The first time I heard Twenty One Pilots was Senior year in my Media Whirled View class. We had a project researching songs and presenting them to our peers. A girl presented Stressed Out and showed the music video. I was completely caught off guard by this band. The lead singer, Tyler Joseph, rolled onto the video riding a Big Wheel tricycle, his hands, and neck covered with black paint. I was interested, to say the least. Their sound was like no other band I had listened to before and I craved to know more. I researched and discovered that this band of two is from Columbus, Ohio: Lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph, and drummer Joshua Dun. After hearing this song, I never expected their bold sound to come from only two minds. This revelation enticed me to dig deeper into their music.
Tyler Joseph never dreamed of being famous or that his songs would even be heard by others. As a teenager, he wrote to relieve his anxiety and creatively express his emotions. In 2009 while attending community college, he formed a band with two other members, Chris Salih and Nick Thomas. They produced their Self-Titled album and played at small venues or coffee shops. But it wasn’t until 2011 when Josh Dun replaced Salih, and Thomas left for personal reasons, that Twenty One Pilots made a mark on their city. The next couple of years were dedicated to slowly building a local fan base, self-promoting, and releasing their next album Regional at Best. In 2013, they signed with Fueled by Ramen and recorded Vessel. Day by day they became refined performers and one of the top regional bands. Their 2015 album, Blurryface, finally took the band to heights unimagined. They went from local opening band to headliner, performing in small venues to sold out arenas and not known by the music industry to nationally praised.
Why did I spend all this time reviewing their story? Because their story and unique process fueled their success. They did everything against the “usual” grain of how musicians rise to fame. The creativity of Joseph, whether it be his catchy lyrics or synthetic beats, goes against the status quo. Twenty One Pilots is one of the most honest bands I have heard; I feel with every song, Joseph is speaking the truth. They have a rare ability to relate to people through personal, real issues. I could ramble on about this band for pages, but instead, let me redirect and tell you about their song Migraine.
Migraine is on their third album, Vessel. The song demonstrates the complexity of Twenty One Pilots’ music. A catchy melody, with intertwined piano, synth, and drumming. The song begins with the chorus, “Am I the only one I know? Waging my wars behind my face and above my throat?” Joseph is questioning if he is alone. Alone in thinking a certain way about the world. Alone in recognizing the problems surrounding him. Alone in the struggle to communicate them and find solutions. The first verse describes his migraine; It ranges “up, down, and sideways” and is “a ruthless examinant.” This problem won’t leave and causes him to lose sleep. He figures maybe rest will come when he is dead. In a commentary of Vessel filmed by the band’s cinematography team, Reel Bear Media, Joseph explains that this song isn’t about a real migraine. “To me,” Joseph clarifies, “the headache in the song, the migraine, represents an issue.” It is an analogy that recognizes a problem in the world. He doesn’t know what the issue is, but he ponders if anyone else notices or cares.
While the first verse details what the migraine represents, the second verse is his present state of mind and body. “I am not as fine as I seem,” he yells. He continues to describe this feeling as an analogy of an island behind his eyelids where lions are attacking, and his only defense is to assemble weapons to destroy the beast. What is the lion exactly? His thoughts, expressed in the last lyrics of the verse “sometimes to stay alive you gotta kill your mind.” The song goes from describing the migraine’s effect on his life into a poetic analogy of the beast he is trying to defeat. His resolution comes in the bridge; instead of focusing on this migraine, he proposes to take a break from the pain and that everyone struggling should “take a moment and hold it and keep it frozen and know that life has a hopeful undertone.” This hopeful undertone might be unique to the individual, but for Joseph, the hopefulness comes from his recognition of not being the only one dealing with this problem.
Why Is It a “Must Listen?”
I will make the bold statement that Twenty One Pilots is second to The Beatles as my favorite band. I find much comfort and hope in their lyrics. Above everything, I have a growing respect for who they are as people, then artists. They don’t conform to the industry’s expectation of popular music; they stand against the flow of radio music and live performances. I have been blessed to see them in concert twice this past year. The first concert was last summer for their Emotional Road Show. I went as a new fan, not knowing every song, but ecstatic to see them perform. I left obsessed! They made every person feel like a part of their journey. I purchased the tickets for the second concert in February two weeks after the first. This time, I knew every song on the set list. I remember the excitement building for months leading up to the show, and no concert has beat this one yet. Migraine was one of the songs that gripped me. I have personally had this “headache” before, and the lyrics pushed me to find a solution. As a writer, I can directly relate to the lyrics “I do not have writer’s block my writer just hates the clock;” that desire to express your views or opinions but not knowing how or when…and what people will think.
The main two reasons why I respect this band so passionately is their exemplified originality and honesty. Whatever the group produces, I promise you, that you will not have heard anything like it before. They are so original that music critics cannot place them in a genre. Joseph wrote his songs to find purpose and meaning for himself; not for a specific radio station or audience. The band frequently talks about their stance as musicians and their desire to produce songs that give meaning to real struggles and experiences. He and Dun perform live the only way that makes sense to them. If you have seen them in concert or watched their videos, the energy is contagious. Joseph is running around, jumping off pianos, and shaking back and forth, sometimes violently. Dun drums on a platform held by fans, backflips off pianos, and never fails to hit the crap out of his drumkit. Honest. Purposeful. Authentic. They go out of their way to make connections with fans and find solutions to comfort and keep the migraine from fracturing other’s lives. Listen to their music, watch interviews, check out who they are as people and performers. Twenty One Pilots’ music is on any digital platform, so give them a listen!
Next week will be my first Soundscape: a playlist that I create based on emotions, scenery, and events! There are times when I listen to music and grow weary of searching for songs one after another, and wish that I had a playlist perfect for my mood or occasion. So, I take this opportunity to make some and share it with others who want the same thing! A new Soundscape will be on the blog after every third song review. If you have any playlist or theme suggestions, let me know in the comments. Thanks for tuning in!