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How Do The Twenty One Pilots Albums’ Storylines Connect?

 

Music needs to have meaning. Or at least that’s what the duo Twenty One Pilots lives by. With their sixth album coming out on May 21st, everyone is wondering what is coming next for the band after the Trench era. So here is a recap of what happened so far in Twenty One Pilots’ universe.

The band formed by lead singer Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun has become known worldwide not only for their music but for everything behind their lyrics. Their range goes from songs about their struggle with mental health to an elaborated universe created with multiple characters and stories the fans have yet to figure out. The duo’s concerts are also known for being memorable, with the band members wearing ski masks, jumping over the piano, doing backflips, playing on top of the crowd, and most recently, cars being set on fire on stage.

The Good Old Days

Even though the band wasn’t well known until the release of their hit single Stressed Out, in 2015, their journey began a long time before that, in 2009. The first album, named after the band, was released before Josh became a member, which did not happen until 2011.

Once Josh came along and the former trio turned into a duo, their second album, Regional at Best, was released. The cover showed their symbol (|-/) – with a meaning that’s only known by Tyler – in red and blue, and the songs followed what at the time was their signature structure: deep, meaningful lyrics with mostly upbeat melodies. Out of fourteen tracks, five were recorded again two years later and featured on the fan-favorite third album, Vessel, including their most successful song thus far, Holding On To You, which got a music video filled with symbolism. By then, ski masks and skeletons were the visual elements to highlight. This time, the album cover featured the duo’s grandfathers, who played a big part in both their lives. Unfortunately, Tyler’s grandfather passed away during the writing of the band’s fifth album, Trench, in which he was tributed by the song Legend.

My Name Is Blurryface

In 2015, things got a bit harder to keep up with. Blurryface, their fourth studio album, brought not only 14 brand new songs with a lot more presence from Josh – who also plays the trumpet in We Don’t Believe What’s On TV – but also a legion of fans and a series of enigmas the clique (the fandom’s name) had to come together and solve. While in the former albums Tyler wrote about fighting his own personal demons, when this new era came, the public saw those demons personified as Blurryface. On the album’s final track, Goner, Tyler sings “I’ve got two faces, Blurry’s the one I’m not”, which led everyone to believe Blurryface represents the darker side of the singer, a side he wishes to be disassociated from.

From then on, everything Twenty One Pilots did had a meaning behind it. The new character owned his own Twitter account, where he kept threatening Tyler and telling him what he could and could not do. Music videos showed the new red and black aesthetic, with Josh dying his hair red, using matching eye makeup, and Tyler painting his arms and neck black before every concert. The storyline and the deep lyrics were now joined by critics to the music industry itself.

Even though several of their songs from the album got music videos, the most significant one for the storyline was Heavydirtysoul, the first track in the album and the final video for this era. While the song played, Tyler sits in the backseat of a speeding car driven by Blurryface. On the road, Josh – now with yellow hair, foreshadowing the Trench era to come – plays his drums and watches as the moving car almost hits him several times, until Blurryface disappears, and the vehicle starts breaking down, only to explode after Tyler leaves it and joins Josh to finish playing the song.

The third album’s era ended when, after the last concert, Tyler posted a picture of the black paint being washed off, and then the hiatus began. During the months Twenty One Pilots took a break, they simply vanished – especially Tyler, who was not seen until the Trench era had already begun.

Solving Puzzles And Discovering Dema

After months of silence, the riddles started again, and the clique was introduced to a new, more complicated story. A website was created and on it, puzzle after puzzle revealed new clues that showed that Tyler’s disappearing was not accidental. Pictures, letters, and codes were deciphered and lead to Dema, a place where Tyler was held against his will. Once an image resembling the Blurryface album cover came along, the public figured out that each of the nine symbols are related to a song in Blurryface, and by analyzing the lyrics to each song, they were able to find out the names of nine bishops, the ones chasing after Tyler. The existence of the bishops itself relates to the verse “Gnawing on the bishops, claw our way up their system” from Doubt, the eighth track on Blurryface.

On Dema’s website, fans found letters from someone named Clancy, who needed rescue from the bishops as well. Clancy is said to be a messenger, which led to fan theories connecting him to the song Message Man, also from Blurryface, that even said on its lyrics “This lyrics aren´t for everyone, only few understand”. The leader of the bishops, Nico, was named after Nicolas Bourbaki – the collective pseudonym of a group of mathematicians – and is believed to be Blurryface’s real identity.

Through the course of months, everything we knew gained new meaning, the initials FPE going from “the few, the proud and the emotional”, what Tyler called the clique – mentioned in the song Fairly Local– to “failed perimeter escape”. Was Nico really Blurryface? What does “East Is Up” mean? Why were there so many pictures of vultures on the website? Who were the “banditos”? For months, the clique formulated theories and tried to find answers not only to the riddles, but also to where and when the band would make their comeback.

Welcome To Trench

After a lot of waiting, it finally happened. The social media posts showed an eye opening, which went accordingly to the first music video released after the hiatus, for the single Jumpsuit, which begins with Tyler jumping on the burnt car from Heavydirtysoul and saying “We’ve been here the whole time. You were asleep. Time to wake up” – sleep being referenced in songs from all their previous albums, such as Isle of Flightless Birds, Guns for Hands, Ode to Sleep, Message Man and, on Trench, Levitate.

The music video gives the public a visual image of what they had been digging up for so long, showing Tyler in a trench, wearing the signature outfit for the new era – camouflage green and yellow duct tape – as he is guided and watched over by the banditos, the resistance, who wear similar clothes. Riding a horse, Nico comes along in a red coat – representing the Blurryface era – and marks Tyler with black paint around his neck, the same way he used to do himself. Tyler follows the man until he sees yellow flowers, a symbol of hope. As the banditos throw yellow petals at them and destabilize Nico, Tyler gains strength and runs away, no longer with paint on his neck, but ends up captured by the bishop, as Josh – the leader of the banditos – watches everything. After the clip was released, a new letter from Clancy was discovered, a description of him watching everything play out from a distance.

The following music video, Nico and the Niners, shows the banditos rescuing Tyler from Dema, the prison he is kept in by the bishops. When he finally meets up with Josh, they do the handshake previously shown in the Stressed Out video. Levitate, the last of the three music videos that focus on Dema’s storyline created, shows Tyler with the banditos after his rescue, only to be captured by Nico again.

Once again, the record came and with it, lyrics to decipher. The album had a vulture as its cover and the first two songs had a smooth transition, followed by Morph, which references Nicolas Bourbaki for the first time and has lyrics relating to math, but also religion, a battle fought between faith and reason, which is present in a lot of their music. In the song, a verse says, “not done, Josh Dun”, which a lot of fans assumed could mean the bishops were still trying to go after the banditos in order to capture Josh and end the resistance.

East Is Up

The emblematic phrase “East Is Up”, which first appeared on the website, turned out to be an instruction for anyone who wished to escape Dema. The phrase is also present in the track Nico and the Niners, in which Tyler affirms “Dema don’t control us”. With time, every song became a source for new discoveries, some being more obviously related to the storyline, such as Bandito, and others that had more to do with their previous discography, like Neon Gravestones, a song about the dangers surrounding the glorification of suicide. Like what he did on Blurryface with Tear in My Heart, Tyler released Smithereens on Trench as an exception to his rule of being cryptic, both songs written in honor of his wife.

Would You Be My Little Quarantine?

After a world tour that involved Josh making an entrance as a bandito, playing the drums on top of the crowd for Morph and a car being set on fire every night, the Trench era was over. What could come next? Covid-19 came along and with it, Level of Concern, an upbeat song about quarantine, with a music video that featured Jenna and Debby, Tyler and Josh’s respective wives, along with Rosie, Tyler and Jenna’s daughter, a newborn at the time.

After the video release, however, location codes were given to the fans through social media, and, for hours, they worked together to solve them, only to find a website that allowed fans to submit their own videos and participate on the never-ending Level of Concern music video, which lasted from June to December and gave Twenty One Pilots a Guinness World Record for longest music video ever made.

Christmas Saves the Year was the second seemingly innocent released single in between albums, a Christmas song with a music video that showed nostalgic pictures of what the holidays were like for Tyler and Josh along the years. In one picture however, behind the both of them as kids, there is a gift addressed to Clancy.

Scaled And Icy

The music video to Shy Away was what inaugurated the new era, showing bright colors and especially blue, a color used before all the riddles began, and criticized by Blurryface on his Twitter account, once he came along. The bright blue is a contrast to the red from Blurryface, taking us back to Regional at Best, which featured both colors at once. The lyrics to Shy Away are still hard to understand for a lot of people, but it’s safe to say that the whole “upbeat melodies to meaningful songs” is something that really takes us back to Regional at Best and Vessel.

Scaled and Icy brings a new era that looks way brighter than their previous ones, as if the struggle with Trench was finally over. The album name itself reveals otherwise, since Scaled and Icy is an anagram for “Clancy is dead”. During the past few years since the storyline was made public, the band has always avoided answering questions about Clancy whenever they were interviewed, which is why pretty much everything we have on him comes from either the letters released back in the Trench era or fan theories.

I Was Born A Choker

The album’s release date is set to May 21st, but the last anyone heard from Twenty One Pilots at the time this article was written was the Choker music video, which appears to be rather silly in comparison to everything else they do, but has generated material for a whole new batch of fan theories.

In the video, we see Tyler walking into a store in which Josh, the cashier, sits behind the counter, drinking from a mug that says Dema and reading a book by Nicolas Bourbaki to be entertained while no customers come in. Jim, Josh’s dog, makes an appearance while the singer tries to get the drummer’s attention, hoping to buy a miniature dragon, the same one from the Scaled and Icy’s album cover. After some weird events that lead to Jim disappearing and Tyler stealing the dragon, Josh chases him down, captures him and, using some kind of unknown powers, turns him into the newest piece of decoration for sale at this store. In the song, the lyrics say, “I know it’s over”, relating to the final track in Trench, Leave the City, in which Tyler sings “They know that it´s almost over”. Could that have anything to do with Morph and the willingness the bishops seemed to have to capture Josh in “not done, Josh Dun”? Could Josh have been taken and “morphed into someone else”, the one who actually captured Tyler?

One man lowered down and another one playing drums in the back
WMG (on behalf of Fueled By Ramen/Atlantic)
From now on, fan theories will be created each day, as everyone tries to connect the dots while waiting for the new album to come. All anyone can be certain about is the extent of Tyler and Josh’s creativity. The way the clique and the band interact in order to bring every album to life only makes us more certain of the veracity carried by the phrase they say at the end of every show: “We are Twenty One Pilots and so are you.”

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The article above was edited by Rafaela Bertolini.

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Bia Morrone

Casper Libero '24

A journalism student who loves to read, write and talk!
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