Words: Emily Carter (@emilycrtr)
From their tent-busting performances at Reading & Leeds in the summer, to the numerous awards they’ve been picking up around the world and the countless hits accumulating across YouTube, twenty one pilots’ fanbase is growing at a phenomenal rate – and with very good reason. And it’s not just the Skeletøn Clique’s lives that Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun are affecting – it’s the lives of the Kerrang! staff, too…
Whether you were made aware of twenty one pilots when they hit the road with the likes of Paramore and Fall Out Boy, or you only recently heard Heathens on the Suicide Squad soundtrack and delved in from there, we’ve all got a different story of how we became a fan of the extraordinary Ohio duo.
For me, I was recommended twenty one pilots a couple of years ago (I’m more than happy to admit I was kinda late to the party, given they technically formed in 2009…), so I stuck the Car Radio video on YouTube. Before I even got to the chorus, I (wrongly) decided that this weird, whiney rappy-thing wasn’t for me. But the video was compelling – this awkward, intense guy sat on the floor in a corner shaving his head – so I stuck it out.
By the end, having realised that the car radio in question was a metaphor for something much deeper, and getting my first glimpse at twenty one pilots’ electrifying live show later in the clip, I was totally and utterly hooked. Obsessed, in fact. I bought third album Vessel instantly, and it took no time at all for me to fall head-over-heels in love with their music.
The first thing that drew me to twenty one pilots was Tyler’s lyrics. On Vessel, I discovered Migraine addressed mental health, but hidden within the concept of a headache; Guns For Hands’ message was about suicide, delivered over the most happy-sounding beat possible; Holding On To You emphatically encouraged fans to fight self-doubt, with Tyler telling the listener to, ‘Take the pain / Ignite it / Tie a noose around your mind / Loose enough to breathe fine and tie it’.
Last year, once the band’s explosive, attention-grabbing album Blurryface was released, it became clear that this incredibly powerful insight into Tyler’s mind was only going one way: forward. Opener Heavydirtysoul hears the frontman rapping, ‘This is not rap / This is not hip-hop / Just another attempt to make the voices stop’, Ride admits, ‘I’ve been thinking too much / Help me’, and stunning album closer Goner ends with the words, ‘Though I’m weak / And beaten down / I’ll slip away / Into the sound…’.
All heavy words, but ones that have helped thousands of fans worldwide – myself included – tackle important issues and emotions going on in their head. twenty one pilots are arguably the first band since My Chemical Romance to have such a profound impact like that, and it’s undoubtedly one of the most crucial reasons listeners have latched onto them in the way that they have.
The first time I ever got to see twenty one pilots was when they headlined London’s tiny Boston Music Room (May 14, 2015) just before Blurryface came out. Singing (or, rather, yelling) such emotional, moving words back at the band with a room of fans doing exactly the same was such a cathartic experience, and it cemented my love for them even further.
Not only that, but I’ve never seen a band make that kind of spectacle in such a confined setting, with multiple wardrobe changes and carefully thought-out tricks at every turn. Who else makes that much effort to put on a show so grand in such a small venue? Exactly. And these kind of performances are never just reserved for the odd gig here and there – twenty one pilots’ live show is a real event night in, night out.
Since the release of Blurryface, the twenty one pilots’ trajectory has completely rocketed, and it’s an absolute joy to witness. Their message is ultimately one of positivity and fighting the good fight (a personal favourite lyric of mine will always be Car Radio’s ‘Peace will win and fear will lose’), and nothing makes me prouder than seeing that mentality being projected further every single day.
Not only that, but Tyler and Josh are affecting all types of audiences: the variety of ages, shapes and sizes enjoying their recent Ally Pally mega-shows was a brilliant thing to see. twenty one pilots’ music isn’t limited to just one type of person – it’s for everyone – and the welcoming attitude of the super-passionate members of the Skeletøn Clique is resounding proof of that.
So, yes, while twenty one pilots’ recent level of success is pretty mind-blowing, the number of people’s lives Tyler and Josh are changing – much like my own – makes perfect sense.
Long may it continue.
Now I’ve told you how this band changed my life, I want to know how twenty one pilots changed yours – let Kerrang! know in the comments, or over at Feedback@kerrang.com!
Don’t forget to find out the 12 Reasons twenty one pilots Are Taking Over The World:
12 Reasons twenty one pilots Are Taking Over The World
Wondering how twenty one pilots became the biggest phenomenon in music? From their incredible one-of-a-kind music to their ever-growing fanbase, the Skeleton Clique, step inside the sensational unity of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun…
12. Tyler And Josh Are Brilliantly Entertaining
Not only are they completely captivating onstage (more on that later), twenty one pilots are hilariously good fun off it, too. A quick search on YouTube will bring up videos of the band hitting Disneyland together, hanging out on a farm, ruining each other's dressing rooms with bananas, and just generally having a laugh whatever they do. Never a dull moment, eh?
11. Their Logo Is Super-Meaningful
Recognise this symbol? The red, black and white logo that has become so iconic is, in Tyler's mind, an encouragement for people to create. "It doesn't have to be artistic, but if you create something and only you know the meaning of it, that's the beginning of purpose for you," he says. Yep, inspiring people to be creative is an extremely cool thing.
10. Josh Is An Amazing Drummer
The path to world domination certainly isn't an easy one, but it's even harder if you don't have the musicians to back you up. Thankfully, sticksman Josh Dun is one of the most mesmerising drummers in the business, nailing solos on top of the crowd, hitting his cymbals harder than anyone and playing at speeds you could only dream to keep up with. In short: he absolutely rules.
9. They Launched Their Own #TOPDebate
Tyler and Josh amazing at interacting with their fans, but last year they went one further created the ultimate platform for the Skeleton Clique – with fans rallying together in a presidential-style debate to vote for their favourite member. 250k+ votes later, the results came back as a 50/50 tie, with both Tyler and Josh tattooing each other's names onstage. Amazing.
8. They've Worked Their Way Up To Massive Crowds
The band's February 2016 UK headline tour saw them playing two nights at London's prestigious 5,000-capacity O2 Academy Brixton, but twenty one pilots weren't always performing in front of such big audiences. In their music video for Ode To Sleep, you can see them playing to just 12 people – a regular occurrence when they first started out. These sorts of crowds taught them how to grab people's attention and put on the best show they could. Other bands: take note.
7. Tyler's Lyrics Are Haunting
Whether he's in full flow spitting genius lyrics over Josh's drumbeat, or simply sat at his piano – or, in this case, an accordion – with nothing but his voice and the music, Tyler's words have never been anything less than breathtaking. The emotional Goner, which hears him singing, 'I'm a goner, somebody catch my breath', is one of the best examples of how moving his lyrics can be. Anyone else got goosebumps?
6. Their Fans Dress Like Them
Attend a twenty one pilots show and you'll see fans with their hands and necks painted black à la Tyler Joseph, representing Blurryface and their deepest insecurities. You'll also see Skeleton Clique members with bright eyeliner like Josh Dun, or wearing skeleton onesies, or red beanies, or flowery kimonos… and pretty much anything else to exhibit twenty one pilots' flamboyant wardrobe changes. It makes the whole experience feel even more of an event, and it's flippin' epic.
5. Their Music Videos Are Amazing
That jump in Lane Boy. The handshake in Stressed Out. The crowd parting in Car Radio. Jenna Joseph punching Tyler in the face during Tear In My Heart. twenty one pilots’ videos are just as colourful and entertaining as the band themselves, and there really are too many fantastic moments to mention. Our favourite on-screen point, though? The disappearance of Tyler and Josh’s legs in House Of Gold. HOW IS JOSH STILL DRUMMING? We’re stumped.
4. They've Got Their Own Handshake
Secret handshakes are kinda lame, no? Well, not if you’re Tyler and Josh, whose overblown handshake in the video for Stressed Out has seen fans from all over the globe learning it to absolute perfection – and even joining the band onstage to do it with Josh. We gave it a go once in the office once, and poked ourselves in the eye. Never. Again.
3. They Cover Many Genres
You've probably seen phrases like "alternative hip-hop" and "ukulele screamo" thrown around when looking up twenty one pilots, but there's so much more to them than that. There are elements of rock, rap, indie, electro, pop, reggae and more in their music… In fact, there's so much going on, you can barely list every genre covered. On paper, it sounds like it shouldn't work, but it totally does.
2. They Tackle Important Topics
twenty one pilots are a very important band because they address serious subjects head-on. While their latest album, Blurryface, introduced Tyler's personification of self-doubt and anxiety to huge acclaim, the band's entire discography is littered with topics that need to be talked about, while encouraging people to take control of their demons and turn them into something positive.
1. They Put On A Live Show Like No-One Else
Whether it's Josh backflipping off the piano during Holding On To You and soloing on top of the crowd during Ride, or Tyler leaping across the stage in Tear In My Heart, dropping to the ground during Heavydirtysoul, shuffling along to Lane Boy or scaling the venue for fan-favourite Car Radio, twenty one pilots' high-energy shows are simply exhilarating. We're tired just thinking about it, so we have no idea how they keep it up… Phew.
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