WORDS : JO CROSGROVE
2015. The midpoint of the 2010s was an important milestone for most young punk fans. For many, it was the beginning of their punk phase – which ended up not being a phase – and where they were looking for that big sound to be inspired by. What would it be that grabs their attention? Heavy riffs? Guttural growls and screams from hell? Or even echoed and harmonised vocals upon an acoustic track?
In 2015, Ohio alternative duo Twenty One Pilots rose to worldwide recognition with the release of ‘Blurryface’. This album would bring on a whole new era for the band, and for their musical counterparts as they set the bar for what makes an album a success. Don’t just rely on your voice or your guitar. Bring in your thoughts, your beliefs, your heart, your body, your everything and anything.
‘Blurryface’ hits its fifth birthday in 2020 and the effect that it’s had on the industry is still as strong as when it first hit the shelves. It can be credited as one of those records that told other bands it’s okay to sound a little different. It set the example that experimenting with sounds and styles and genres, mixing and mashing and crushing together and tugging apart, doesn’t cheapen your place in the alternative scene. Rock and metal acts can maintain their dignity and uphold their outstanding reputation if they want to add something new and risky. Like more melodic vocals. Or tambourines. Or a ukulele!
Twenty One Pilots during this time of ‘Blurryface’ were still considered an “exception” in alternative music. A niche listen, if you will.
Lead vocalist Tyler Joseph only began tearing apart his covers and exposing what lies underneath with this record, as it’s entirely dedicated to this one being: Blurryface. Blurryface is this spirit of loneliness, anger and self-hatred; a spirit personified by Joseph himself either in music videos or on stage at shows. Usually seen with burning red eyes, a blackened neck and black hands, and wearing a red beanie, this being is the centre of almost every track on the record. He was introduced in the band’s music video for ‘Fairly Local’ in March 2015, and this was just the beginning of what would be a very inspiring story for hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
The single most people will think of when it comes to ‘Blurryface’ is ‘Stressed Out’. It became a joke among the alternative community, as most of them weren’t ready to accept this band into their listening rota. Such as they’ve done with many acts that came and went, many of them would fight to the very end that Twenty One Pilots “weren’t punk enough” or “weren’t hardcore enough” to be taken seriously. These people didn’t stop the duo gaining a great following online, however.
When most people saw Joseph and drummer Josh Dun riding down the street in silver trikes, their own dedicated fanbase saw much more. So much more.Twenty One Pilots during this time of ‘Blurryface’ were still considered an “exception” in alternative music. A niche listen, if you will. They were better established with this record, and of course gained more attention around the United States and beyond, but they were still the band that people outside of that music community would have no clue about. Where people knew the bigger bands – My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Green Day, Sum 41 and such – in comparison, Twenty One Pilots were still unknowns in this big wide world. Their fan following was one that primarily existed online through social media. Across Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, fans would discover this band, like the band and find others who like the band and form friendships. Twenty One Pilots are now a band that are known for having a strong unity within their fanbase and that’s not an understatement! These are people who listen nonstop, read into every lyric, notice every strum and every stomp of the drum, and find themselves within it all.
It’s taught us that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to follow your heart. It’s okay to scream and cry and let everything out. But especially, ‘Blurryface’ has taught us to stay alive.
Blurryface himself is a representation of a demon we all have. A voice that mocks us, yells at us, and at moments can take over us. Using such a system, the band has been able to sustain that bond between themselves and the fans through the common factor of everyone is suffering. Everyone is stressed, everyone is lonely, but it’s never forever and they never suffer on their own. They have your back and you have theirs – and that’s one of the best kinds of trust within the industry.
Five years on from its release, what has ‘Blurryface’ taught us? It’s taught us that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to follow your heart. It’s okay to scream and cry and let everything out. But especially, ‘Blurryface’ has taught us to stay alive.
So the next time you see someone with red eye contacts, black paint on their hands and around their neck, in an all black outfit and a bright red beanie hat, take a moment. Think about what this look and these colours mean to them, for the inspiration from ‘Blurryface’ is still burning bright. Five years and counting.