Stressed out: Twenty One Pilots and teenage lives today

Teenager Tazmin Aldis looks at the important issues behind Twenty One Pilots’ songs which have been watched a billion of times on Youtube. 

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Twenty One Pilots are the latest young American male duo to burst onto the music scene. Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun are perhaps unlikely suspects on today’s music charts which are typically flooded with the genres of house and pop. Their style is unique, a mixture of singing and rap laid over beats and instruments that vary from song to song, but which somehow remain distinctive under the umbrella sound that is Twenty One Pilots. Their musical elasticity means they appeal to Electric dancers and attuned listeners alike; but, I believe,: what secretly unites this generation in the almost unanimous approval of the duo is the underlying depth to their lyrics.

Upon first listening you groove out to the sounds and feel proud to even pick up a gist of the catchy chorus. But, upon repeated listening, you realise the verses hold lyrics that express the everyday thoughts of teens across the developed world about the immense pressures being placed upon us. Pressures coming at us in all areas of our lives: from self-confidence and confused identity to how on earth we are meant to plan our futures while we still have to ask to go to the toilet during lessons.

With such big problems going on in the world: raging wars, brutal dictatorships, police brutality, terrorist attacks and murderous gunmen all claiming the lives of the innocent, as a teenager, it is hard to put your problems into perspective and realise that they are worthy of note and attention – a difficulty in understanding that can often lead to mental illness and, too frequently, suicidal tendencies.

Twenty One Pilots voicing these problems, accompanied with the songs’ popularity, gives validity to the difficulties modern-day teens face. It is almost as though, through the group’s international recognition, teens all over the world are saying, ‘Yes, we all have these problems and we are not alone in our struggle’. I like to think that the community of Twenty One Pilots fans have been helped by the artists and each other in a way that is subtle yet imperative to their young lives. For me, the 3 songs that best capture this quality are ’Stressed Out’, ‘Not Today’ and ‘Fake you out’, the lyrics of which communicate the obstacles that teenagers face, and – perhaps more importantly – their effects.

‘Stressed Out’ found itself on our music charts in February of last year. Its general message is expressed using simple chorus lyrics like ‘Now we’re stressed out’ which comments on how much of a shock growing up, and its incumbent responsibilities, are after childhood. With words like ‘I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink/ But now I’m insecure and I care what people think’ the duo communicates how age and the understanding of society induces a negative self-awareness. As a university student, the line that catches me upon every listen and consequently encapsulates the song for me is, ‘Out of student loans and tree-house homes we all would take the latter’.

‘Not Today’ has a slightly less obvious message. ‘I know this one’s a contradiction because of how happy it sounds/ But the lyrics are so down/ It’s OK though, because it represents, wait better yet, it is/ Who I feel I am right now,’ Lyrics like this give me the impression that the song is about depression and the struggle of trying to get people to understand what that means and the lack of understanding in how to help. For example, where Tyler sings, ‘Heard your voice, “There’s no choice.”/ Tore the curtains down, windows open now, make a noise’ strikes me as a depressed young person’s account of a parent perhaps trying to help by forcing them to get up for the day.

‘Fake You Out’ is another song that is linked to depression, and much more explicitly so than ‘Not Today’. The song contains messages about the difficulties of feeling alone or being without the necessary support needed to deal with today’s pressures: ‘You say I’m not alone but I am petrified’. The chorus is then followed by a rap verse which is most explicate at the point where Tyler sings, ‘What kids are doing are killing themselves/ They feel they have no control over their prisoner’s cell’.

This level of frankness is what I believe to be so important about Twenty One Pilots. There is no tip-toeing around issues, they have the honesty to acknowledge what is going on in today’s society, they are a part of the crucial group of people wanting to break the stigma surrounding mental health. And just to top it off the next line of ‘And if you’re one of them then you’re one of me’ creates a solidarity. It lets anyone who is listening know that you are not forsaken in your struggles and shouldn’t have to face them alone.

Lines like these are why Twenty One Pilots are (ironically) the unsung heroes of today’s youth.

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