Why You Should Love: Stressed Out by twenty one pilots

"Conceptually, having a static musical track suspended between forward and backward movement as an underlying foundation for a lament over the confusion of being stuck, wanting to stay in the past but knowing that you must move forward, is kind of an astronomical feat of genius."Track: Stressed Out
Album: Blurryface
Artist: twenty one pilots
Genre: alternative, rock
Music Rating: 8/10
Lyrics Rating: 9/10
Overall:
9/10
Sounds Like: Fall Out Boy, Panic! At the Disco
Interesting Fact: Tyler and Josh actually have a secret handshake which is featured in the music video for “Stressed Out”.
Bonus Fact: The songs on the radio are okay, but my taste in music is your face.
Best thing About this Track: “Out of student loans and treehouse homes, we all would take the latter.”
One thing I wish was different: The track lacks dimension musically. While extremely well-written and well-produced, it is stylistically sparse. Which is fine. My problem is that it never picks up or slows down. It never gets bigger or smaller. It doesn’t go anywhere. Maybe that is the point, because this song is so focused on being anchored in the past and refusing to let go of childhood perspectives, but I’d still like to see somewhat of a progression throughout the song. If you’re not going to move forward, at least take me back. Give me contrasts. Do something! While the lyrics do this masterfully, I feel like the music is somewhat static. That’s just me being picky. It still works wonderfully as a snapshot; I’d just love to see a full-length feature film of this song.
Website: twenty one pilots

When the track first starts, I’m immediately proud to be a music fan. This is true art and it justifies every bit of time and energy we’ve ever put into the music experience. From the first line, you know that this is a song worthy of our obsession. By the time we reach the end of the first verse I have never been happier to be an English speaker. Pay attention folks: this is how you use the English language. Tyler is a craftsman on this track and this is wordsmithery at its finest, so buckle up. This is not just a technical craft either. It’s emotional. It’s mental. I meant that last sentence in more than one way.

Let’s break it down. Behold the rhyme scheme of the first verse:
AAB
CB
DDE
FFG
HHI
JI

Do you see the deviation in the fourth line? Do you see it? Do you know what that is? Genius. That is genius. The first two lines set up a subconscious precedent in your brain. An expectation of what’s to come. Once you hear the first two lines, you expect an internal rhyme followed by an end rhyme in lines three and four.

Line three starts just the way you thought it would with an internal rhyme and ends with the word “new” to set up the second end rhyme. Do you know what the fourth line is? Plot twist! “I wish I didn’t have to rhyme every time I sang.” Forget you, presupposed expectations of my art! I’m not going to use an end rhyme because I’m telling you I don’t want to.

But here’s the genius: that line does rhyme. It’s not “I don’t have to rhyme” it’s “I wish I didn’t have to rhyme”. Because this track is vulnerable. He doesn’t feel like he can do whatever he wants to anymore, even in his art, because he has to live in the real world where adults have to be responsible and expectations are to be met. So there’s an internal dilemma being presented to us in the form of an internal rhyme. Not what you expected, but it still plays by the rules. He then steps back in line, resigning with the next two lines and returning to the original rhyme scheme with the lament “I’m insecure and I care what people think”.

The chorus starts out as a submissive reflection on hopes long gone, wishing things could be the way they were. He starts to settle back into a new rhyme scheme, but is finally able to break away from the monotony of expectations when a truth that will not be silenced finally slips out: “we’re stressed out!” That’s what becoming an adult is like. Wanting to fit in, but wishing to stand out. It’s the panic of not understanding how and why your identity is changing. I am still a person and I still have an identity beyond Blurryface.

The second verse takes on a new voice and delves deeper into the introspection on nostalgia in a completely different yet familiar tone. It feels like a conversation you’ve had with an old friend at some point in your life. I’m not even going to break down the rhyme scheme on this one, because: just read it. It’s complex and wonderful and I’d need several charts and a few pages to expound.

In a complete deviation from lyrical analysis, but in the spirit of this verse, I feel the compulsion to tell you about the first time I ever heard this song. I was sick in bed feeling quite miserable because I’d had this cold and lost my voice for like three weeks. I decided to try eating spicy food (weird thing my family does when we’re sick) and listening to music, so I went and bought some hot cheetos and came home to start browsing iTunes. I hadn’t eaten hot cheetos in a while, but I was absurdly addicted to them in middle school. (You know, the punk rock era when emos walked the earth in abundance instead of hipsters?) Anyways, I started listening to “Stressed Out” and I was instantly transported to the California shoreline where I grew up. To this day, every time I hear this song I get an unbelievable hot cheetos craving.

Okay, I got very off track. See what nostalgia does to you? To the bridge!
AB
CB
BB
D

In case you’ve not caught on, deviation in rhyme scheme is used very pointedly in this song. The first two lines reminisce on some of the best times of childhood when you could be whoever and whatever you wanted to be, constantly defining and redefining your own identity without fear or even a thought given to what others would think. Times when you made impossible plans because you knew that you could do anything, and everything was in fact a possibility. The third line juxtaposes how things were with the way they are now, seemingly asking “What changed?” Why can we no longer chase our dreams? The last line finally shakes the speaker wide awake with a stark jab that alarms and distresses him. “Wake up. You need to make money.”

The line is discord with the rest of the stanza because the message feels foreign and wrong in the world of the narrator. Because when you are dreaming, you don’t know that you aren’t awake. As a child, dreams are reality. People go out of their way to tell you that and make you believe that. When you become an adult, everyone starts suddenly telling you to wake up and “get real”. But you thought it was real. So all you want to do is go back. Go back to that world that makes sense. Go back to the world that you know. The one that is kind and friendly and knows your name. But now that world is called Dreamland and the so-called “real world” knows you only as Blurryface.

Let’s talk music. I know I was somewhat hard on the music up at the top of the page, but it’s only because I love this track so much and I see its greatness as well as its potential. To be fair, there are little deviations and interesting things happening musically that do give the track dynamic and variety; I just wish they were more pronounced or even somewhat exaggerated for my personal taste.

Conceptually though I have to admit, having a static musical track suspended between forward and backward movement as an underlying foundation for a lament over the confusion of being stuck, wanting to stay in the past but knowing that you must move forward, is kind of an astronomical feat of genius.

Musically, the identity of this track is really comes down to the drums and the fantastic bass line, with some piano and synths thrown is as complementary diversifiers. The arrangement and composition of each instrument is very simple, not relying on fancy techniques, elaborate embellishments, or electronic arpeggiators. The musical strength of this track really comes from the foundation of an interesting chord progression and a fantastic melody. When the bare bones of your song are that unique and engaging, you really don’t need to cover it up with lots of instrumental ornamentation. So, was this track well-produced? Yes. Was it well arranged? Sure. As is every single song that makes the cut to be on the radio. Where this song really stands so far above the rest is the caliber of pure songwriting.

I feel like every single note on this track was picked purposefully, carefully, specifically and masterfully to add to the overall sound of the piece. The intervals are never lazy or automatic, even the few times that they are traditional. Musically, this song is utterly fearless, going so far as to end the hook on a borrowed chord. A sound that conventions would say did not belong in the song at all becomes the centerpiece of a song about a temporal misfit, a lost soul wandering between the worlds of reality and those long gone. That chord is you when you are lost. That chord is me and all of my insecurities. That chord is the person who doesn’t know who they are or where they fit in. That chord is Blurryface, and that chord is perfectly and brilliantly flawed.

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Lyrics:

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

I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink
But now I’m insecure and I care what people think

My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think
My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think

Wish we could turn back time to the good old days
When our mommas sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out
Wish we could turn back time to the good old days
When our mommas sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out
We’re stressed out

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

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

My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think
My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think

Wish we could turn back time to the good old days
When our mommas sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out
Wish we could turn back time to the good old days
When our mommas sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

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

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

Wish we could turn back time to the good old days
When our mommas sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out
Wish we could turn back time to the good old days
When our mommas sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

Used to play pretend, used to play pretend, money
We used to play pretend, wake up, you need the money
Used to play pretend, used to play pretend, money
We used to play pretend, wake up, you need the money

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

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