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My name's Clifford Stumme, and I explain the deeper meanings of popular songs. Let's have a conversation about what you think about the songs and go deeper together. Feel free to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does “Fairly Local” by Twenty One Pilots mean?

What does “Fairly Local” by Twenty One Pilots mean?

"Fairly Local" Lyrics Explanation

Twenty One Pilots’s new album Blurryface is coming out May 19th, and I’m already celebrating. Since a friend introduced me to “Car Radio” in 2013, I’ve been an avid listener of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dunn’s alternative pop rock sound. Their music is intense, and their lyrics are deep.

Psst! Check out my podcast about song lyrics meanings!

“Fairly Local,” a single from Blurryface, was released last week, and it’s really good. While I’m afraid that it lacks a little bit of the lyrical depth of other Twenty One Pilots songs, the music is intense and interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing whether this is a precursor to a likewise album, or if they released it first because of it’s blood-pumping, energizing feel, and decided to save the even better stuff for later.

"Fairly Local" Lyrics Summary

The lyrics of "Fairly Local" are about how Tyler refuses to let others label him as “evil to the core” or “emotional”—probably a reference to depression and angst. He accepts that he has problems that he needs to work through and that his audience may have some of these issues as well. After welcoming that audience to join him in discovering truth, he claims ability to know himself and to do what’s right.

Chorus: Setting the Stage and Welcoming His Audience

With powerful synthesizer and much vocal reverb, Tyler, the singer, begins, “I’m fairly local. I’ve been around. / I’ve seen the streets you’re walking down.” Using the reverb, he sets himself up as an expert or guide in the areas he will be singing about. Wherever he’s leading the audience, he reassures them that he’s been there before.

Verse 1: Suggesting Other’s Negative View of Himself

The lessening of vocal effects and instrumentation in this verse suggests a more personal, literal, and vulnerable relationship with his audience, appropriate to the insecurities he’s beginning to share. He sings, “I’m evil to the core. / What I shouldn’t do I will. / They say I’m emotional. / What I want to save I’ll kill.” He’s “fairly local” in a dark place that’s plagued by the depressing ideas that he lacks control and that he must fall to his own inadequacies. He’s “emotional” and he “kill[s]” what he “want[s] to save,” so in this dark place, he’s a bit unhinged. He’s out of control. In addition, according to this verse, there’s no hope. He sings, “Tomorrow I’ll keep a beat / and repeat yesterday’s dance.” He feels doomed to always failing.

Bridge 1: Bringing His Listeners Together

Now, to gain an even more intimate relationship with his audience, Tyler’s voice is left completely undoctored, allowing him to speak candidly and clearly with his audience. He’s become vulnerable, so his audience knows it’s okay to be vulnerable too.

He claims “This song will never be on the radio,” suggesting that many people won’t understand it. He says that whatever the appeal to crowds, this song is really for “the few, the proud, and the emotional.” These are the fighters, those who, like Tyler, are tempted to see themselves as removed from others or out-of-control. The emotions Tyler shares with this crowd tend to be dark and depressive, as also suggested by the heavy and intense music.

He continues addressing that audience specifically: “Yo, you, bulletproof in black like a funeral.” He pulls his depressed, heavy-thinking audience in close and agrees with them that they’re all “so cold,” almost as if to say, “It’s okay. We’re in this together.”

Chorus: Reminding Friends

Repeating the chorus here reminds the audience that they are all on the same side, and is an ethical appeal aimed at the listener. Apparently, the singer can be trusted. He’s been there before, and he knows what he’s doing.

Verse 2: Beginning the Revolution

After Tyler has agreed with his audience and repeated the chorus, he flips the tables: “I’m not evil to the core. / What I shouldn’t do I will fight. / I know I’m emotional. / What I want to save I will try.” He is singing the exact opposite of the first verse. He does this by accepting the accusation that he’s emotional, but with that same emotion in his voice he denies that he will always fail, and instead claims that he can fight back. He gains this strength from self-knowledge and self-conviction when he says, “I know who I truly am. / I truly do have a chance.” He is ready to fight back against those who would label him as “evil” or “emotional.”

Bridge 2: Coming Together, but Deeper

The difference between the two bridges is that the second time, Tyler’s voice is made unnaturally low. Where earlier his voice was naked and vulnerable, his voice is now clothed in a darker, heavier color.

The music video reflects this difference as well. During the first bridge, he sings in cold snow-filled abandoned hallways. But now he wears red color-contacts in a different hot hell-like hallway of the same building. The meaning of this is difficult for me to understand, but I think that it represents an acceptance of the truth of where he is and a gathering of power from this acceptance.

The world accuses him of either being too cold and death-like or too “emotional” and “heated,” as represented by the two verses, but he no longer needs to be vulnerable with those who attack him. Perhaps the deepening of his voice is a growth of resolve and an arming of himself against those people.

Like earlier songs, at the very end of this second bridge, his voice intones up again into one of his signature screams, suggesting that his emotion will be leading his strength and that he will charge towards what he thinks is right.

Chorus: Going Out

Tyler ends this song with a repetition of the chorus, reminding his audience that he know what he’s talking about. He’s “local,” so he’s been here before, but he’s not completely “local”—only “fairly local.” If he were to claim complete locality, he would be less able to relate to his audience. By only being “fairly local,” he offers himself as a guide and a fellow sojourner.

Ending the song with this reminder brings audiences back into being a unified crowd. Josh and Tyler are leading not followers, but friends and comrades. They’ve been here before, and they’re welcoming their audience to come to the same conclusions that they have over the course of the song.

Assessment of "Fairly Local"

“Fairly Local,” is intense. At this point, I’ve probably listened to it thirty times, and it never loses that feeling of intensity for me. I know its attitude. It’s defiant and confident despite the singer’s own fears. “Fairly Local” has a powerfully-stated message, but it lacks some of the support or depth of Tyler’s other songs.

  • I'm worried that there’s no stimulus for the change between verses 1 and 2. Tyler pulls his audience a little bit closer before he begins to claim power to be something else, but we’re not really sure where this power comes from, apart from a stronger knowledge of self and a surprise conviction.
  • Without in-depth analysis, “Fairly Local” is an epic and powerful rebellion against harmful self-imaging. With more analysis, it begins to sound like an angsty fight song without a clear antagonist. Who exactly is labeling Tyler as “emotional”? The song is focused on his personal struggle, but we’re not completely sure where the struggle came from.
  • Tyler seems to offer this song to his audience as a chant or mantra against self-image issues, but he also stands higher in this song than he has before. The use of epic synth and a LOT of reverb in the choruses sets him higher than his audience—almost as the leader of a rebellion—when before he’s simply been a much humbler and relatable sharer of his own personal struggles, convictions, and conclusions.

“Fairly Local’s” purpose may be clearer in the context of the album’s other songs, but this song as a single has a simple message that partially fails to account for the intricacies of a much larger issue.

I heartily agree that this song is fun. I do like it, and at first I didn’t. Fiancee April can attest that I looked almost depressed when I first listened. It sounded shallower than I had come to expect from Twenty One Pilots. I thought it was the end of an era.

But with a few more listens, I found more of the message and was able to appreciate it better. I still think it lacks the depth of “Taxi Cab,” “Holding onto You,” or “Car Radio,” but I can easily see it playing a role in the larger context of an entire album.

While I worry about the lyrics, I do love the sound of this song and can appreciate it for that reason alone. The music is intense and powerful, maintaining a semi-indie and strongly alternative pop/rock sound that I really love. Especially important to the Twenty One Pilots feel, Tyler raps a little bit in the bridge, and the music is, of course, epic. I look forward to continuing listening to Tyler and Josh, and am so glad they’re coming out with another album.

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