Hi everyone! My pal Kris and I have decided to do a collab of sorts over one of our favourite musical acts, Twenty One Pilots. We both agreed on writing a piece about how Twenty One Pilots' popularity has blown up over the last couple of years and we both shared our experiences with the band. Hopefully we can do more of them in the future! His piece is below, and mine will be on his website. Enjoy!
When I went to go see Twenty One Pilots for the first time, I had to walk four blocks and, what felt like, 15 minutes to get to the end of the line. I had never in my life seen as long a line for a concert as this one, nor had I seen such devotion from a fan base. Sure I’d been to plenty of shows with rowdy and passionate fans. Really, it would be strange not to see an outpouring from fans at any given show, but this was something different. What I witnessed walking those four blocks was a group of people that had been so utterly connected and emotionally affected by something on such a deep level, that they seemed to share something more than a love for the band. And by the way, 85 per cent of the people at this show were my age or younger. To me, these ingredients posed an interesting question: What is it about Twenty One Pilots that captures the hearts of millennials so firmly?
Well to start, here’s my disclaimer: there are probably many articles discussing this exact phenomenon and many are probably better researched than mine. I’m writing this from a gut perspective, based on how I view and hear their music and lyrics and how I think it ties to youth culture and society as a whole in this day and age. It’s a personal piece, but one based on observation and, you know, existing as a millennial in the world. So bear with me here.
When I first heard Twenty One Pilots, I was surprised at how interesting their sound was. It was this sort of rap-reggae pop thing that I really had never heard before. I wasn’t particularly wowed by it, but I do remember seeing a Facebook post from Hayley Williams (who can do no wrong in my eyes) saying to keep an eye out for the band because they were going to be big. I thought they might get big in the sense that Fueled by Ramen is a pretty successful label at taking smaller bands and making them big, but the biggest band to ever have been a part of FBR was Fall Out Boy, and they’ve had some big hits and a huge fan base, but not quite as big as the monsters of top 40 radio. Even when Fall Out Boy put out poppier albums, they only seemed to reach a certain status among fans and on the radio.
When Twenty One Pilots released Blurryface, somehow, they took their weird amalgam of genres and made it not only cool, but pushed hit after hit on the charts. They changed seemingly overnight from “mildly successful act” to “national phenomenon.” I turned on the radio, and “Tear in My Heart” and “Stressed Out” played over and over again. From following the music scene, I saw the band start to play larger and larger venues and take major spots on festivals. And as I looked around, my generation seemed to be in a frenzy. Even more than that, kids younger than myself seemed absolutely taken by these two guys from Ohio.
So what is it then, I asked myself? Is it the high energy shows? Well, any show that people want to see is going to be a cathartic experience, so I’m sure that has something to do with it. Perhaps (at least mostly for the female fan base) it’s the heartthrob-ish and self-effacing nature of both of the gentlemen in the group, with vocalist Tyler Joseph coming across as shy and very much like an everyman, but possessing a charm and honesty that’s uncommon. And drummer Josh Dun being the hair dyed rebel, a muscular guy with impressive chops and a wistful nature. Perhaps this too, helped their cause. But of course this is only surface level and a shallow look at things.
I truly believe that millennials and people in their early 20’s now are one of the first generation to take all the pressures and anxieties that constantly surround them and push them inward. They look deeply inside themselves and realize that the world is much different than it was when their parents grew up. We’re bombarded by bad news seemingly every day and constantly feel pressure on a social level to look and act in certain ways expected of us. I think that goes double for younger kids as well. In some ways they’re not old enough to properly handle the feelings and stresses that assail them daily. And I think this is what truly cuts to the core of Twenty One Pilots and their fan base.
I think the resonance is so strong for this band now because the band’s image and lyrics deal with longing for nostalgia, dealing with mental stress, and nonconformity. To millennials, these subjects are escapes; ways out of the lives they feel are being pressed upon them either intrinsically or externally. It's music about acknowledging that life is painful and can hurt as bad as you let it hurt. But it’s also about pushing through, and Joseph and Dun say “We’re with you. This happens to us too. We think we’re weird and we’re anxious all the time too, but we’re with you.” The same goes for them musically. They prove that weird can be popular too. Look at the way they took a reggae-pop/ukulele/hip-hop style and brought it to the top 40. It’s the weird kids with anxiety becoming the most popular in the school, and who doesn’t love supporting the underdog?
Twenty One Pilots is all about owning who you are in all your faults. “The few, the proud, and the emotional,” is the resounding chorus from their song “Fairly Local". I think the few have started to realize it’s truly better to accept and be proud of your emotions and feelings, not fight them. And soon, the few became the many. The band is all about creating a better personal world, inside and out. To me, when I looked at the thousands who turned out in Buffalo for their show, I saw a group of kids and adults who weren’t afraid to express themselves and delve into their pain, and yet came out proud and strong on the other side. Too often we mask how we truly feel, but rather than hide away your anxieties, Twenty One Pilots invites you to create, express, and motivate yourself to be your best self. Remember the good times, and you will make it through the bad. That’s a phenomenon I can get behind. I’m still not a huge fan of the band, but I can appreciate their message, and it’s the way they made people feel that will linger long after the band is gone.