Lyric Discussion of “Stressed Out” by Twenty-Øne Piløts

As you can tell by simply glancing at this blog, I focus a lot on stories. Most of the time, I post about stories in books: writing. Writing is a HUGE way to tell stories, if not the most mainstream. Don’t even try to count all the books in the world that tell stories (if you’re up to the challenge, then fine, go ahead, and it’ll just prove my point).

But books aren’t the ONLY way to get a story across. Storytelling comes in different forms such as art, dancing, photography, films, theater and music. And in this music post, I’m going to talk about a specific song that tells a story: “Stressed Out” by Twenty-One Pilots (TØP).

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Twenty-One Pilots is a unique two-man band. I haven’t heard most of their songs, but I do know they dabble in a variety of music subgenres, including Indie Pop, Alternative Hip-Hop, Electropop, and Rock Music. I DO NOT like rap, hip hop or electropop (though I do listen to Indie and rock). When I first heard a song by them I didn’t think much of it at all. I didn’t get it. People kept raging about their awesome music. Said they were really nice, neat guys. I thought yeah, total punks. Little did I know that it was their music that inspired and encouraged those who needed it the most..

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These guys = *thumbs up* (Best style ever.)

I heard “Stressed Out” for the first time on Pandora a while ago. I skipped it. I heard it on the radio a second time and decided to wait it out. The second time around, I paid more attention to the words as I got into the beat. I grew up listening to classical music and now I love film scores and anything orchestral. I dislike most pop music. But I have to say: TØP has really grown on me.

 

“Stressed Out” is one of TØP’s most popular songs. According to Rolling Stone author Andy Greene, the song is “about the harsh end of adolescence.” I agree, but I relate to the song’s lyrics on so many other different levels: As a teenager, a part-time college student, a musician, a job seeker, and a writer. (And of course the music and beat just adds to the song’s epicness.)

The song’s genre fits, I believe, in the hiphop/electropop genre (I wouldn’t know exactly, as I’ve never really listened to that type of music). The first half of the song sounded like rap at first, and yet entirely different. I honestly have no idea what type of singing it is, actually, but I like it. And Tyler Joseph, the singer, has the best flat voice I’ve yet heard. Throughout the song, there’s a piano playing seemingly random notes and an outer spacy whooo-oo-ooo to serve as background.

I love it. Look now, I’m getting all excited.love-him

So now I’m going to break down the lyrics and talk about their meaning in little chunks rather than all at once. Try putting the lyrics into a story; because this song is a story, when you pay closer attention. It’s so much fun and just, well, exciting!! So let’s begin.

I wish I found some better sounds no one’s ever heard

I wish I had a better voice that sang some better words

I wish I found some chords in an order that is new

I wish I didn’t have to rhyme every time I sang

Okay, that was pretty self-explanatory. It sounds like the singer is talking about his experience with trying to come up with new, unique music (hey, he’s succeeded). The chords don’t work and the words don’t … well, they just don’t word. And rhyming is a problem. Every songwriter and musician has felt this way at some point in time.

I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink

But now I’m insecure and I care what people think

I don’t know about you, but when I was little, I thought that I wouldn’t have a care in the world when I “got grown-up.” And then adolescence arrived and I realized that it was quite the opposite. And now that you’ve grown up, you want to make sure you’re living life right. Because life, though it can be an adventure, can be full of risks and shortcomings and mistakes and we don’t want to look like we’ve failed. That’s the root of self-consciousness, isn’t it?

My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think (2x)

I had a hard time deciphering this, but talking with my friend and fellow “Stressed Out” fan helped give me a different perspective. “Blurryface” could mean no one notices you; you’re just part of the moving crowd, just another face in a billion. Just another blurry face. But you still care what they think. Maybe you want to break free from the monotony and be free, crazy, unique. Be different. Make the world a more interesting place and soon people will see you differently. But at that point, you’ll be confident; what they think shouldn’t matter. You’ve chosen to be your own unique, different self.

All that to say, I must add, you are NOT just a blurryface. You are you, and there is no one else like you. Being unique is what makes you special, and even if no one on Earth holds you as close as you deserve, God does. You’re not just a blurryface to Him. 😀

Moving on.

Wish we could turn back time

to the good old days

when our mama sang us to sleep

but now we’re stressed out

(2x)

Again, pretty self-explanatory. The guy is having nostalgic feelings; he’s comparing life when he was younger, with not a care in the world, to the stressed out life he leads now.

Sometimes a certain smell 

will take me back to when I was young

How come I’m never able to identify where it’s coming from?

I’d make a candle out of it if I ever found it, try to sell it, never sell out of it, I’d probably only sell

one

(Sorry, I’m having great fun with the prose, but that’s how it is sung.) This is one of my favorite parts. Again, he’s reflecting on his past, saying how even certain smells will remind him of it. He wants to turn back time so badly he’s even willing to somehow capture the scent and make candles out of it. He needs some money too, so he could try selling them. But the reality is, he’d probably only sell one. Boy, don’t we all relate; our brilliant, ambitious ideas are always killed by the merciless reality.

Book page-scented candles, anyone?

It’d be to my brother ’cause we have the same nose

same clothes, homegrown, a stone’s throw from a creek we used to roam

but it would remind us of when nothing really mattered

out of student loans and treehouse homes we all would take the latter

This basically ties into the first several verses that come right before. The only candle he’d sell is to his brother because they both shared life together and he’s probably the only one who’d like the smell anyway. But even then, the constant scent would increase their wishes to turn back time to their childhood. They have to focus on money now, and everything else important that comes with it. Oh, the greatness of adulting.

We used to play pretend,

give each other different names

we would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away

used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face

saying “WAKE UP YOU NEED TO MAKE MONEY!”

(yeah)

This is my favorite part of the whole song. In fact, these words is how I came about to like the whole song, the band, their mission. You see, society has these rigid rules. You’re a kid: life’s grand. Then you’re a teenager: you’re pressured to act like one. Then you’re an adult: BANG all of a sudden now you have to be responsible for your life by getting a job, paying taxes and bills, and, in the long run, getting stressed out. That’s the message I see in this song besides mere nostalgic sentiment.

But I also like this certain part because I relate to these words the most. My siblings and I would go by different names and play like we were adults when we were younger. Being a writer is not too different; In fact, being a writer is playing pretend: it’s just all in the story you’re writing, the fictional characters, their problems, and their world. And now I’m a sci-fi and fantasy writer and I write about space and rocket ships. Put together the whole song, and it basically reminds me of my life right at this point in time.

 

So there’s the lyrics. If you’ve ever heard the song, the post-chorus bridge is basically repeated in a technologically altered voice (I think), which is the least favorite part of the song for me, but you have the main gist: it’s a story, probably inspired by the singer’s life experience, put into a song. I just love that so much. Here’s the music video. I’m not a major fan of it, but it’s the main deal.

I didn’t do any research to prepare discussing and breaking down the lyrics; I simply said what my perception of the lyrics were and how I deciphered them. You may agree or disagree, or have different perceptions and guess what? PUT THEM IN THE COMMENTS. I absolutely love discussing music in general and would love to hear your thoughts.

In the meantime, go live your story and make it worthwhile. What other forms of storytelling are there that I didn’t mention? Also, try to spot stories in other songs you come across. It’s a fun exercise. Cheers and farewell!

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18 thoughts on “Lyric Discussion of “Stressed Out” by Twenty-Øne Piløts

  1. Great article! I haven’t done my research on Blurryface, although I have listened to the whole album a few times, and I think the name could allude to being unsure of who you are. In other songs on the album he struggles with his beliefs and identity.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love your analysis!!! I’ve heard this song floating around, but never actually listened to the whole thing. I totally connect with the lyrics of wishing for the lazy sweet days of magical pretend from our youth where we would play peter pan and fly away. And yes, candles that could take you back would be amazing. I love that you did a song! That was really fun. 🙂 Keep it up!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really love this song and I enjoyed your breakdown of the lyrics! I only started listening to Twenty One Pilots recently, but so far I’ve listened to almost all of their music (they don’t have that much compared to other bands I’ve binged) and I really appreciate their humor, style, and the content of their songs.
    Somewhere I heard that “Blurryface” is the name of his imaginary friend and is judging him throughout the entire album, although that was before I listened to the entire thing, and I’m pretty certain this is the only song that mentions him. I like you perspective on that line because I’ve always been confused by it and it makes more sense than this other perspective 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading Catherine! I’ve only just started listening to their songs too but I’m hooked and need to hear more. And yes, they have great humor and style. 😀 Having
      “Blurryface” be his imaginary friend is actually a really cool theory. I’ll probably never really understand what it means, but I like what other people have come up with. 😀 Thanks for the comment!

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  4. Ahh I LOVE this song. It’s odd, because they don’t really have a sound that I’d usually like, but the lyrics are so powerful 💕
    Have you heard Heavydirtysoul? It’s probably one of my favorite of their songs 🙂

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  5. Great commentary. 98% of hiphop is not for me, but I could tell the first time I heard this song that it was different. The lyrics definitely make an impact, even if you only get the surface indication of being an adult becomes all about money. I got the idea that there are certainly deeper meanings to all of the verses. And while I don’t listen to it anymore because I simply don’t like the style, I greatly appreciate the lyric writing and the intention.

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  6. Yess TØP! They have some of the best lyrics in the pop genre now.

    I love the recognition that music can tell stories too! I’d recommend “Kitchen Sink” by them- it’s rappier (new word) than their other stuff, but the lyrics deal with the idea that everyone’s unique and how art, in pictures or words, can help someone find purpose. It’s great for writers 🙂

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    • Ooh! I’ll look up and listen to Kitchen Sink. I’ve never really liked rap, but if the lyrics are good (particularly for writers), I’ll definitely try it out. 😀 Sounds like an awesome song. Thanks for the comment!

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  7. Haha, I’m the exact same way with TØP! Not a huge fan of the style personally, but I love what they’re doing – speaking truth into a post-truth world (and some of their lyrics are awesome!). I actually have two younger brothers who love their music, so I’m in the rather odd position of knowing an awful lot about it and getting the inside jokes, but not really listening to most of it. 😄 A few songs I do enjoy are Hometown, Fairly Local, and Addict With a Pen.
    From what I understand, since Josh and Tyler are Christians, Blurryface is sort of representative of Tyler’s “old self” or flesh – in Goner he says, “I’ve got two faces, Blurry’s the one I’m not… I need your help to take him out.” At least that’s what I’ve heard, and if you listen to Fairly Local, it seems to make sense (especially with the electronically altered voice).

    Like

    • Ah! I’m going to have to check out those three songs. That’s an interesting Blurryface theory … asking for his second self (Blurryface), the insecure, self-conscious self to be removed. I love how you can kind of tell they’re believers in their lyrics (“Can you save my heavy dirty soul?”). Super interesting! Thanks for the comment and song suggestions! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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