Twenty One Pilots break year-long silence

Musical duo releases two singles and a music video

Trench_Album_Cover

The newest singles from Twenty One Pilots' upcoming album "Trench" were released, along with a music video, after a year of silence from the band.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Their once-active social media accounts fell silent and their once-sold-out performances ceased. They were missing from awards shows where they once were regulars — after all, they had been nominated for 86 awards since 2014, and in 2017 alone they won five Billboard Music Awards and a Grammy, along with receiving the prestigious Grammy nomination for Record of the Year. As their silence began to reverberate through their legions of international fans, those fans began to wait with bated breath, hoping that Twenty One Pilots going into hiding meant that there was new music to come. 

On July 11, it finally came. A year after they famously stepped out of the spotlight and a little over three years since they released a full album, Twenty One Pilots — the musical duo comprised of singer, bassist and keyboardist Tyler Joseph and drummer Joshua Dun — took to social media to spill the secret: a new album, “Trench,” would be released on Oct. 5, a new tour would kick off on Oct. 16, and two new songs, “Jumpsuit” and “Nico and the Niners” were now available to the public. On top of all that, they released a music video for the former. 

From the outsider’s perspective — or perhaps a music fan from an older generation — a year may not seem a long time to be kept in the dark, and even three years between albums may seem modest. But in the 2018 world of mass-produced music, when artists are expected to not only drop an album a year and tour 24/7 but also keep an active social media presence in the in-between, Twenty One Pilots’ clearly intentional decision to completely back away from it all carries a heavier meaning about who the modern artist is, what we expect of them and, frankly, what we deny them with those persistent and ever-increasing expectations. In order to create their music, Twenty One Pilots quite literally had to step away from the world that was listening to it. 

Twenty One Pilots — in their cryptic, poetic way — may have addressed these expectations and pressures within the very music video that they broke their silence with. The video opens to a burnt, charred car. Singer Tyler Joseph jumps on top, then kneels down to speak to the camera as if he were a parent bending down to speak to a child eye-to-eye. “We’ve been here the whole time,” he says. “You were asleep. Time to wake up.” The car alights into flames. In the next scene, the music — a rock n’ roll-inspired bass riff — starts, and Joseph awakes in a river, abandoned in a vast wilderness. The song begins with the lyrics “I can’t believe how much I hate / Pressures of a new place roll my way / Jumpsuit, jumpsuit, cover me.” 

The first action Joseph takes, before the song even begins, is addressing the listeners — what could also be interpreted as the fans. The first thing Joseph has to do is explain his absence — excuse himself, almost — for not creating enough music fast enough, or not being active on social media often enough. Perhaps he is highlighting that — especially in the age of social media, when one can always be “seen” — the musician has become more important than the music itself. The musician is expected to “be there,” even when they are not playing shows. The opening line directly discusses these “pressures.” 

The potency of Twenty One Pilots’ year-long hiatus — and this way they address it — is augmented by the particular circumstance that is Twenty One Pilots’ popularity. Put simply, Twenty One Pilots has never been from the “ordinary” vein of pop music, in the sense that their lyrics almost never address the common content of sex, drugs and partying that floods the radio. 

Still, their songs do flood the radio. Musically, the songs sound like something that gets danced to at a club, just as much as they lyrically sound like a diary entry written by a twenty-something struggling with the American malaise of mental illness, technological over-saturation and an overwhelming sense of isolation.

“Blurryface” — the duo’s fourth, most recent and most successful album — is perhaps the clearest example of this finely-tuned duality that has become recognizable as distinctly Twenty One Pilots. It went triple platinum, hit the number one position on the Billboard charts and sold 1.5 million copies in the United States alone. The “Emotional Roadshow Tour” sold out arenas. It was at this peak — this pinnacle of success for a band that started out playing college house parties — that the very musicians who wrote “I know a thing or two about pain and darkness / If it wasn’t for this music I don’t know how I would’ve fought this,” stopped playing music for a year. 

There’s a bizarre irony that occurs when a musician who sings about being an outsider and using music as an outlet for their pain is now singing those words to sold-out stadiums. Some passionate fans will argue that the “bandwagon fans don’t understand the lyrics,” while some other, equally passionate fans will argue for the positives: that the music is bringing together so many struggling outsiders that — because of this band — don’t have to battle their demons alone anymore. So what does it say about the current state of our music industry and fan culture when the band that made outsiders feel less alone makes the clear and conscious decision to be alone? Perhaps, in their new album, Twenty One Pilots will give their answer.

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