a creative way to tie in facets of one album/song to another—it’s all uniquely their own. I can’t think of any artist that comes close to the purpose and the sound that makes Twenty One Pilots who they are. And that’s damn cool.
Everything Twenty One Pilots does is so carefully thought out. Even going back to something as simple as where the band’s name comes from—in short: it represents the complexities of making morally compromising decisions. Tyler’s anecdote is personal, yet it serves a bigger purpose. What I love about it is how the concept is reflected in so many aspects of the band. Everything is personal on the surface, but there’s always a deeper meaning.
Looking at the way the duo dresses for live shows—why they’ve carried on a tradition of wearing masks, why Tyler wears black paint on his hands and neck—there is an element of showmanship on the surface, but it all ties into a bigger story. It takes interpretation and a little digging to understand them and I see their artistry as something worthy of respect.
There are three pivotal elements that Twenty One Pilots needs to thrive: Josh and Tyler need each other, their own doubts, and their fans. Across social media, you’ll notice they share their successes with the people who have supported them over the years. It’s “your” song, “your” band, “your” award. From humble beginnings, they’ve grown immensely without forgetting where they came from. Their success is our success.
If you’re looking to dig a little deeper into what makes Twenty One Pilots such a groundbreaking creative force, check out their recently released Mutemath Sessions. It’s a 25-minute video that gives you a behind the scenes look at the intricate work that goes into their musical production.
The Live Shows
Since my last piece on Twenty One Pilots, I’ve seen them play live four times. Each time was an experience unlike any other live show I’ve seen. Every single concert left me feeling so incredibly alive… and also questioning how they pull off such electrifying grandeur on stage between the two of them. How can two guys put that much energy into a show night after night? How can two guys pour their insecurities and fears out in front of thousands upon thousands of people and manage to make that crowd feel alive—happy to be alive, even.
It’s not without a little personal struggle. Tyler credits his on stage showmanship to trying to focus on liking what he’s doing and to focus less on what other people think. Despite that, he still carries his doubts out there with him, “I think I do a pretty good job of giving off the impression that I’m confident and that I believe in everything I’m doing and I’m sure of myself.”
In addition to sounding spot-on to their studio recordings, I love seeing the visible teamwork between Tyler and Josh. Tyler has mentioned before in interviews how they feed off one another on stage. That’s something you won’t get sitting at home or in your car listening to their music.
If there’s one thing that stays with after seeing Twenty One Pilots live, it’s the last words you hear Tyler speak on stage at every show: “we are twenty one pilots and so are you.” Let that sink in.
If you saw Tyler and Josh win at the AMAs last month, then you know who they thanked in their speech: the fans, aka The Skeleton Clique. From what I’ve seen, the Clique is effortlessly inclusive. It’s a community built by people who have more in common than just a passion for Twenty One Pilots—we’re passionate about who they are, what they represent, and how they’ve given us so much. The Clique has a deeply emotional connection to two regular human beings who found a way to express the insecurities and doubts that would otherwise cripple them.
That said, Twenty One Pilots encourages their fans to express their feelings and fears through creative means. Write something. Paint something. Sing something. Just keep living, because nobody can replace you and you’re here for a reason. We all have a purpose uniquely our own (see: “Kitchen Sink”).
Over the summer, as the band toured through the States and Europe, I noticed the fans on their Snap Stories—every city, regardless of language barriers, knew every word to every song. They sold out show after show. They’ve created something that knows no bounds. And Tyler has noted that his favorite thing to do in interviews is brag about us.
2016 hasn’t been pretty, but my own silver lining has been seeing Twenty One Pilots breaking records left and right. I’ve witnessed them have four songs simultaneously rank in the Top 10 Alternative chart on iTunes. I’ve witnessed them make history that only Elvis Presley and The Beatles have made by holding top songs on two different Billboard charts at the same time.
They won awards at the iHeartRadio Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, AP Awards, Kerrang! Awards, MTV VMAs, MTV EMAs, and the AMAs. On tap: 2017 nominations at the People’s Choice Awards and the Grammys.
As if those feats weren’t big enough, Tyler and Josh lived out a personal dream: selling out two shows at Madison Square Garden—but this wasn’t a success of their own. Tyler made a speech before performing “Trees” that makes me cry to this day, because “we did it.”
The Personal Stuff
What the band represents, stands for, and encourages is simple: “stay alive, it’s worth it.” That statement has stuck with me in a way I can hardly describe. Twenty One Pilots know struggle. They know insecurity, doubt, and fear. They know what it’s like to have and to battle inner demons—the kind that nobody else sees or understands. Tyler has used his demons as a catalyst. He exposes the dark parts of his mind, in turn giving a voice to our own dark thoughts—the ones we’re afraid to acknowledge, to ignore. I’ve found that I understand the shadows of my own mind better as a result.
I owe a lot to Twenty One Pilots—they saved me.
Image Credit: Twenty One Pilots via Twitter