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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 "Tear in My Heart" by Twenty One Pilots Mean?

What does "Tear in My Heart" by Twenty One Pilots Mean?

"Tear in My Heart" Lyrics Explanation

Twenty One Pilots just came out with their next single from Blurryface, “Tear in My Heart,” and it’s a departure for them. Few of their songs are quite this upbeat or positive musically, and the lyrics are interesting because, in them, Tyler uses fairly dark imagery to suggest a positive meaning. Overall, the song’s really something special, especially for Twenty One Pilots to be creating. I think you’re going to like it.

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Summary, Symbolism, and Explanation of the Lyrics

The song begins with Tyler and Josh playing music in a downtown Chinese shopping district. Shoppers walk past them as they begin to play their song, suggesting that the two bandmates are alone. Tyler looks bewildered.

The music begins much less intensely than “Fairly Local” or other songs that Josh Dun and Tyler Joseph have performed and has more of a Relient K and upbeat punk rock feel to it. Tyler’s voice is reminiscent of Ok Go’s lead singer Damian Kulash. As the song continues, it progresses in intensity.

At the passerby, Tyler sings about a woman who is “[t]he tear in his heart” but who makes him “alive”; however, no one pays attention to him. He begs them to stop, but he is alone. The song is an ode to a woman he is thinking of, and no one wants to fill the place he has for her.

Eventually, people do start noticing him, but whenever they look at Tyler, the music video’s visual component pauses, the camera zooms in closer on a person’s face, and a visual effect causes the person’s eyes to twist or deepen so that the person seems angry, frightening, and even demonic, perhaps representing Tyler’s fears and insecurities.

Tyler sings, “The songs on the radio are okay / But my taste in music is your face.” Despite the opposition he feels, he’s dedicated to this woman. Even though she’s the “Tear in [his] heart,” she takes him “Higher / Than [he’s] ever been.”

Tyler sings, “The songs on the radio are okay / But my taste in music is your face.” Despite the opposition he feels, he’s dedicated to this woman. Even though she’s the “Tear in [his] heart,” she takes him “Higher / Than [he’s] ever been.”

Halfway through the video, the music loses intensity, the drums fade a little, and Tyler begins rapping slowly and liltingly. Around Tyler and Josh, buildings begin to explode in slow motion, individual pieces floating in the air.

Tyler sings, “You fell asleep in my / Car. I drove the whole time / But that’s okay / I’ll just avoid the holes so you sleep fine / I’m driving here. I sit / Cursing my government / For not using my taxes / To fill holes with more cement.” Whoever this woman is, he wants her to have a good life and is frustrated with things that might wake her up or cause her to have to experience the potholes that he is dealing with.

As he sings the above lines, a beautiful woman begins walking towards him; she looks at him, suggesting that she is the one he’s been singing about. (The woman is played by Tyler’s wife, Jenna Joseph.) When the camera zooms in on her face, she makes solid eye contact before she begins walking away; her eyes do not change. Tyler follows her into a back alleyway and then into a restaurant.

Once inside, the woman begins singing Tyler’s own words, sending them back to him as though prompting him to accept the certainty of what he has been saying. He has to accept that she will hurt him but that she’s worth the pain. The camera again zooms in on her eyes, and they stay normal: she can be trusted. Tyler stays, waiting. His trust will be tested. She grabs him by the throat and begins choking and beating him while the words, “She’s the tear in my heart,” continue to play.

The camera cuts back to other people watching Tyler. Their eyes stay normal, and then the camera jumps scenes quickly, from the woman beating Tyler, to the people, to Tyler singing, to Tyler playing piano, to Tyler and Josh still playing in the shopping district.

The song ends with the woman putting her hand gently on Tyler’s shoulder, and him staring at her for a moment and then passionately kissing her, despite his mouth still bleeding from her punching him.

The Deeper Meaning of the Lyrics of "Tear in My Heart"

So what does all of this mean? Is it about love? Is it about an abusive relationship? Is it about depression? Tyler doesn’t make this song easy to decipher, and I think that’s because the song’s meaning is counterintuitive to what we see in the video.

On the surface level, he’s singing about a girl he sacrifices for but who’s a “butcher with a smile” and can tear through his “armor.” In the video, she beats him but he can’t keep from kissing her afterwards. After watching it for the first time, I thought it seemed obvious that Tyler was seeking relief from a scary world (freaky-eyed people) in the arms of a woman who didn’t care about him.

Then, thanks to some insights on genius.com, I found out the woman is played by his wife.

The light dawned.

This song is actually about how he loves his wife because she’s “real” with him. She doesn’t keep him at a distance. They’re close, and closeness sometimes means getting hurt, but it’s worthwhile, and he’ll keep coming back to her because he loves her.

This interpretation and Tyler’s Christian background bring to mind the Bible verse Proverbs 27:6 that says that “[w]ounds from a friend can be trusted . . .” He has struggled with a depression that causes him to see the world as a darker place, but his wife stands above the fears. Even though she wasn’t scary at first, she paradoxically does hurt him, but it’s a good pain that “Takes [him] higher” and that initiates a protectiveness in him.

Interestingly, while she hurts him, he sacrifices for her (by driving “the whole time”) so that she’ll sleep peacefully. He’s willing to take the pain and to try to let her life be peaceful. He curses his government’s inefficiency that makes it necessary for him to swerve away from potholes. The money that he’s paid in taxes should have been put towards keeping roads smooth so she can sleep, but he’s willing to take an active part in promoting her well-being.

Thus, “Tear in My Heart” is about a beautiful relationship. Tyler knows it’s real because he feels the pain that his wife causes him; she’s the “carver,” cutting him deeper and “farther / Than [he’s] ever been.” His relationship with his wife is more real than any other relationship he’s experienced before, and it’s taken him to a deeper, better place in life.

Is Tyler trying to posit that a good relationship can look like a bad one on the surface? Is he arguing that you have to feel pain to live a good life? Is he saying that we sometimes need to look deeper to really understand what’s happening? Maybe he’s trying to destroy the assumption that a good relationship will always be peaceful. Maybe a good relationship will always include some pain and hurt.

I think that there’s less proof in the song to support the above assumptions, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Tyler believed all of them; they do make sense in the context of what happens in the video and lyrics, and they’re where I’m going to end my explanation. I believe this song is about a beautiful relationship that involves difficulties and sacrifice and a willingness to be hurt in order attain new levels of depth and closeness.

“Tear in My Heart” is a great song and has several layers that make it a worthwhile and helpful listen. Keep listening to it and try to figure it out for yourself too.

And, as always, please continue the discussion by commenting on what you think the song means and if you agree or disagree with me. We’ve got to figure this out! What did I miss? The truth must out.

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