What does "Stressed Out" by Twenty One Pilots mean?
"Stressed Out" is about the transition from childhood to adulthood. The music is intense and varied with a wide array of styles being mashed into the only 3:45 long, also-unique music video, in which Tyler and Josh revisit their childhood homes and families to ride kid's three wheelers and perform in their old bedrooms. But most interesting of all, the lyrics of "Stressed Out" are perhaps even deeper than those of the previous two songs from Blurryface, though they are a bit less symbolic and more sincerely clear.
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In the first verse, Tyler raps with a clear, unaltered voice that he wishes his songs were better. He wants “better sounds,” a “better voice,” to be able to put chords in a new order, and to not have to rhyme. (In the part about rhyming, he avoids the line’s expected end rhyme.) From these wishes, his sentiments become more serious: “I was told when I get older, all my fears would shrink / But now I’m insecure, and I care what people think.” This verse is stock Twenty One Pilots’s material-vulnerability and sincerity. Tyler admits that he’s not sure of himself and that though he doesn’t want to care “what people think,” he does.
Twenty One Pilots Promo Shot, Full BodyThe pre-chorus changes tone; Tyler’s voice gains an airy, echo effect that makes him sound removed. He repeats, “My name’s Blurryface, and I care what you think,” to show his audience that he knows he values others’ opinion of him. Later verses suggest that he knows this is a bad thing. The change in his voice suggests an alter ego (perhaps “Blurryface,” as suggested by a user on Genius.com) or at least a self that Tyler knows is afraid of being open and sincere.
The chorus is a simple wish for the “good old days.” Back then, whatever had Tyler “stressed out” could be solved by his mother singing him to sleep. No problem was lasting or serious enough that a simple nap and a song couldn’t fix it.
In verse 2, Tyler raps about a smell that reminds him of his childhood. That smell grants him a reprieve from stress, and he imagines selling it as a candle but concludes that only his brother would buy it since the smell would only mean something to someone who had shared Tyler’s childhood.
Tyler mentions that the smell “would remind us of when nothing really mattered,” suggesting that he wants to revisit that time. He sings, “Out of student loans and tree house homes, we all would take the latter.” For him, adult life loses a childhood innocence that comes with feeling safe from worries. Instead of playing, he must work to make a living and pay his bills.
The bridge continues the romanticization of his childhood by describing times that he as a child would “play pretend.” He mentions that he and his friends would imagine they were going to outer space, suggesting a child-like belief in limitless possibilities. Now that he has to think about paying student loans, his opportunities for dreaming about doing big things and exploring are fewer.
Twenty One Pilots Promo PhotoAt the end of the bridge and in the music video, a crowd of Tyler and Josh’s family members shouts, “You need to make money,” suggesting a social pressure to work and earn an income, which may have lead Tyler to leave his childhood fantasies and fun. Even though he “used to dream of outer space,” “now they’re laughing at [his] face.”
The outro builds onto the ideas in the bridge and builds in intensity. Tyler’s voice becomes unnaturally deep (like it did in the second verse of “Fairly Local”), and he repeats the lines, “We used to play pretend, used to play pretend, funny / We used to play pretend, wake up you need the money.” In the music video, two versions of Tyler sing this deep-voiced outro. One version is visiting his childhood home, wearing a backpack, and skipping through his old neighborhood. The other Tyler is perhaps the alter-ego “Blurryface” who has red eyes and sings from a dark room. By showing Tyler singing the outro in both personas, the music video suggests that they are two sides of him. One longs for childhood; the other reminds him that he must work and pressures him to keep from returning to his “tree house homes.”
As for the music video, most of the song is spent showing Tyler and Josh returning to their childhood homes and families to play this song. This enhances the message by showing the audience the peaceful and comfortable place that Tyler wishes to return to. Most of the video is spent in the two’s childhood bedrooms with them playing the song with other males who appear to be brothers of Josh and Tyler.
In the music video, too, notice how Tyler and Josh are the only people who wear any color other than black. The two wear both red and white but the other people shouting at them wear only black, suggesting that Josh and Tyler’s imaginative world may be more lively and interesting than the real world they are being awakened and summoned to.
Think about how complicated “Stressed Out” is. It covers a lot of topics and ideas:
“I wish I could write songs better.”
“I care what people think.”
“I wish for the ‘good old days.'”
“I feel nostalgic for childhood.”
“We can’t go back to childhood because we need to make money and be successful.”
The song comes full circle. Tyler begins by wanting to do his job better because he is insecure, and he ends by feeling pressure to not return to childhood and to continue working. His insecure side feeds his desire to continue performing the actions and commitments required by society.
This song compares adulthood’s insecurity to childhood’s innocence (and perhaps obliviousness). Tyler mentions that children may have fears, but having grown up, he knows which fears he prefers-not the ones of whether others will accept him but the ones that can be solved by his mother’s simple singing. Unfortunately, the pressure to make a living keeps him (and us) from returning home.