Our Brains Are Sick But That's OK: Twenty One Pilots
“As I songwriter, I like to … emit some sort of message, almost like a ripple in the water. And when I feel that ripple bounce off of someone else who resonates with what it is I’m going through and it starts coming back at me; it’s just a really cool feeling … of I’m not alone in what I’m going through,” says songwriter and singer Tyler Joseph. Together with friend Josh Dunn, the two make up the musical duo known as Twenty One Pilots (TOP). The group started in 2009, playing small gigs and producing two of their own albums in their hometown of Columbus, Ohio. In 2015, the band hit it big with their fourth album Blurryface. They proceeded to land three Top 10 singles (“Heathens,” “Stressed Out”, and “Ride”) in the U.S., becoming one of the first alternative groups to do so.
In addition to breaking genre barriers, TOP is helping dismantle the stigma of mental health through their poignant lyrics. While many of their melodies are upbeat, catchy, and humorous, (“I’m driving here I sit / Cursing my government / For not using my taxes to fill holes with more cement” [Tear in My Heart, Blurryface), a second listen reveals that many of their songs are saddled with weighty messages about suicide, depression, anxiety, identity issues, and self-harm: “Am I the only one I know/ Waging my wars behind my face and above my throat/Shadows will scream that I'm alone.” (Migraine, Vessel) TOP’s lyrics communicate the burden of mental struggles and validate and empathize with those struggling. Utilizing social media avenues, the band also offers encouragement to reach out, communicate, and not let the struggles win.
While the duo have not spoken openly in interviews about the exact mental health issues they struggle with, they have frequently talked about their musical mission and the impact of their work. In an interview with Reddit, TOP was asked how they feel when people tell them “your music saved my life.” Joseph answered, “There are artists that I am fans of that have helped me through a lot. And because I know what that feels like ... I understand the weight and the importance and the honor in someone saying that our music has helped them in that same way. There's nothing more important in our career than hearing that.”
Quirky, dark, expressive, and talented, TOP has established themselves as a genre-bending band that is committed to expressing their thoughts and feelings through music in order to spark dialogue about and dismantle the stigma around mental health issues. Hopefully in the future, TOP will take further steps to inspire their audiences by sharing publicly about their struggles with mental health that motivate their deep and impactful lyrics.