One year ago today, the Ohio-based duo that is twenty one pilots released an album called Blurryface that launched them into the fame they know today. Okay, that’s not technically true, but according to the official release date on iTunes, it’s been a year. Over the course of three days in 2015, starting on May 17th, twenty one pilots leaked their own album on several occasions before taking it down for the official release date. We’re just going to call today the one year anniversary. Happy birthday to the album that helped Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun break records, perform on many late-night TV and award shows, and brought them worldwide fame!
In honor of this monster album, I’ve written a little track-by-track review of the song with some lyrical interpretation, random thoughts, and cool facts about each one. Buckle up, guys, this is going to be a long, emotional ride.
Starting this piece off with “Heavydirtysoul” is just as heavy as starting off the album with this song. It’s a true blend of hip-hop, alternative, a hint of pop, and lyrical genius.
Before we delve deeper, I think it’s important to know that many of the lyrics in “Heavydirtysoul” have been seen elsewhere in Tyler’s writing. To be honest, A LOT of lyrics are like that, whether they’re from his (brief) solo days when he was 16 or video shorts from their pre-Vessel days. Regardless, Tyler has a knack for revamping old lyrics and completing his thoughts from 5+ years ago. I think it’s super cool (and that isn’t the right word but I’m struggling to find one) that he is still handling some of the stuff he was dealing with when he originally wrote some of these songs. “Heavydirtysoul” is a great example.
He first revealed these lyrics to the world in 2013, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were written then; I have to believe that they’ve been around for a while.
My favorite version of this song is the spoken word session he did for Rock Sound back in 2013, mainly because it seems like this video is the way the lyrics are intended to be consumed; minimal noise makes room for maximum emotion.
The next song on the album is “Stressed Out,” and I truly feel that I could just skip this song because everyone knows (read: hates) it, but guess what? I’m not going to. In all honesty, this song has been a favorite of mine since the album was released. It gained traction fast when it was sent out to the airwaves a few months ago; each time I hear it on the overhead radio at work, I can’t help but feel proud and a little emotional. Do me a favor: listen to the song two more times for me before you completely dismiss it. During the first listen, pay special attention to the lyrics and the way Tyler communicates them. Listen to the breaths, the pauses, and the actual words themselves. Find the alliteration, seek out the rhymes, and think about the multi-dimensional puns he sings about (“Out of student loans and tree house homes we all would take the latter/ladder). There is no such thing as a small detail. Your next listen through should be focused on the music. Tune out Tyler’s words and listen to his synth. Listen to the steady rhythm Josh provides through the whole song. There’s not a lot of variation in beats during this song, and perhaps it’s a constant because, as noted by the lyricist, there’s so much change happening everywhere else.
Yes, that’s a pretty heavy observation that might totally be made up in my own head, but this band is known for putting layers on layers on layers in their songs. But that’s another post for another day.
If you truly listen to “Stressed Out” these two ways, I promise it will sound completely different from here on out. Trust me on this one.
The next song on this amazing album is called “Ride.” More than anything, this song is a go-to when it’s cool outside, the sun is almost all the way set, and my windows are all the way down. Reggae influences, dark lyrics, and catchy drum patterns are the way to my heart. However, I do laugh when I think about the content because it’s so carefree in a way I wasn’t expecting from Joseph. The chorus sings, “I’m falling so I’m taking my time on ride.” Basically he’s acknowledging that he’s in a dark mental state but is deciding to have fun on the way down anyway. I like to believe that there is some religious overtones to this lyric as well, but that could be me reaching.
He’s written about his faith quite a bit over the past four albums, and Blurryface is no exception. Perhaps “falling” could be in reference to what’s below his feet? Yeah, I’m probably reaching but like I said, twenty one pilots has given me reason to overthink everything they put out! The music video has a lot of symbolism as well, but I’ll spare you from my thoughts on that (unless you wanna chat, in which case please hit me up because I’ve got a lot to say about their music
“Fairly Local” is track number four and debuted last March, on my birthday to be exact. This was the first song from the album to be released and caused a lot of problems within the fanbase. It wasn’t received well by many long-time fans but it attracted a lot of new ones (me being one of them). I’ve technically known about twenty one pilots since their pre-Vessel days, shortly before they were signed, but never gave them an honest listen until “Fairly Local” debuted. I had a few songs from Vessel on a playlist here and there, but didn’t consider myself a fan by definition. And then “Fairly Local” dropped. Although the song isn’t lyrically as mesmerizing as some of their other tracks, the simple words paired with the complex beat is something special. It’s so unlike anything else they’ve done, which is why the song didn’t sit right with some long-time fans, and yet it totally suited them. Previous album cycles were characterized by reds and blues, some yellows and greens, and various lighter shades of the rainbow. This new era presented through the music video for “Fairly Local” introduced us to black and red. Everything in the video was dark, from the lighting to the wardrobe (which was actually white but through sneaky filters they muted the white to a light gray). The song describes an internal battle within Joseph and thus, the character of Blurryface was introduced. For a full description of who Blurryface is, check out this post on my blog.
The character is presented to us via deep-toned mic-filter, the very same one you hear in “Stressed Out.” Plenty of fans expressed their discontent with the new music until the next single was released.
About a month later, the song that was most consistent with what was on the radio (in my opinion) was released. “Tear In My Heart” is the only “love” song twenty one pilots has ever released. Four albums and only one song about love. Joseph mentioned in an interview somewhere that he only wrote about what he knows, so it only makes sense the only love song was written while he was engaged to his who is now his wife.
If you gave TIMH one listen, you would understand what I meant when I said it seems like the only song consistent with what’s on the radio. It’s a grotesque pop song about bleeding, butcher knives, and being on fire. I’m not kidding, those are actual words in a song he wrote about his wife. If that’s not love, I don’t know what it.
Next up is track seven, “Lane Boy,” and honestly ya’ll… this is the first of a few times where an upbeat, seemingly positive song finishes up and a serious track with an important message and/or heartbreaking concept begins to play. “Lane Boy” is a track that needs to be listened to as loudly as possible because it’s not only a great song to dance to (see their music video where an entire festival of people dance to it), but its content needs to be sung from the mountain tops. Here, Joseph critiques popular music, including his own, and asks everyone to take a step back and look at their art through a different lens. Within the first verse, Joseph admits that “there’s a few songs on this record that feel common” and that he’s “in constant confrontation with” what he wants and “what is poppin’ in the industry.” The songs on the radio, including “Stressed Out,” seem like currency to some of these artists and “Lane Boy” encourages them to step outside their “lane” and make music for themselves! Perhaps it’s simply a message for himself, but Joseph says it perfectly: “don’t trust a perfect person / and don’t trust a song that’s flawless.” I say this all the time to anyone who will listen, but “Lane Boy” is SUCH a jam.
Okay, moving on. The next song is kind of special to me for a few reasons. Not only is it the first song I (successfully) learned on my ukulele, it’s the song that got my best friend into twenty one pilots. “The Judge” has some reggae influences (duh) and is the first song on the album to feature the classic twenty one pilots sound: the ukulele. I don’t necessarily have any favorite lyrics in this song, but do backing vocals and “oh’s” and “ah’s” count? Because I am obsessed with the bridge of “The Judge.” I always find myself humming the riffs that they create rather than their lyrics. I had the beginning four chords stuck in my head for at least a month, and that might be because it’s the only riff my brother knows how to play on the uke and he wouldn’t stop playing it for… about a month.
Track eight is entitled “Doubt” is another lyrically straight-forward song about Joseph’s faith. The chorus sings, “Don’t forget about me, / Even when I doubt you, / I’m no good without you,” and is sung with such conviction that it hits me harder than I expect every time. Musically, it’s another song that you wouldn’t expect these guys to write but you’re glad they did. I think the majority of the tracks on Blurryface are like that. I also think that’s why a lot of the long-time fans have left; there is so much change on this album and a lot of people were expecting the same things from their previous albums. “Doubt” seems like an amazing song to see live because its ending is meant for a chorus. During live shows, Joseph directs the audience like a choir as they sing the three parts one after the other.
I recently fell in love with track number nine all over again when I heard a live version of the song from their Lollapalooza set. The backing vocals in “Polarize” were louder than ever and gave me a chance to hear stuff I’ve been missing for months. This is another song that I love for its musical content. This band is so good at writing music that I’m fairly certain I’d still be a fan if they decided to just never write lyrics again, which is a big deal if you know me at all!
Track ten is a crowd favorite because it A.) everyone thinks it’s about Josh, and B). the ukulele is back! Without further inspection, “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV” could be misinterpreted for a love song, but Joseph insists that it isn’t. He also insists that it’s not about his band mate (which is a popular theory among many younger fans), so honestly who knows what it’s about. All I know is that it is a catchy song with cheeky lyrics and lots of yelling. It’s also another song that leaves you feeling happy and upbeat, only for the next song to knock you down and get real.
Message Man” is simply a straight-up jam. Its lyrical content should be heard by everyone and its beat is just… it’s sick ya’ll. It’s a dirty beat that everyone should hear. What I’m trying to say is that you should go listen to this song right now.
Although, I’m not going to lie, I have a teeny tiny problem with one lyric in the bridge that I feel goes against everything they stand for… But that’s probably me misunderstanding what he’s saying. I’ve thought about it a lot and have come up with a few ways I could be misinterpreting it, but I’m going to leave it alone for now. Again, hit me up on Twitter if you want to talk lyrics!
“Hometown” is up next and is the most unique song on the album because it’s basically a song I’d expect to hear at a college party. You know, the ones where the DJ thinks they’re being indie by playing “unknown” music? Yeah.. but I digress. It’s another jam that I love to blast in my car and dance to (read: almost crash to). It features a lower range of Joseph’s vocals as well as some sentimental lyrics for their hometown! Ohio is a special place for these guys and they talk about their love for the Buckeye state whenever they get the chance. If you like to dance, “Hometown” is for you.
The second to last song is definitely one of their more theatrical songs. There’s a certain element of theater in all of their songs, but Joseph takes it to a whole new level when his voice begins to crescendo as he sings/screams, “Don’t you test me though, / Just because I play the piano, / Doesn’t mean I / am not willing to take you down…” before he offers a quiet, “I’m sorry” and the song continues as if nothing happened. Unreal. At this point in the album, you’re probably thinking, “Wow! Two upbeat songs in a row! Cool!”
Well, I’ve got bad news for you, friend… The final song tears me apart every single time I hear it. So much so, that I often skip it because I am not emotionally ready to deal with it. It’s called “Goner” and it is the very best way to end this album. We’ll get to the lyrical content in a second, but let’s look at “Heavydirtysoul” again. Remember when I said the lyrics in the song were released years ago? “Goner” has a similar situation going on. In 2012, twenty one pilots released this heart-wrenching video. You can hear the first verse of the 2015 version of “Goner” in the 2012 version, as well as what could be considered the chorus, or refrain. The jacket in this video is a twenty one pilots staple and you’ll see it everywhere; shows, music videos, pictures, etc.
If you watch the video I mentioned all the way through, pay attention to the end. The various noises you hear there can also be found at the beginning of “Heavydirtysoul.” This means that the ideas on Blurryface are not new to Joseph. It also means that the album is meant to be a cycle. It begins with confronting the character that is Blurryface and ends with defeating him, only to circle back to confronting him again; it’s a never-ending cycle. The lyrics are pretty heavy as well. Think about who Blurryface is and picture Joseph communicating these words to him.
I won’t spoil any part of the song because it is a monster.
If you’ve made it this far in this insanely long post, then congratulations! You’ve successfully read the bare minimum of what I think about each song on Blurryface. This band keeps me up at night because of the layers they add to every one of their songs. I chose not to mention a lot of stuff because this piece would never end, but if any of this interested you or you’re already a fan and just want to exchange thoughts, hit me up on Twitter and let’s chat! Otherwise, do me (another) favor and sit down with the album for an hour. It’s a great album and the marketing strategy alone is fascinating. Check out my blog post about for more info on the marketing strategy and who Blurryface is! Although the album has been released for exactly one year, Blurryface been around for much longer.
You can catch twenty one pilots in Charlotte on June 28th at the Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre!