Twenty One Pilots and Expessing Your Belief Through Art

The song “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots was put on my mental list of “questionable songs that might be good.” Only until recently, it was moved up to my mental list of “Personal Top 21 Songs.”

Okay, maybe not 21, but somewhere around that number. Shortly afterward, Twenty One Pilots became one of my six favorite music artists. Being a music freak who likes so many different types of music, making the top 6 is saying something. But it wasn’t just the music or the genre (if you could use the word “genre” in relevance to this particular band) that I liked about them. It was what they stood for and how their faith and encouragement to others showed in their lyrics and even the style of music. As a writer, this excited me way more than it probably should have. It was all I could talk about (and post on Facebook) for a few days.

Twenty One Pilots & Expressing Belief Through Art - Tea with Tumnus

My English class’s final essay had to explain how and why a certain song, genre, or music artist impacted the world with what that song, genre, or music artist stood for. I was on fire to start the research for the essay, and through my research, my love for Twenty One Pilots grew. I wanted to share some of my research and what I wrote in my essay here in this post. Let me sum up. No, there is too much to sum up. Let me explain.

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Best picture of them. 😀

Twenty One Pilots is one of the very few popular artists who write songs full of purpose, meaning, and encouragement for their audiences. They do not express their identity in themselves or their ego or their popularity. Instead, their lyrics make it clear that they identify as followers of Christ with a passion to spread meaning and encouragement to an audience that struggles with depression, suicide, insecurity, and anxiety. Tyler Joseph (the incredible, heartfelt rapper/singer) and Josh Dun (the crazy epic drummer/gymnast) have experienced such issues head on and have amassed a fan base of mainly young adults who relate with their songs. They know their audience.  They know that these kids are hurting, lonely, and restless, and that when they go searching for music, they’re searching for meaning, for something they can identify with, and so they write and compose songs that they need. It’s not hard to find testimonies of how Twenty One Pilots have saved listeners’ lives. Google the internet, and you’ll find stories of how close to suicide or drowned in depression many people were and how a few key lyrics from one of Tyler’s songs helped them to reasses their situation, be encouraged that they are not alone and that it is okay to feel the way that they do. That’s Tyler’s and Josh’s mission at work.

As a young adult who is nearing the end of my teen years, I have struggled with depression and anxiety and insecurity many times, and I still do, though not as extremely as before. Discovering Twenty One Pilots’s songs now that address these very problems, literally or metaphorically, has helped me. Since I’m still not great at identifying my own feelings, I’m not sure how or why, but I know that their lyrics are reaching me and impacting me in a positive and encouraging way.

But that’s only half of it.

Did you know Tyler Joseph was homeschooled? His dad worked at a Christian school, which he attended in high school. Josh Dun wasn’t necessarily homeschooled, but it might have done him some good because he was a rebellious ruffian who grew up in a strict Christian home. He could only listen to Christian music, and so he listened to secular artists in secret.

“You hear about our conservative background and know that we’re Christian guys but we’re not timid at all. I will take anyone on when it comes to outworking them or putting on a better show or standing up for people who are being put down.” – Tyler Joseph

Yes, their Christian faith shows through their music. In “Screen,” Joseph sings, “I do not know/Why I would go/In front of you/and hide my soul/Because you’re the only one who knows it.” Though God’s name is never mentioned in the song, it becomes clear that Joseph is going before God and acknowledging that He is the only one who knows his soul. Take also, for example, the chorus from “Heavydirtysoul”: “Can you save my heavy dirty soul?” I mean, who is capable of saving a soul but God??? And who even sings about a soul unless they believe in some kind of greater supernatural power? The best part of it is that they don’t identify themselves as a Christian band.

What’s the beauty in that, though? Well. *sits you down ever so politely* Let me elaborate.

Both Dun and Joseph are Christian, but they know coming right out and preaching the gospel message would be losing audience members and supporters, as well as going against the theme of shunning categorization in set genres; to proclaim their faith would mean to end up being boxed into the Christian genre. To be boxed in any genre, especially the Christian genre, would narrow their audience, thus narrowing the impact they want to make on the world. Do you see where I’m going with this? Their faith bleeds through the music that they create. They don’t even have to try. If they believe in something, it’s going to show through their music, and it’s going to show through what they do and say. Listen up, Skeleton Clique: They’re not just good examples. They’re living Jesus the best any other human can. So heck yeah, they’re cool. 

They identify with their audience. They have established an intimate connection through music and the life struggles they share in common. And so they use this opportunity to let their belief show through their lyrics in the hopes that it will reach listeners also. This is called encountering effectively to evangelize effectively. Now THAT’S outreach.

Joseph once said that the success of a past concert “[wasn’t] because of a hit, it’s because you all believe in something in its entirety.”’ I am so happy that Twenty One Pilots is be popular; sure, their lyrics are relatable, singing about suicide and depression, but if you look closer, their songs are meant for the whole world. 

“…what I do believe is very important to me, and absolutely is going to always be present whenever I create something, whenever I’m working through something. I think what someone believes can define them, even if it’s that they don’t believe anything, and for me and my faith, it will always be a big part of my music, whether it’s directly or indirectly.” – Tyler Joseph

As a Christian writer, musician, and artist of many sorts, this means a lot to me. Tyler speaks to all artists and authors of creativity in that whatever they stand for will be seen through what they create, whether it be in words, music, painting, dancing, etc. The same goes for a theme in a story; don’t sweat it looking for a message in your story, because it will shine through without you ever having to try. God is embedded in us. We were created in His image, we see His stamp on everything we create. This also goes for anything we stand for. Moral values or issues or anything that we find important that has played a major role in our life and our perspective will be embedded not just through our art, but through everything we do and say. It’s amazing, really.

When you write, write with the knowledge that what you believe in or whatever defines you will show through your words, and that someone else will read those words and be impacted, either in a small or big way. Use your creativity to the best of this advantage. Create your art knowing that maybe, someday, many people will read, listen, watch, hear, or view your art and be encouraged or inspired by it. You may change someone’s life. You could cause someone to think deeply about something. You could change someone’s worldview. You could support and reassure someone in a certain way without you even trying.

Art is an amazing thing. Artists are capable of countless amazing things. And falling in love with the band Twenty One Pilots has only reminded me and helped me to appreciate art. Remember: let your beliefs bleed into the things you make. Identify with your audience, not in a specific religion, political stance, or philosophy. Those things will be made evident when the time comes. Art on.

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12 thoughts on “Twenty One Pilots and Expessing Your Belief Through Art

  1. Excellent *truth* in this post. I think it is so much more important to simply “art” and not categorize. Too many authors/musicians/screenwriters fail *miserably* at reaching people who are hurting and need God’s love because their bigger concern is conforming to a religious culture. (Because when you write a book/a song/a play/movie with a message of God’s mercy and stick it in a box labeled “for Christian churchgoers only”, that’s exactly what you’re doing.)
    There need to be more people who aren’t afraid to just “art” and not label their work/message. (Chris Daughtry is a fantastic example of crossing the genre boundaries, and he has definitely reached people with his music.) Personally, I don’t listen to Twenty One Pilots purely because I don’t care for their music style — but from what I have heard, I could tell there was profound and important meaning to their lyrics, and I appreciate that. And in terms of outreach, I think they’ve done the best thing they could by NOT marketing themselves as a “Christian” band.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, yes, and yes! I think this is a big problem with the Christian genre, whether it be music, books, or any other type of media. Categorizing your work as “Christian” narrows down the audience drastically, and then you’re simply preaching to the choir.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I first heard about them 2 years ago when I was working at a therapeutic boarding school with some very broken girls. These girls LOVED 21 Pilots. That caught my attention. And then when I started listening to the lyrics I was impressed by all the theology they “sneak” in there. That’s how I became a fan. I saw how they made these girls feel understood and as the girls memorized the lyrics, I realized how those lyrics might truly impact their lives one day. Hurray for wholesome art!

    Keek making art to glorify God, Susannah! That is my personal goal as well: that all my stories would give people hope and point (either directly or indirectly) to the Truth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, I love what got you into their music. Seeing their impact on people who need their music most must be so cool. My goal is do similar; I don’t want to have only Christian readers when I publish my books, I want anyone to read it and be impacted from it, whether it be through inspiration, encouragement, thoughts, Christ-like characters, and whatnot. And that is my dream for all artists everwhere. 😀 I love the way you phrase it: pointing people directly or indirectly, to the truth.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As I continue to find “Christian music” empty and devoid of meaning, I’m thankful for bands like Twenty One Pilots who write songs with purpose and meaning. Their music contains a level of honesty that is hard to find in the more mainstream Christian market, and I’m glad that they’ve been able to help so many people with their music! I’ve found this to be true with a lot of other bands I like, especially in the hardcore/metal genre (I understand that isn’t for everyone, though). They also do a lot of the same things as Twenty One Pilots, just in a different genre and a slightly different audience. I’m just glad that there are people out there sharing a message of hope – we all need it sometimes.

    Great post! I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts about this 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much! Yes, everything you said about TOP. 😀 I had no idea some hardcore/metal bands do the same thing! I guess it sort of makes sense, since Twenty One Pilots have hardcore similarities. I’m not a huge fan of the metal genre, but I’m glad there’s a message of hope and encouragement there too!

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  4. YES YES YES YES YES
    Let me just start with a disclaimer: I don’t really listen to Twenty One Pilots. Their style of music and singing isn’t really something I enjoy. However that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate what they do. I love their lyrics and I love how they connect to people.
    I think the main thing I appreciate with what they do is that they’re real with their art. So many other artists who are Christian like to keep things glossed-over and nice, while TOP grapples with real, dark, uncomfortable issues. They face life for what it truly is. We need more Christian artists who are not afraid to tackle things above PG-rated.
    And then just everything else you said is so so so right. I know from experience that even when I don’t try, what I believe ends up in my stories one way or another. There’s absolutely no need to force an obvious sermon in your art.
    So yeah, I’m really glad TOP exists because they truly are impacting people. I was in Eastern Europe this past week, in my home country where less than one percent of the population is Protestant, and I saw a girl wearing a TOP shirt. It just made me really happy.

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